Coaching change at Howard complicates Eastern Michigan game planning for football opener
Before heading off for tough road games against Big Ten foes Michigan and Penn State, the Eastern Michigan football team has a chance to gain some early-season momentum.
A pair of Football Championship Subdivision opponents visit Rynearson Stadium in the first two weeks of the season, Howard at 7 p.m. Saturday and Alabama State on Sept. 10.
That scheduling gives the Eagles a realistic shot at a 2-0 start, something that hasn’t been accomplished at Eastern Michigan since 1989.
First up is a Howard team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference that went 1-10 last season and cleaned out its coaching staff afterward.
That coaching change gives EMU coach Ron English a challenge.
“Really, the issue is you’re not as comfortable because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to see,” English said during Monday’s Mid-American Conference coaches teleconference.
English says his staff has tracked down film from when first-year Howard coach Gary “The Flea” Harrell was an offensive coordinator at Bowie State and background on the systems the Bison’s new coordinators coached in previously.
Harrell played for the 1993 Howard team that won a Black National College Championship and still holds the school record for career receptions. Offensive coordinator Ted White is a former All-American at Howard who still owns most of the Bison’s school passing and offensive records. He coached quarterbacks at Southern last season.
“As we’re getting into them, we’re practicing against ourselves to keep our speed up and incorporating some of the Howard schemes to try to prepare for what we believe they’ll do also,” English said.
Eastern Michigan hasn’t played an FCS team since its 52-0 win over Indiana State in 2008. The Eagles are one of only four MAC teams that didn’t schedule an FCS opponent in 2009 or 2010 (Bowling Green, Miami and Toledo are the others).
The Eagles are 6-3 against FCS teams since 2001, including a 38-15 win over Howard in 2007.
AnnArbor.com file photo
Third-year starting quarterback Alex Gillett led the Eagles in rushing last season with 766 yards, but English said Monday he’s been impressed with the junior’s improved arm during camp. He was seventh in the 13-team MAC in passing efficiency last season at 122.74 per game.
“He seems to show more arm strength and more accuracy. He has a command of the offense and I think he knows he needs to provide some leadership, more on a vocal level than he has in the past,” English said. “I’m excited to see him play this year and really watch his decision making and how he manages that offense.”
Gillett will be without one of his favorite receivers for two games. Junior wide receiver Kinsman Thomas has been suspended for the Eagles’ first two games because of a “violation of team rules,” English announced on Monday.
Thomas led the team in receiving yards (473) and touchdowns (4) last season.
Ypsilanti High School graduate Cory Gwinner is a starting offensive tackle for Howard. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound redshirt senior was mentioned on some all-MEAC preseason lists.