Ten years after leading Eastern Washington to its first and only national title, Beau Baldwin continues to seek prosperity in the Big Sky Conference.
Only now he’s doing his recruiting near palm trees instead of the silo-shaped dorms of Pearce Hall, and his coaching staff isn’t green except for its hats and polo shirts.
Baldwin, who spent the past three seasons as the offensive coordinator at California, is getting settled into to his new job as the head coach of Cal Poly, where he’s been since January.
He replaces Tim Walsh, who employed the run-dominant, old-school triple-option offense for the past 11 years, a major contrast to Baldwin’s air-it-out schemes.
Baldwin is tasked with taking over a program that’s had four losing seasons in the past five years. The school’s lofty academic standards – a 35% acceptance rate – also present recruiting challenges.
The recent cancellation of spring football amid the coronavirus pandemic, where the new-look Mustangs aimed to begin the installation of a new system, has slowed the rebuilding process.
“It’s tough,” Baldwin said. “It’s just a matter of handling whatever you can do and control, without getting too stressed and worrying about the things you can’t control.”
Baldwin didn’t face hurdles like these when he was named head coach at EWU.
After serving four years as an offensive coordinator under former EWU coach Paul Wulff, who left Cheney to lead Washington State in 2008, the Eagles were in good shape, qualifying for the FCS playoffs in three of the previous four seasons.
Baldwin, who spent one year as the head coach at Central Washington before he moved on to the same job at EWU, went on to win five Big Sky titles in nine years before his recent, high-paying Pac-12 experiment.
Baldwin’s final game at California ended in a December win, the Bears’ 35-20 decision over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl. Cal went 20-18 in Baldwin’s three seasons, ranking last in the Pac-12 in offense the past two seasons.
He has since hired reinforcements with deep EWU ties to help make Cal Poly a Big Sky contender, including Wulff, who has had several assistant coaching jobs since he was fired by Washington State in 2011.
Wulff will coach the Mustangs’ offensive line and coordinate the running game; former EWU receiver and receivers coach Nick Edwards is the offensive coordinator; former EWU star quarterback Erik Meyer will coach quarterbacks; and former EWU standout linebacker J.C. Sherritt is the defensive coordinator.
Edwards and Meyer followed Baldwin from California, where they helped him with running backs and quarterbacks, respectively. Baldwin coached both during their time at EWU.
“This is a good mix of guys that I coached, coached with, and know the things I’m driving for,” Baldwin said. “And I’ve also hired assistants from the outside, to get a different perspective on things.”
Hiring Wulff 18 years after he took a chance on Baldwin was special, he said.
“It’s great. I can bounce ideas off him,” Baldwin said of Wulff. “He brings a lot of ideas to the table. Great offensive-line mind with a lot of experience.”
Baldwin is excited about the development of Edwards, a receiver on EWU’s 2010 national title team, and his burgeoning football mind.
Meyer won the Walter Payton Award in 2005 at EWU when Baldwin was calling the plays and also starred for the Spokane Shock. He has a coaching résumé that includes a student-assistant stint at EWU in 2012, La Mirada (California) High School, and a brief time as quarterbacks coach at Central Washington.
He and Baldwin will help prepare sophomore Jalen Hamler, an athletic quarterback who passed for 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019 and rushed for 522 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Jalen did some really good things and I am excited about what he can bring back,” Baldwin said. “I know it was in a different offense, but I am excited about what he can bring to the table.”
Sherritt won the Buck Buchanan Award – given to the best FCS linebacker – in 2010 at EWU when he anchored the Eagles’ national championship defense. He went on to have a successful career in the Canadian Football League before retiring last year.
“During spring football at EWU, (Sherritt) would be back from Canada in the offseason and was always at our practices,” Baldwin said. “He was grinding on becoming a coach, and a lot of us knew he would be a fantastic coach.”
Baldwin won’t face EWU until Oct. 23, 2021, in San Luis Obispo. He went 5-0 against the Mustangs at EWU.
EWU edged Cal Poly 42-41 on the road last season when the Mustangs missed a late 35-yard field-goal attempt.
San Francisco 49ers receiver Kendrick Bourne, who played for Baldwin at EWU from 2013-16, is excited to see what Baldwin and his staff do at Cal Poly.
“Cal Poly needs to change that (triple-option) offense,” Bourne said. “Baldwin’s playbook will be versatile, like (49ers head coach Kyle) Shanahan’s. He will put guys in a position to get interest from the next level.”
Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams, who starred at EWU before transferring to Oregon in 2015, also endorsed his former coach.
“He’ll go down there and turn that thing around,” Adams said. “He does the right things. That’s why he got so many guys to fight for him and play for him.”
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