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Eastern Washington’s Aaron Best named Co-Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year

Eastern Washington  head coach Aaron Best tries to rally his team during the second half  Sept. 15 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. Washington State won 59-24. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Add Aaron Best to the list of Eastern Washington football coaches to earn Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year honors.

The second-year head coach helped the fourth-ranked Eagles (9-2) earn a share of the Big Sky title and a No. 3 seed and first-round bye in the FCS playoffs.

Best, whose Eagles will host either Nicholls State or San Diego on Dec. 1 at Roos Field, shared the honor with UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins.

Hawkins, a second-year head coach at UC Davis, led the Aggies to a share of the Big Sky title, the first in program history.

Since 1992, EWU has had five football coaches earn the conference’s top honor – Best, Beau Baldwin, Paul Wulff, Mike Kramer and Dick Zornes.

“The award means a ton, but team awards and individual player awards trump the coach-of-the-year award,” the 40-year-old Best said. “It’s humbling to be recognized by your peers in anything, but especially as intense as college football head coaching is. I’ve only found that out in two years.”

Best’s Eagles ran through the conference in balanced, dominating fashion, with an offense that ranks second in the country (553 yards per game) and a defense was tops in the Big Sky in points allowed (16.8 points per game) against conference foes.

The former EWU center and offensive line coach implemented his brand of physical football into the program’s air-it-out offense, showcasing the country’s ninth-ranked running game (274 rushing yards per game).

All five of the starting offensive linemen Best recruited – Beau Byus, Jack Hunter, Spencer Blackburn, Chris Schlichting and Kaleb Levao – earned All-Big Sky honors this week.

Baldwin, who left EWU after the 2016 season to become the offensive coordinator at California, likes the way Best is doing things.

“The thing I like the most about coach Best is that he is authentically going to do it his way,” Baldwin said. “He’s not going to do it like anyone else before him. It’s what he believes in and it’s rubbing through. The team sees that and respects that.”

Despite losing All-American and record-breaking quarterback Gage Gubrud to a season-ending injury in late September, EWU adjusted and went 5-1 in its remaining schedule.

“Aaron and his staff weathered the loss of one of the iconic players in Big Sky history,” said Kramer, who coached Best at EWU in the late 1990s. “That is leadership. They never wavered, and the best is still ahead of them in 2018.”