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Tuesday Tidbits part 2: MAC football preview edition

August 3, 2010

Obviously the MAC football preview last Friday generated a lot of media coverage, but a fair bit of it consisted of superficial pieces by outlets that don’t really cover EMU. For example, I’ve seen probably two dozen articles that just reprinted the pre-season rankings and added a paragraph or two about the local team, and there’s so little value in those that I’m not going to share any of them here.

Ron English did make one comment that got more attention than I expected. As quoted in AnnArbor.com:

“If you go to Detroit right now and you buy one of these old houses, are you going to try and refurbish it or are you going to knock the thing down and start over?…You’re probably going to knock it down and that’s what we did. We said, ‘We’re going to take a hit here, but we’re not going to tread water. We’re going to knock the thing down and start over.'”

The Detroit News focused less on the tearing down and more on the rebuilding:

“We wanted to recruit football players that love football…I felt like we had a lot of guys who really didn’t love football.”

Once English found his guys, he said he looked for student-athletes with strong family backgrounds that would make them coachable.

“We wanted guys that had a father in their background,” English said. “A guy that’s raised by his mom all the time, and please don’t take me wrong, but the reality is that you’ve got to teach that guy how to be taught by a man.”

The Eagles bring in a 24-person recruiting class this season that includes defensive lineman Jabar Westerman (Dodge City, Kan.) and linebacker Darrius Moffett (Charlotte, N.C.), both three-star recruits according to Rivals.com. While English will wait for fall camp to decide which players he will redshirt, he said he will be looking for guys with the right mind-set, especially on defense.

“Philosophically, to be honest with you, I just did not like the attitude of the defense,” English said, adding he wished he had taken over the defensive coaching last year. “There was no attitude.”

Ignore for a moment the somewhat problematic housing analogy, and  consider what he’s saying. When you have a team that’s averaged less than two MAC wins a season for the last ten years, you don’t have much to work with, and what you do have may not be worth using. I think we should have been more surprised (and concerned) if English had told us that he thought he already had a solid core to build on.

The Detroit Free Press notes changes in the strength and conditioning regimen:

“We’ve had a good summer,” English said. “One of the biggest changes we’ve made is we hired a new strength coach and the players look different, and I think that’s how you judge a strength coach. Our bodies have changed and we’re further along than Year 1 at this time.”

I think this has the potential to be one of the biggest off-season changes. Obviously the Eagles have struggled in recruiting talented players, attracting at most one or two 3-star players a year. There are really just two ways to deal with this: find talented players whom other programs have overlooked, and do as much as possible to improve the players they get.

The Eastern Echo notes that English refused to give a specific win target for the season, though he did say “I expect to win some games” which means at least two. He also commented on the quarterback situation, still refusing to say whether Alex Gillett or Devontae Payne would be the starter. Possibly the most important point observed by the Echo was Athletic Director Derrick Gragg’s comment about maintaining D-I FBS status — the NCAA requires average attendance of 15,000 per home game at least every other year to stay in the top level of college football, and given that EMU averaged just 5,000 fans per game in 2009 this is a very real concern.

“The university has been in compliance because the rule states they can have 15,000 in either actual or paid attendance, and we have been able to do it with paid attendance, so that makes it fine what the NCAA.”

In other words, the athletic department is going to make sure that 75,000 home tickets (15,000 per game for five games) get sold this year, one way or another. They’ve done this (several times?) before, so I’m not particularly surprised.

MAC Report Online, in their season preview for EMU, notes several facilities improvements as key off-season changes.

English indicated the facilities gap showed up in a number of areas, including injuries, during his first year at the helm.

“I think what happened is that at Eastern Michigan, the players have not been able to develop year-round,” said English, who noted the school has recently put money into both indoor and outdoor improvements for the program.

“We can’t ask more of our administration right now,” he said. “Not only did we put up that indoor facility, but two brand new grass practice fields that are full-sized fields. They are going to be unbelievable practice facilities for us.”

Facilities have an enormous impact on the quality of team the school can field. First, facilities factor into recruiting; it will be a lot easier to convince athletes to come to Michigan if they have a place to practice indoors in the winter. Second, this plays right into the point I mentioned above about doing as much as possible to improve the players that do come to Ypsilanti. So I would rate the facilities improvements as another one of the biggest off-season changes — considering the long-term effect, possibly the biggest.

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