Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Did EMU's Recent Hire Fuel Future Failure?

Derrick Gragg oversees one of the most successful athletic departments in the Mid-American Conference but what defines Eastern Michigan University, to the frustration of the school's athletic director, is the failures in two sports instead of the success of the many others.

Specifically, football and men's basketball have earned the very definition of futility for the past 10 years in Ypsilanti, with football struggling ever since the ill-fated Huron decision was quietly broached in the fall of 1990. Add an administrative train wreck prior to Gragg taking the reins of athletics and Dr. Susan W. Martin assuming the president's position and you can understand why Eastern's recent football hire was so important.

But did Eastern hire the right person for their long-term future? I'm not saying the man who got the job, Ron English, isn't the right man for right now, nor am I saying he wasn't the most qualified candidate. If anything, Ron English is probably over-qualified, a charismatic man who's on-field success and passion for football supersedes the most fervent coach you could imagine.

But was Michigan State running backs coach Dan Enos the better candidate for the long-term viability of EMU football? Is it possible the right man was passed over because he didn't exude of the aforementioned qualities English possesses while remaining the most viable candidate for long-term success?

Yes, I'll concede that sounds a bit naive, so let me explain.

EMU has been a springboard for too many coaches and athletic administrators for too long. Eastern needs its own company man, a Bo Schembechler, Eddie Robinson, Duffy Daugherty or Herb Deromedi-type man to accompany a Don Canham-type athletic director. Moreover, Eastern needs a man content with building a successful, long-term program that will succeed him for a couple generations. I could see Ron English, the dynamic, hard-nosed, smart coach winning more than a handful of games next year, and eight or nine games in Year Two only to be poached away from Ypsilanti for a jackpot of dollars and a conference affiliation that starts with the letters B-C-S.

Where will that leave EMU? The same place it was was when Ron Cooper, another dynamic, hard-nosed, willful leader left after two years for the green pastures of Louisville after a 4-7 season was followed by a 5-6 campaign in 1994. Cooper had been head assistant coach at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz before being hired by another golden domer when Gene Smith tabbed Cooper to replace Jim Harkema in 1993, his final year as EMU's athletic director. After Cooper left EMU was 6-5 under Rick Rasnick in 1995 but that was a bit of a faux record. EMU didn't earn a winning mark in the MAC that season and hasn't notched a noticeable ledger in the MAC since 1989 when the then-Hurons lost to Ball State on the last day of the season in a winner-take-all scenario for the league's title berth to the California Bowl.

The school hasn't had a winning record since. If you think EMU doesn't matter in the big scheme of college football, consider that 20 young men with ties to metro Detroit populate the EMU roster, 11 of whom either lived or prepped in Oakland County.

Dan Enos interviewed for the job at Eastern. He's a Dearborn product, a former Edsel Ford Thunderbird who also led MSU to their last Big Ten title, when the Spartans earned a share of the championship in 1990 under the former Spartan quarterback. Like English, he's got Big Ten coaching experience and has children he's not willing to uproot. It was rumored that Enos was already building a staff that included George Perles' son, Pat, and former MSU standout receiver Courtney Hawkins.

I'm absolutely certain EMU hired the best candidate it was afforded in its search. I simply wonder if EMU missed hiring the best candidate as it relates to EMU's long-term success.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available from Arcadia Publishing.

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