While some teams are whining about wins that they feel that were stolen from them by the referees other teams are savoring the fact that they have a winning season for a change. I’ve probably said this a couple of times, I was a freshman at Eastern Michigan the last time they went to a bowl game which was the California Bowl in 1987. I was three years out of college the last time they had a winning season of 6-5 in 1995. I was in my first year shooting photographs for Eagle Totem when they had their last non-losing season. In the years between my graduation and 2011, I was a fairly casual Eastern Michigan fan. I’d go to a few games but didn’t really start following them until 2011. Since then, I’ve gone to most of their home games and quite a few away games. In that time I’ve felt a pretty close attachment to the team.
I’m going to ignore the group of coaches between Jim Harkema who last led Eastern Michigan to a bowl game and Ron English who for a brief moment seemed to be moving them in the right direction.
Ron English started as head coach at Eastern Michigan in 2009. From 2003 to 2007, he was a coach at the University of Michigan under Lloyd Carr. In 2008, he became the Defensive Coordinator at Louisville. To say he had a rocky start at Eastern Michigan would be an understatement. He went winless in his first season. It was seven games into his second season before he would record a win against Ball State. It would take him four more games to register a win against Buffalo. He wouldn’t get another win that season. It was his third season that he would would go 6-6, but Eastern Michigan didn’t go bowling because two of those wins were against FCS teams and only one counts for bowl purposes. In 2012, he would record a 2 and 10 season and the rumblings were starting.
2013 would start with a win against Howard University but that would be his last win of the season. Eastern Michigan got blown out in their next five games. In each of those games, Eastern Michigan allowed an average over 40 points scored on them. On the morning October 18th, it was announced that stand out wide receiver Demarius Reed was shot outside of his apartment the night before. The next day was a game against the Ohio Bobcats where Eastern Michigan played inspired for a bit and then gave up. It was during this game that it was discovered that someone made a recording of Ron English berating the team with racial and other slurs.
On November 8th, 2013, it was announced that Ron English was fired and offensive coordinator Stan Parrish was announced as interim head coach. It was revealed that the tape made above was released to the press and distributed. I’m not sure that tape was worse than any other coach but given what happened the day before the speech, it’s no wonder the team’s head wasn’t in the game. Anyway, Eastern Michigan had a game against cross-state rival Western Michigan and played to a pretty stunning overtime victory. That was the last win they would get that season.
On December 11, 2013, it was announced that Chris Creighton was named the next head coach for Eastern Michigan University. Prior to his stint at Eastern Michigan, he was head coach at Drake University in Iowa for an FCS program but basically an unknown to most (except the fine folks at Eagle Totem). He was introduced to the Eastern Michigan fan base about a month later at the basketball game against Ohio University. I really liked what he said at that game and he seemed like a pretty upbeat sort of guy and for some reason I thought he was exactly what Eastern Michigan needed.
On the night before Creighton’s first game against Morgan State, it was announced that three Eastern Michigan players (pretty good ones to boot) had assaulted the cousin of the person that shot Demarius Reed. They were immediately kicked off the team. I think this showed that no player was safe and I think it was the start of some much needed discipline on the team. Eastern Michigan would scrape a 31-28 win against Morgan State for Chris Creigton’s first win as an FBS coach. A few weeks later, he would get his first win against an FBS opponent when Eastern Michigan beat the Buffalo Bulls. He would finish his first season at 2 and 10 but given the state of the team, I don’t think that was too bad.
His second season wasn’t much better as he finished 1 and 11. There were three low points for me in this season. The first was as Eastern Michigan was playing Ball State. They managed to start the game with a lead only to watch momentum switch when a touchdown was scored by the Ball State quarterback after 7 missed tackles (at least). The next game wasn’t much better as Army was able to rack up a billion yards on the ground against Eastern Michigan in route to a 58-36 rout. The lone win came against Wyoming on the road. The other bright spot was against LSU when Eastern Michigan played close for about three quarters.
I think the darkest point was when Eastern Michigan traveled down to Oxford, Ohio to play the Miami RedHawks. On paper, it looked like a game that Eastern Michigan should have won but they played pretty uninspired and lost 28-13. The next game against Massachusetts wasn’t much better and that one should have resulted in an Eagle victory.
After the season, Defensive Coordinator Brad McCaslin was fired and replaced by Neal Neathery. Neathery had a reputation for turning defenses around. And based on many of the numbers that I put up for the previews for this year, it seems like he has. He cut rushing allowed in half and I think Eastern Michigan caused more turnovers. This was a part of the turnaround but I think the other part was Coach Creighton benching star quarterback Brogan Roback for the first couple of games. Again, it reinforced the discipline necessary to have a winning football team. I also think it helped Brogan Roback be a better quarterback when he was called to duty after Todd Porter was injured. I think the team owes a great deal of thanks to him for improving his decision making.
So here we are at 7 and 5 and staring at a bowl game. It’s been a long journey and I hope that this one is the end of one journey and start of a much brighter journey.