It was the little things, Beau Baldwin said, that added up to another big football season at Eastern Washington – and his selection Wednesday as Big Sky Conference Co-Coach of the Year.
They included faster-paced practices, an emphasis on the running game, stressing pursuit angles on defense and more time devoted to special teams – all of which added up to a 9-2 record, a conference title and a No. 2 seed in the upcoming FCS playoffs.
“We just focused on doing the ordinary things better,” said Baldwin, who is also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award after leading the Eagles to their sixth conference title and a second-round game against either Wagner or Colgate.
It didn’t hurt that the Eagles were extraordinary this year when games were on the line in the fourth quarter, going 6-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
“It comes from a mindset you try to create in practice,” Baldwin said. “That mindset just believes we don’t jerk-react; we’re always talking about responding.
“That gives you a great opportunity. We have fun together doing what we do, so you’ve got a better chance not to tighten up in those moments. That’s what I call a loose focus.”
At the same time, Baldwin and his offensive staff maintained a focus on improving the running game even while alternating quarterbacks Kyle Padron and Vernon Adams. Yards per rush improved almost a full yard per carry, to 3.9, while the Eagles still led FCS in passing yards with 368.5 per game.
Defensively, Eastern overcame numerous injuries, especially at linebacker, and held opponents to 5.3 yards per play, down from 5.6 the previous season.
Winning is even more rewarding since the target on the Eagles’ collective backs has grown since winning the national title in 2010.
“We’re getting everyone’s best shot,” said athletic director Bill Chaves, who hired Baldwin in January 2008. “Once we won the championship, you’re going to tend to get people’s best shot.
“Our team knows that and they don’t back away from adversity.”
Baldwin is the fourth coach in school history to win the award. His predecessor, Paul Wulff, won in 2001, 2004 and 2005. Current Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer won in 1997 and Dick Zornes was Eastern’s first in 1992. The Eagles won league titles and advanced to the playoffs in all of those years except for 2001.
Baldwin shared the award with Tim Walsh of Cal Poly, which also reached the FCS playoffs.
“It means a lot to be honored by your peers,” Baldwin said. “The level of coaching in this conference is outstanding. It’s a challenge each and every week for each of us. It is humbling to be honored along with Coach Walsh, who is also very deserving.”
Baldwin is 42-18 in four-plus seasons as head coach at Eastern (2008-12).