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New Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best defined by work ethic, smarts

New coach Aaron Best (shown here in 2017) will lead Eastern Washington into spring practice next week. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
New coach Aaron Best (shown here in 2017) will lead Eastern Washington into spring practice next week. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Eventually, Aaron Best will figure out this social media thing.

Monday was too soon.

“Twittering,” Eastern Washington’s new head football coach called it during his introductory press conference.

The crowd laughed and Best looked up.

“Or Tweeting, whatever they call it,” Best said, showing off his verbal footwork.

Best is a quick study. By Friday, the former academic All-American was up to 852 followers on Twitter, a medium that – like it or not – comes with his new territory as head coach.

By his own admission, Best is old-school, but not incorrigibly so. “I do bump my head in the car when I listen to music,” he said.

‘The right fit at the right time’

Cerebral and salty but also a gifted teacher, the 38-year-old Best represents the best of Eastern football’s past and present. Now he’s the face of the future.

“The right fit at the right time,” athletic director Bill Chaves called him on Monday. But then Best has fit seamlessly into every role since he set foot on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1996.

His biggest fans are the linemen, past and present, who know him best.

“I can’t wait to see how the whole team reacts,” sophomore tackle Nick Ellison after Monday’s press conference. “He’s a hound about the little things – he makes you care about it and makes sure you give your maximum effort.”

That work ethic was shaped in the trenches, a common trait in Cheney. With the hire of Best, three of the last five Eastern head coaches got their start on the offensive line.

Best will be the first to admit being pulled by an O-line tradition that began under former head coach and Eastern grad Dick Zornes, as well as offensive line coaches Larry Hattemer and Mike Kramer.

“I wish I could have played directly for Dick Zornes – we would have been a tandem to be dealt with,” Best said of EWU’s all-time coaching leader with 89 victories (Baldwin had 85).

They met in 1996, when Best was a true freshman center, just trying to show he belonged.

“He (Zornes) was the athletic director here at the time, and the first thing he asked Coach Wulff was, ‘you recruited this kid?’ ”

“From there our friendship blossomed,” Best said.

The DNA runs deep at Eastern

That tradition – including eventual NFL players Ed Simmons, Kevin Sargent, Jeff Mickel, Trent Pollard and Tom Ackerman – was a big reason Best chose to be an Eagle.

He played four seasons under Mike Kramer, now head coach at Idaho State. Wulff, his offensive line coach at EWU, became the Eagles’ head coach in 2000 and subsequently hired Best.

“Coach Best knows the DNA of our program,” Chaves said.

That’s because Best is part of it.

Eastern’s O-line coach since 2000, Best has mentored 23 All-Americans, including Jake Rodgers, Chris Powers, Gage Jackson, Matt Alfred and the incomparable Michael Roos.

“I was very lucky to have the best offensive line coach possible in Aaron Best,” said Roos, an All-Pro with the Tennessee Titans, after having his jersey retired in Cheney in 2009.

Roos is confident Best is ready to take the next step.

“He’s the kind of coach that gets the most out of players, and respects and loves each one like a son,” Roos said on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it could have happened to a better man. It’s a testament to someone who puts hard work into his passion day-in and day-out and gets rewarded deservedly,” Roos said.

The program already has been rewarded. In the last 13 seasons (2004-16) – 12 with Best on the coaching staff – Eastern has ranked in the top 10 in passing 11 times and in total offense on nine occasions and scoring five times.

Out of the trenches

Now for the hard part: Best must take a step away from the blocking sleds that have been part of his life for two decades.

“I want to see things from a different perspective,” said Best, who also must hire his successor.

“I want to let whoever is in that post to grow and be the best mentor they can for this program,” he said.

If they’re smart, they’ll use Best as a blueprint. The O-line group at Eastern numbers anywhere between 14-20 players, or roughly one out of six players on the roster. That’s a lot teachable moments.

Says former Eastern All-American guard Aaron Neary, “He adapts his teaching so that anyone can learn.”

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