John Zamberlin has lost his job, but not his football team.
At least that’s the read Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington University’s third-year head coach, gets after watching video of Zamberlin’s Idaho State team that will attempt to deny the No. 3-ranked Eagles (8-2, 6-1 Big Sky) even a share of the BSC title when the two teams close regular-season play this afternoon at Roos Field.
Kickoff is set for 1:05, and the visiting Bengals (1-9, 0-7) will be playing their final game under Zamberlin, who was dismissed from his job as ISU’s head coach earlier this week, with the understanding he would be allowed to complete his fourth and final season.
Some teams capping a season as miserable as the Bengals have had – and under a lame-duck coach, no less – might just mail in the effort. But Baldwin insists ISU has shown no signs of quitting on Zamberlin.
“He hasn’t lost them all,” said Baldwin, who was the quarterbacks coach under Zamberlin at Central Washington University from 1997-2002. “And that’s why it’s hard for me to think those guys (on ISU’s staff) are coaching their last game.
“I know when I watch film of them, I see an incredibly well-coached team. I see a bunch of guys playing hard and with great effort for 60 minutes, even when things have gone wrong the last four or five weeks. And that’s a testament to what kind of competitors Idaho State’s coaches and players are.”
Baldwin also points out that ISU lost to Big Sky co-leader Montana State in overtime and lost to Weber State by a 16-13 margin.
Still, the Bengals come in riding a nine-game losing streak, with their only win of the year coming in their season opener against Montana-Western. They rank last in the Big Sky in scoring offense with an average of 16.5 points per game, and next-to-last in scoring defense, having allowed an average of 33.2 points.
ISU’s biggest offensive threat is junior return specialist Tavoy Moore, who Baldwin calls “electrifying.” Moore, who leads the conference in punt returns with an average of 18.3 yards per try, has returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns.
The Eagles, who can claim at least a share of the regular-season Big Sky championship with a win, have won six straight and will honor the 14 seniors who will be playing their last regular-season game at Roos Field just prior to kickoff.
Baldwin put the importance of today’s game in perspective by noting in his three years at Eastern, his teams have always broken out of groups during practice and before games by shouting “1-2-3, Big Sky Champion!”
“That’s always your goal, and always what you’re thinking about,” Baldwin said. “And it should be the goal of everyone in the conference. But how many times have we really had the opportunity to control that. This is the only time in the last three years, and there’s a good reason for that – it’s not easy to do.
“But our guys have earned the right to have this opportunity, and now you want to take full advantage of it.”