Greg Eno

Posts Tagged ‘Chris Creighton’

At EMU, football weekends no longer wince-inducing

In college football on October 3, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Published October 3, 2016

It was the humorist Mark Twain who once opined that the sport of golf was nothing more than a fine walk spoiled.

Football Homecomings at Ypsilanti have been too often a fine Saturday spoiled.

If only they didn’t have to play the football game, the festivities would have been just fine.

The students at Eastern Michigan University have had a work around, however.

The travesty taking place on the gridiron was relegated to background noise. In the foreground was “spirited” socializing, in order to dull the pain of another football loss.

Things are different this year, however.

The Eagles are coming back to their nest, er their Factory, this Saturday. And their record is a reverse image of EMU football teams of years past.

EMU is four up, one down.

You read that right.

The football program that hasn’t been able to get out of its own way for the better part of two decades is 4-1, with a Homecoming tilt this Saturday against the Toledo Rockets at Rynearson Stadium, aka The Factory—which features the football field with the gray turf.

Eastern is riding the waves of a three-game winning streak, which to most schools may seem modest, but for EMU, it’s Joe DiMaggio-like.

Earlier in the year, the football program’s ineptitude caused some leaders within the university to call for the jettisoning of football, period. They wanted the money spent elsewhere on campus.

To a 1985 alumnus like myself, it’s “Where have I seen this show before?”

I was in the middle of my academic career at EMU when the Mid-American Conference threatened to boot Eastern out of the MAC unless football attendance improved dramatically.

Eastern pulled out all the stops and did whatever it could to cram fannies into Rynearson. And it worked.

We wore t-shirts around campus that screamed “I Survived the Big MAC Attack!”

According to a report in August, EMU football recorded the lowest average football attendance in the U.S. among Division I FBS schools last season, when the team’s record was 1-11.

Eastern’s record has too often been 1-11, or 2-10, or the like. And Rynearson was a great place to catch up on your reading. Or to take a nap.

EMU’s Athletic Director Heather Lyke was steadfast, however, when some regents and others circled around the football program like financial vultures last spring.

“I’m undeterred,” said Lyke during an interview in early July. “We have a phenomenal coaching staff. We’re part of an amazing conference.

“I believe in what we’re doing.”

Another who believes is Coach Chris Creighton, to whom some may have wanted to suggest a psychiatric evaluation after accepting the Eastern job in December 2013.

Creighton came to Ypsilanti from Drake University, which sent a bunch of us to Google upon hearing that nugget.

First, we wanted to know where Drake was (it’s in Des Moines, Iowa).

With the geographical question out of the way, we found out that Creighton was a winner at Drake (42-22 in six seasons). So that was a start.

But why leave such success to come to Eastern, which has been not only a football wasteland, but also a burial ground for coaches?

The tombstones are strewn around campus.

Ron English, whose pedigree seemed terrific (University of Michigan and Louisville), but to whom the job at EMU destroyed his character and basically forced Lyke to fire him after a leaked audio recording that was less than flattering.

Jeff Genyk, a Michigan-born kid who played quarterback at MAC school Bowling Green. Genyk came to EMU after a nine-year run as an assistant at Northwestern University and today he’s a special teams coach at Vanderbilt.

Jeff Woodruff, who had four years at the helm before getting the ziggy toward the end of the 2003 season.

“Jeff Woodruff has helped develop our program with quality young men, but the team is not on the competitive level that we felt should be after four years,” said then-AD Dave Diles in announcing Woodruff’s canning. The part after the comma in that statement could be the epitaph for practically every EMU football coach not  named Dan Boisture or Jim Harkema.

Before Woodruff there was Rick Rasnick (1995-99), who was minding his own business as the offensive coordinator at Utah when Eastern came calling.

“After undergoing a very thorough and comprehensive assessment of our football program I’m convinced that Rick Rasnick is not the person to take our football team to a Mid-American Conference championship level,” Diles said in yet another sobering press conference.

That was 17 years ago.

Image result for chris creighton

Coach Creighton is making a difference on the field where so many of his predecessors have failed.

So the question was obvious for Chris Creighton, who by taking the Eastern job turned into the poster boy for every self-help guru who ever espoused “getting out of your comfort zone.”

The question for Creighton basically went like this: “WTF?”

“These kids want to be great,” Creighton told me about his players on The Knee Jerks sports podcast in the summer of 2014.

But what about you, coach?

Creighton said that he believed in the program’s potential, which he compared to a sleeping giant. He believed in his new boss, AD Lyke. He loved the campus. He liked what he saw Lyke doing in improving Rynearson’s facilities, including apparently the gimmicky gray turf.

I wished him well, not only as a podcast host but also as a concerned alumnus. We still share text messages from time to time.

This year, all that belief that Lyke and Creighton have seems to finally be rubbing off on the players in the form of on-field performance.

EMU is 4-1. That bears repeating.

This is the best start for the football program in some 21 years. It has gotten some national observers’ attention, too; over the weekend, EMU received a vote in the Amway coaches poll.

Eastern hadn’t gotten national poll consideration, before now, since the 1987 season where under Harkema, the then-Hurons beat San Jose State in the California Bowl.

Since Harkema left in 1992, however, the coaching carousel has been spinning freely and the football program returned to national laughingstock status, as it was in the early-to-mid 1980s.

In those days, the slings and arrows came from the MAC. Earlier this year, even EMU’s own Board of Regents wanted to scrap football.

Lyke would have none of it. She issued a statement that fully supported Creighton and his staff, and the program as a whole.

Some say that Coach Creighton was crazy to take the head football coaching position at Eastern Michigan University. One of those “some” is banging away on his keyboard at this very moment.

The Eagles were 3-21 in Creighton’s first two seasons. Des Moines must never have looked so attractive.

But this year’s squad can score points, and even the defense, which for years has been like a sieve, is holding its own for the most part. Creighton changed d-coordinators after last season. Neal Neathery is in charge now after coming over from the University of Texas at San Antonio, which at least doesn’t beg the question of where the school is located.

Eastern likes to call its stadium The Factory, which is another Creighton-inspired thought.

“We’ll play anyone, anywhere,” Creighton crowed when EMU announced the “Factory” name and its gray turf in 2014.

“We’ll even play on a parking lot,” the coach said in trying to explain the symbolism of the gray.

OK.

Yet here we are, after two years of very typical EMU football records (2-10, 1-11); Eastern is raising eyebrows instead of causing eyes to roll.

The 2016 season is far from over. A 4-1 start could be torpedoed and by the end of the schedule the goodwill may be evaporated.

But that would be negative, pessimistic thinking.

And certainly no one who supports EMU football could possibly think that way, could they?

 

 

Creighton’s Gray Turf and ‘Factory’ Might Be Crazy Enough to Work at EMU

In college football on June 20, 2014 at 5:59 am

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat.

If becoming a winning football program meant simply changing the color of the field, Eastern Michigan University would have done it 20 years ago.

Then there wouldn’t have been a carousel of coaches, losses piling up like dirty dishes in a diner’s kitchen during the lunch rush and an ashamed alumni that, for two decades now, is still stinging from the robbery of their Hurons nickname.

But changing the color of the turf at Rynearson Stadium to gray, as was announced on campus in Ypsilanti on Thursday, isn’t going to be the magic elixir that reverses the fortunes of a program that seems to be forever coming off an embarrassing season.

I think we can all agree on that.

But when you’ve been losing on the gridiron as much as the (ahem) Eagles have since the Clinton presidency, you can be excused for reaching.

Chris Creighton is the Eagles’ new coach (hired in December), and if rah-rah speeches and the use of the word “tough” were a drinking game, you’d have been under the table halfway through Thursday’s press conference.

But that’s OK.

There’s a lot of snickering and eye rolling today, both from alumni and outsiders, at EMU’s new attempt at branding the football program that not only includes gray FieldTurf, but the coining of “The Factory” to describe Rynearson, courtesy Coach Creighton.

“We will play anybody, anywhere,” Creighton said Thursday at the presser. “We even said we’d play in a parking lot.”

So the gray field, according to Creighton and Athletic Director Heather Lyke, is partly supposed to symbolize the mythical parking lot. Also, the coach says that a gray field goes well with the toughness (there’s that word again) of Ypsilanti and hard-working Southeast Michigan.

How about that? The use of the color gray to symbolize blue collar folks.

A cynic would say that it’s typical of EMU football to not be able to get their colors straight.

But you know what? Good for them.

I’m an alumnus, as many of you know. And I have been cranky about EMU football, as many of you also know. I was so fed up that I was willing to give Jerry Glanville a shot, when he threw his hat in the ring following the cashiering of former coach Ron English.

But today I am actually proud.

Like Coach Creighton said on Thursday, it took some courage for EMU administrators to cough up the reported $500,000 it will take to rip out the old, green playing surface and replace it with gray FieldTurf.

What EMU is doing, in the same vein that I wanted them to think outside the box by hiring Glanville as coach, is daring to be different—at the risk of being mocked and derided.

Sometimes that’s what you need to do when the wins and losses have been cockeyed for so long—simply be different.

It’s like that old saying about the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.

Being different is a start.

Sooner or later, of course, the branding of EMU football is going to be about winning percentage. The field can be gray, blue, pink or purple. You can call your stadium The Factory as much as you want. But the credibility won’t be there until you start to win some stinking football games.

Coach Creighton knows that. So does AD Lyke, who I believe is a rising star in the world of college athletics. EMU will hardly be her last stop.

But when you’ve been down as long as the football program has been in Ypsi, the short term is all that matters. Everything is done for news and attention NOW.

Creighton made a valid and interesting point on Thursday about the commitment and buy-in of his inherited players.

In 2013, Eastern lost a player to a tragic death, had their coach surreptitiously recorded as having less than high character, lost a ton of football games and experienced the sacking of said coach and his entire staff.

Creighton rightly acknowledged that all of that was a heck of a lot for one football team to endure in one season.

Yet, as the coach pointed out, only one scholarship player transferred to another program.

So there’s a buy-in at Eastern. The players seem to be gravitating toward Creighton, who cited a February workout in six inches of snow as an example of commitment.

This is all well and good, but what about winning on Saturdays in the fall?

That’s the rub.

But you have to start somewhere when you are in a rebuild, and even though EMU can rightfully be accused of entering its seventh or eighth rebuild since the halcyon days of California Bowl wins and 10-win seasons with Ronnie Adams at QB and Jim Harkema on the sidelines, the past is not necessarily prologue in Ypsilanti.

So Eastern wants to drop half a million bucks to have a gray field. They want to call their stadium The Factory.

Laugh at them if you’d like. Deride them for being desperate.

At least they’re trying. And that wasn’t always the case.