The decision didn’t come easily. Neither did the words.
His voice halting, Eastern Washington football coach Beau Baldwin confirmed Monday afternoon that he’s the new offensive coordinator at the University of California.
“I’ve been good all day, and all of a sudden it hits you,” Baldwin said, showing little of his calm sideline demeanor.
Moments earlier, Baldwin had broken the news to his players, the ones he led to the brink of another trip to the Football Championship Subdivision national title game.
“It’s hard, but like anything, I want it to be hard,” Baldwin said.
It was plenty hard on Monday, even after Baldwin accepted a job that “felt right”: the opportunity to lead an offense at a Power 5 program.
Now Eastern must find a successor to the most successful coach in school history. Baldwin’s 85-32 record is the seventh-best in the history of the Big Sky Conference. He’s also won five conference titles (while going 58-14), an FCS national championship in 2010, and took the Eagles on several deep runs in the postseason.
EWU athletic director Bill Chaves, who hired Baldwin in 2008, promised an “expedited search.” Assistants Aaron Best and Jeff Schmedding will serve as co-interim head coaches.
Monday’s news wasn’t a complete shock; Baldwin had been mentioned for several openings in recent years. Barely a month ago, he was a finalist to lead the program at Nevada.
Baldwin didn’t get the job, and at that point the coaching carousel appeared to have left Cheney behind.
However, Cal pulled a stunning move on Jan. 8 by firing coach Sonny Dykes. The Golden Bears quickly zeroed in on Justin Wilcox, once the defensive coordinator at Washington, USC and most recently Wisconsin.
Cal agreed to terms late last week with Wilcox, who contacted the 44-year-old Baldwin – considered one of the top offensive minds on the West Coast.
“That’s all it was, a couple of conversations,” Baldwin said, acknowledging the swiftness of events.
“Eventually that leads to an interview, and that leads us to where we are today,” Baldwin said, with Chaves at his side.
And what a day it was. Baldwin flew in Monday morning from the Bay Area to meet with players and the media, then flew back to Berkeley later that night.
If there were any hard feelings, the players didn’t show it.
“How can you not be happy for him?” quarterback Gage Gubrud said. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’m just thankful I got to play for him for three years.”
Gubrud and the other players suspected something was up Sunday night when they received texts requesting them to appear at a team meeting on Monday afternoon.
Then, on Monday afternoon, Gubrud saw unconfirmed reports on Twitter that Baldwin had been hired at Cal.
“It’s sad, but you have to have a good attitude and move on,” Gubrud said.
Baldwin has been a collegiate coach for 23 seasons, including nine as head coach at EWU and four as an assistant under Paul Wulff. He also spent 10 seasons at Central Washington, his alma mater.
Baldwin’s .733 winning percentage is seventh all-time in the 53-year history of the Big Sky. He was just four wins shy of the school record of 89 victories by Dick Zornes from 1979-93 during EWU’s transition from NAIA to NCAA Division I and the Big Sky.
In EWU’s last 13 seasons (2004-16), including 12 with Baldwin on the coaching staff, EWU has ranked in the top 10 in passing 11 times, total offense on nine occasions and scoring five times.
In his final year, Baldwin went 12-2 with a Big Sky title. The Eagles lost to Youngstown State 40-38 in the FCS semifinals.
“Eastern is much bigger than any one person – it always has been and always will be,” Baldwin added. “I know this program will continue to roll, and that excites me. And we’re proud of that. I’m excited for the opportunity ahead, but I will miss an amazing place.”