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Grip on Sports: Eastern’s Baldwin takes a neccesary step on the road to success

Eastern Washington Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin stands withhis team after falling to Youngstown State during the second half of a FCS football game on Saturday, Dec 17, 2016, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Youngstown State won the game 40-38.  TYLER TJOMSLAND tylert@spokesman.com (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin stands withhis team after falling to Youngstown State during the second half of a FCS football game on Saturday, Dec 17, 2016, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Youngstown State won the game 40-38. TYLER TJOMSLAND tylert@spokesman.com (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Beau knows football, that’s for sure. And Beau knows how to be successful at football. Yesterday, Beau showed he knows the steps that have to be followed to become a big-time Power 5 head coach. And Inland Northwest football fans know he will reach that goal some day. Read on. 

••••••••••

• Beau Baldwin said goodbye to Eastern Washington University on Monday. He knew it was going to be hard. It was. For him and for us.

Maybe we should just blame it on Mark Few.

The uber-successful Gonzaga basketball coach has been lured by schools with the pedigree of Indiana, the hometown memories of Oregon and everything else in-between. And yet no one has been able to reel him in. He’s stayed in the Spokane area, building GU into a national power and settling down with his family for what seems to be a lifetime ride.

Because of that, maybe we thought Baldwin would stay too.

But college football is a different animal than hoops, and Eastern Washington is a different level than Gonzaga. Literally.

There are more than 300 college basketball programs eligible for the NCAA tournament, the pinnacle of the sport. Gonzaga and Eastern are two of them.

But when it comes to top-end football, there are 64 schools in the so-called Power 5 conferences – and Notre Dame. They are the upper crust of the crusty old sport.

Everything is different there, especially in contrast to Eastern, despite the Eagles having built one of the FCS’ top two or three programs. Most notably, money. And opportunity to grab the most golden of the golden rings.

Beau Baldwin was making less than $250,000 as head coach of the Eagles. He’ll make much more than that to be offensive coordinator under new coach Justin Wilcox at California. (With the difference in cost of living, it might be a wash though, considering the expense of Bay Area homes.)

But it’s not just the money. It never has been with Baldwin.

It’s the chance to show his worth.

We know Baldwin is destined to be a successful FBS head coach some day. We saw it on the red turf every day over the last decade. He’s the real deal. But he’s never gotten a true opportunity to move up.

His predecessor in Cheney did. And that’s probably part of why Baldwin didn’t.

When Paul Wulff was hired at Washington State, he had been successful at Eastern, winning 57 percent of his games and two Big Sky title in eight years.

At WSU he won nine games. Total. And four in Pac-12 play. In four years.

The depth of that failure has probably hung like a stench over Baldwin, despite having nothing to do with it.

Baldwin has taken the Eastern legacy of Dick Zornes, Mike Kramer and Wulff and improved on it. He won 73 percent of his games there. He won five Big Sky titles and one national title. He’s been ultra-successful.

And yet one of the first questions any athletic director would have to answer at Baldwin’s introductory press conference would be about Wulff’s WSU tenure – and the lack of success.

“Uh, Tom, can you tell us what makes you think Baldwin will be any different?”

It's little wonder Baldwin has not been picked for a FBS head coaching spot.

So Baldwin knew what all of us knew. He had to move on to an offensive coordinator spot at an FBS school if he every wanted to be a head coach at that level.

Each year some West Coast school would either change head coaches or fire its offensive coordinator. And Eastern fans would hold their breath. Each year they could exhale. When Baldwin flirted with Nevada – as a head coach – last month, there was a lot of breath-holding going on. But the Wolf Pack – or maybe Baldwin – decided to go in another direction. And there was a mighty wind from Cheney as everyone relaxed.

Too soon, it turned out. The wheels of the UC bureaucracy turn ever so slowly and it took more than a month for the Bears to get the OK to ditch Sonny Dykes (and his multi-million dollar guaranteed contract) and hire Wilcox, the long-time and well-traveled defensive coordinator.

Wilcox knew he needed someone to run his offense, someone with head coaching experience, carrying an offense that gave the Pac-12 fits. He made the right choice.

Baldwin can run that side of the ball for the former Wisconsin and USC (and a bunch of other places) defensive guru. He know every aspect of it, from recruiting to practice planning to budgeting, if need be.

And Baldwin will show how good he is – on and off the field.

It’s hard to know if the Bears will be successful overall, due to the hole the program finds itself, from a defensive-talent deficit to school budgetary and academic restraints that may hamstring them. But even with those problems, Baldwin’s side of the ball will thrive. It always has.

And in a few years he’ll field a call from some bright athletic director at Arizona or Texas Tech or Indiana with an offer way-too-many years in the making.

Because, when it comes to Beau Baldwin, we all know that’s coming.

•••

Gonzaga: No, the Zags were not No. 1 in yesterday’s basketball polls, but they did inch up a notch. Jim Meehan has that and more in this story.

WSU: If I were a WSU student/football player, I might file a grievance against the grades handed out by ESPN.com’s Pac-12 football blog. … Around around the conference in football, we covered California’s excellent hire above. … Oregon has put a new staff in place but one has to wonder, after players were hospitalized following workouts, if the new strength coach is in trouble. … It’s no surprise USC is losing this guy. … Utah isn’t satisfied with its recent results. … Arizona may have lost its athletic director to Alabama, but, up the road, ASU picked up a kicker who was headed South. … In basketball, Sean Miller finally had a few things to say about not having his best player eligible. … Why is Colorado in such trouble? … Oregon’s starting lineup doesn’t include one of its best players. … If the NCAA makes some changes in its tournament selection criteria, Ken Pomeroy should be right in the middle of it.

EWU: Baldwin made it clear yesterday he will never forget Cheney, tearing up at his going-away press conference. And the Eastern folks will never forget him. Jim Allen catches all of that in this story on his departure. And what Jim didn’t get to, John Blanchette does in this column. … Jim also has a story on Eastern’s search for a successor. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky (where most fan bases are probably celebrating today), Northern Arizona has had an extended rest. 

NIC: The Cardinals swept a pair of basketball games yesterday.

Chiefs: Though Spokane is trying to win now, first-year Chiefs’ general manager Scott Carter also wants to build for the future. Josh Horton has the story. … Portland is missing one of its better players.

Preps: Bill Pierce has another history lesson for all of us, touching on the success of the 1965 Harrington basketball team in this blog post. … Dave Nichols takes a look at where the basketball races in the area stand.

Seahawks: Mr. Positive made the rounds yesterday, as Pete Carroll spoke on the radio and for 50 minutes in front of the Puget Sound media. He was forthright on where the blame lies for the Hawks’ problems this season, held out hope for next year and revealed an expensive piece of news. The Hawks will probably get fined for not telling the world about a Richard Sherman injury.

•••

• In our limited interactions with Beau Baldwin, we found him to be everything those close to him said he was, smart, funny, sincere and more. He will be a success no matter where he ends up. Unless it’s Iowa State. No one is successful at Iowa State. Until later …


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