As the rumors swirled Tuesday afternoon, Eastern Washington football coach Beau Baldwin did his best to quash them.
“There’s no other FCS program I’m going to coach at,” Baldwin said as his Eagles prepared for Saturday’s second-round playoff game against Montana – the very program that may be trying to woo him.
The Missoulian reported on Monday that Baldwin is thought to be one of four leading candates for the Griz’s soon-to-be-vacant head coaching posititon. Montana announced on Nov. 17 that coach Mick Delaney will retire at the end of the season.
Baldwin acknowledged before Tuesday’s practice at Roos Field that “over the years, you may end up having conversations at different times, and I have utmost respect for that program and for what they do.”
But in the same breath, Baldwin, 42, emphasized that he’s quite satisfied “with what we’ve been able to build at Eastern.”
That includes an FCS national title in 2010, four Big Sky Conference titles in the last four years – and some angst from traditional Big Sky kingpin Montana: In the last four-plus seasons, Eastern is 52-15 overall and is 8-3 in the playoffs, reaching the semfinals on three occasions.
In the same period, Montana is 42-20 and has reached the semis just once.
“I love what we’re doing here … and this is where I’m going to be, especially when we’re talking about our level,” Baldwin said.
On the same day Baldwin said those words, former Eastern quarterback and assistant Jim McElwain – currently the head coach at FBS school Colorado State – was being courted by Florida.
Whether that leads to the next Baldwin rumor remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Baldwin chalked up the Montana speculation to “strange timing.”
As they took the field on a 25-degree afternoon, several Eastern players ackowledged that Saturday’s game will almost certainly play out differently than the Eagles’ 36-26 regular-season win on Nov. 8.
“I’m not sure what they’ll do, but they’re going to try to beat us in a different way,” quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. said.
In recent wins over Montana State and San Diego, the Griz blitzed more often than they did at Eastern, but those teams had quarterbacks with less experience than Adams.
On offense, Montana has used more zone-read plays than in the past, perhaps to take advantage of quarterback Jordan Johnson’s mobility after his recovery from a mid-season ankle injury.
And then there’s that old adage about the difficulty of beating an opponent twice in the same season.
Said wide receiver Cooper Kupp: “You can’t start thinking like that.”
Senior running back Quincy Forte is listed as questionable with an ankle sprain. He missed warm- ups Tuesday, but sprinted onto Roos Field half-an-hour into practice.
“We’re excited about his progress,” said Baldwin, noting that the coaches will have three more days to make a decision. “But he’s one of those guys you want to see in practice to get those reps and get that true feel back.”
Forte has had a feast-or-famine season, topping 150 yards rushing on three occasions but appearning in only three conference games. In the earlier meeting with Montana, he was pulled after gaining 10 yards on eight carries.
Forte did not play in the regular-season finale at Portland State.
Another running back, sophomore Jalen Moore, is listed as doubtful with a knee injury.
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