Football at Eastern Washington University isn’t slowing down for the winter.
If anything, the pace has picked up since Jan. 21, when offensive line coach Aaron Best was named to succeed Beau Baldwin.
“It seems like yesterday,” Best said Monday. “But now I’ve got my feet on the ground and we’re getting ready to take the next steps.”
The Eagles have taken a few big steps already:
- On Feb. 1, they signed one of the best recruiting classes in school history, which included five athletes rated three stars or higher by at least one scouting web site;
- Signed Best to a five-year contract, at $180,000 per year, which he signed on Monday;
- Opened “winter ball,” Eagles’ off-season conditioning program;
- Clarified the kind of offensive philosophy that Best plans to carry forward.
The biggest task remains the hiring of five more coaches, including an offensive coordinator and assistants to handle wide receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks and the offensive line.
“We’re two or three weeks away from getting everyone on board,” said Best, who implied that all five coaches will be named at the same time.
At the same time, Best said that he will not have a major role in play-calling, leaving that to the coordinator.
“Calling plays is going to be out of my hands – I don’t think that’s the best thing for the team going forward,” Best said.
Best said he’s committed to a pass-first offense with balance. Last year, Eastern passed the ball 61 percent of the time, a percentage Best said he’s comfortable with.
However, he hasn’t forgotten the Eagles’ 40-38 FCS semifinal loss to Youngstown State, a game in which the Eagles’ passing-game struggled in the cold and wind. As a consequence, the Eastern defense spent too much time on the field in the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball in inclement weather,” Best said. “We’ve got to be more effective there.”
Meanwhile, the hiring process is moving along at a deliberate pace. With five hires to make, Best is taking a holistic approach, which means the coaches’ duties may not be clearly defined in the interview process.
That’s partly because Best said he wants to avoid being “pigeon-holed” by naming one coach who might not complement the other hires.
One change is certain. Last year, Troy Taylor coached the quarterbacks and also served as offensive coordinator. That won’t be the case in 2017, as new hire Bodie Reeder will focus solely on the quarterbacks.
It’s unclear whether the new offensive coordinator will also serve as a position coach. The important thing, Best said, is that the “coordinator and the quarterback see eye to eye.”
Given all the activity, Best said his contract was almost an afterthought. He went three weeks without one, but said there was “zero” behind-the-scenes drama as it was being drawn up.
“I wanted my contract to be of less importance than that of the assistant coaches,” Best said.
It was signed last week by president Mary Cullinan and Bill Chaves. Best signed off Monday morning.
Best’s $180,000 annual salary puts him in the mid-range of Big Sky Conference coaches and equivalent to Montana’s Bob Stitt ($179,000) and Montana State’s Jeff Choate ($180,000).
Baldwin was hired in 2008 at $100,000 annually. He made $222,000 last year.
Best’s contract has most of the same incentives as Baldwin’s, including $10,000 for winning the FCS national title.
However, it doesn’t contain bonuses for attendance. Baldwin’s deal added up to $4,000 annually if gate receipts exceeded $150,000 and if Eastern ranked in the top 30 in FCS attendance.
Best and his assistants would be eligible for up to $50,000 from Eastern’s summer camp, provided that at least that amount is raised after all expenses have been paid.
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