When Eastern Washington University head football coach took to the field for his sixth fall camp he had compiled quite a résumé in his first five years on the job.
There’s a 44-19 overall record – a .698 winning percentage – and a 30-10 mark in the Big Sky, all of which are part of EWU’s 2010 national championship and a run to the semifinals last year.
In his EWU career, Baldwin has been honored nationally, regionally and locally. He was the College Sporting News Coach of the Year and the American Football Monthly Coach of the Year. Baldwin was also honored by the Inland Northwest Sportswriters and Broadcasters (SWABS) as Coach of the Year. He was the 2012 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award and a repeat SWABS winner
But Baldwin was quick to share the credit that has allowed Eastern football to move from being constant contenders for conference championships to a program that is now on a national stage too.
Baldwin was hired in January 2008, taking over the job held for a decade by Paul Wulff.
“First off I came into a program and took over for Paul Wulff who had done an amazing job,” Baldwin said this past Monday as he put the finishing touches on preparation for a fall camp that began yesterday and seeks to prepare the Eagles for their 2013 opener, Aug. 31 in Corvallis against Pac-12 Oregon State.
But the credit goes deeper and further back.
“Mike Kramer, Dick Zornes, those men, that foundation allowed me to take it to new heights,” Baldwin said. “Those guys trail-blazed through some times and had success battling through a lot of little adversities.”
“That put me in a position where I could come in and keep building on that,” Baldwin said. “That’s what I feel I’ve been able to do.”
Where the Eastern program went in Baldwin’s five years also has had a strong supporting cast.
“More than anything, and with help from (EWU President) Dr. (Rodolfo) Arévalo, (athletics director) Bill Chaves, Mike Westfall (vice president, University Advancement), Marc Hughes (special events coordinator), those guys helped along the way because it’s been a combination of success on the field and growth within our product; In other words, our game day product,” he explained.
The most obvious success of that “game day product,” was that national title, Baldwin said, referring to the Eagles 20-19 win over Delaware in 2010. “We’ve had a couple of real successful seasons,” alluding to last year’s agonizing 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals last Dec. 15.
With those successful seasons on the field, and the growth of what is taking place on campus with the red turf and scoreboard and new goals like the Gateway Project – which would alter both Roos Field, and the image of the university too – football under Baldwin’s watch has been elevated, and is noticed in places it has never been before.
“We have more of a presence nationally and definitely more of a presence in terms of the West Coast that we never had before,” Baldwin said. “That’s where I think it’s really grown.”
Moving forward, “I don’t mind looking into the future, big picture,” Baldwin said. “In other words, I’m not afraid to say, yeah, we’re going after a Big Sky title, we’re going after a national title and then from there, OK, if we feel that way what’s the process to get there?” Baldwin said.
That process involves seeing his team’s GPA climb over 3.1, up from the current collective 3.09. “I want to see us continue to compete for a Big Sky and national title and I want to see continued growth on the Gateway,” Baldwin said.
“Those three things would be the most exciting for me in the next five years,” he said.
With bigger picture things that have happened already, and visions of even bigger and better things to come, Baldwin was able to think back to April 2008 and his first practice as Eastern’s coach.
“Probably even more I remember my first day of spring,” Baldwin said. “That’s the first true practice at Eastern where you’ve got the big whistle.”
There were no nerves as he made the move from Division II Central Washington to D I Big Sky ball. Five years later the change Baldwin sees is, “I’m probably more relaxed when I get to the game.”
“It’s amazing how far you’ve come.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.