Even at 0-5, Eastern Michigan football coach Ron English doesn't sweat
Even without a victory so far this season, Ron English isn't acting frustrated.
The first-year Eastern Michigan coach remains locked in on small things, largely ignoring the Eagles' 0-5 start in exchange for ground-level improvements that, in time, may turn his program around.
"I know what a team is supposed to look like and I have that expectation, but I don't really go in with a lot of other expectations," English said Wednesday in advance of facing Kent State at home Saturday at 4 p.m. "I just try and assess the situation and so with where we are now, it can be frustrating if you allow it to. But if you allow yourself to become frustrated, you diminish your ability to concentrate on what is really important. And that's improvement."
"This isn't a one-year situation for us. So what we talk about every day as a staff is getting the players better every day."
It hasn't been easy. Eastern Michigan lost senior quarterback Andy Schmitt for the year when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a loss to Michigan. Senior defensive captain Ryan Downard suffered a season-ending broken arm in practice shortly afterward.
Eastern Michigan's defense has struggled, especially against the run. The Eagles are allowing 262 yards per game, which ranks 119th nationally - next to last in Division I-A polls. Only Western Kentucky (281 yards per game) is worse than Eastern Michigan, which ranks 94th overall in total defense.
English tells his players that regardless of the five-game losing streak, players must create their own motivation.
"For me, I look at it like I'm 0-0 every week. Every week is a new week regardless of what you're record is. I've learned that because I've been in down programs and I've learned that because I've been in elite programs," English said. "If you win and you start behaving differently, you start not to get the same results you need to maintain success, and that's an issue. If you're losing, it's the same thing. So I can't allow myself to be frustrated right now.
"I just have to understand that we're in this for the long haul. Now, if this was two years from now, it would be a real issue or if we haven't shown significant improvement by the end of the season or next year, yeah, it will be hard to contain frustration."
Eastern Michigan athletic director Derrick Gragg doesn't worry about English. The two meet weekly and discuss issues surrounding the school's football program. And even after the Eagles were picked apart in a 56-8 loss to rival Central Michigan last weekend, Gragg doesn't sense English's focus shifting.
"He's very resilient," Gragg said. "There's no sense of panic with him."
Gragg didn't expect a quick turnaround when he hired English last winter. After all, in 36 years of competing in the Mid-American Conference, Eastern Michigan has posted winning records in league play (5-3 or better) five times.
"The program has had some spot success, but it didn't get into the shape it is overnight," Gragg said. "So I didn't think we could magically fix it overnight, either."
Gragg said success will be helped along through recruiting and facility improvements coming in the near future. But for the time being, English remains dedicated to the process, refusing to allow frustration to creep in. And by keeping his players locked into taking smaller steps toward improvement, he knows through experience that things will turn around.
"I don't look it it like (we're 0-5)," English said. "I look at it like, 'Can I get this guy to take this step and see what he's supposed to see here?' It's kind of like you're a (prisoner of war) - you have to have something to take your mind off of it.
So I told the players, 'Why don't you practice on the fundamentals,' 'Why don't you focus on your technique, because that's the only way you get out of it.' "
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org