Beau Baldwin’s remarkable balancing act was rewarded on Monday.
The Eastern Washington football coach was named one of 20 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award after completing a one-year turnaround with the Eagles that may be more impressive than a better won-lost record.
Coming off an injury-plagued 6-5 season, the Eagles rebounded this season with a 9-2 record, a Big Sky Conference title and a No. 2 seed in the FCS playoffs, all while Baldwin restored balance to the offense even as he juggled two quarterbacks for the first time in his career.
One of those quarterbacks, Vernon Adams, is one of 20 finalists for the Jerry Rice Award, which is given to the top freshman in the FCS.
The bigger reward for both is Eastern’s ninth appearance in the playoffs, and Baldwin’s fifth as either an assistant coach (in 2004 and 2005) and as a head coach in three of his five seasons in charge at Eastern (in 2009, 2010 and this season).
Under Baldwin, Eastern won the national title in 2010. In four-plus seasons, he is 42-18 overall and 30-10 in Big Sky games.
Eastern will host either Wagner or Colgate in a second-round game on Dec. 1. The Eagles, 5-0 at home this year, are guaranteed to host through the semifinals.
One reason for the success may be Baldwin’s commitment to offensive balance. Last year, the Eagles were the most pass-heavy team in the FCS, but achieved almost a 50-50 split this season. Eastern threw 403 passes and ran the ball 380 times while averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
At the same time, Baldwin surprised observers by starting redshirt freshman Adams in the third game of the season, the Big Sky opener at Weber State. In the end, both Adams and opening-game starter Kyle Padron saw plenty of action, while Eastern opponents were forced to prepare for two quarterbacks with radically different styles.
“It’s a new experience for me, and I’m still adjusting to it,” Baldwin said at mid-season. Sometimes the decision was forced by the opponent, and sometimes by the flow of the game.
Adams ranks eighth in FCS in passing efficiency (152.38), and is the only freshman in the top 14 of the rankings. In nine games as a starter and one as a sub, he has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,586 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
A panel of about 160 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will select the Robinson Award winner, which is presented by The Sports Network. Both awards – as well as the Walter Payton Award (top player in FCS) and the Buck Buchanan Award (top defensive player) – will be voted on by a national panel of about 160 this week. The awards will be presented at the FCS awards banquet and presentation on Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.