They were circling the wagons pretty tightly in Cheney on Tuesday.
That had less to do with the 14-degree wind-chill and more about rumors swirling around Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin, who returned from a job interview at Nevada with one message:
The Eastern players took Baldwin’s cue as practice began at Roos Field.
“He just told us just was an interview – nothing more – and he told us to focus on Richmond,” wide receiver Kendrick Bourne said as he stepped onto the icy turf to prepare for Saturday’s FCS quarterfinal game against Richmond.
From safety Mitch Fettig: “We’re focused on Richmond, and we trust our coaching stuff that they’re focused on Richmond too.”
Baldwin reassured them after his return from Reno, where he is one of three finalists for the head coaching position at Nevada. The others are Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Arizona State assistant Jay Norvell. Baldwin is the only finalist with collegiate head-coaching experience.
A decision is expected by Friday at the latest.
And then what for the Eagles?
Said running back Sam McPherson: “He (Baldwin) told us that no matter what happens, he’ll be with us all the way to the 8th,” running back Sam McPherson said.
That would be the 8th of January – the day after the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas.
“That’s where we need to be and we need to win two more games to reach our goal,” senior captain Shaq Hill said.
To that end, everything was normal at Tuesday’s practice. Baldwin made sure of that.
“We’re very open and very up front about things,” Baldwin told the media while confirming that he has interviewed at Nevada.
“I told them (the players) exactly what’s going on … anything else you read, you might find about two percent of it that’s true,” Baldwin said.
Compared with all that, the weather was a non-factor, although many players wore faceguards against the icy wind.
“It’s just cold weather and it’s not too big of a deal,” McPherson said. “They coaches will keep you moving.”
Two important pieces were moving Tuesday, and both were in pads: wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who missed the second half of Saturday’s win over Central Arkansas; and linebacker Miquiyah Zamora, who didn’t play at all.
But Kupp’s shoulder and Zamora’s hamstring have improved to the point where Baldwin said “I’m excited, because they’re in that questionable range, and they have a shot.”
Both players are day-to-day and could be a game-day decision, Baldwin added.
With that, the Eagles got down to the business of preparing for the Spiders, who coincidentally have the same distraction: fifth-year coach Danny Rocco is a front-runner for the head-coaching vacancy at Delaware.
Baldwin said he’s impressed with Richmond’s “toughness and grit,” which he said reminded him of some previous playoff encounters with Eastern teams Villanova and Towson.
Noting that the Spiders overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit last week at North Dakota, Baldwin said “anytime you see a team like that, you know they have a lot of guts. They’re skilled too, but they have that ‘it’ factor.”
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