Q&A: Eastern Head Coach Beau Baldwin
There won’t be a tie this time in Baldwin’s second title tilt as he was an assistant in 1995 when Central Washington earned a share of the NAIA title with a tie
A tie for the title?
That won’t happen this year, but it did back in 1995 for Eastern Washington University head football coach Beau Baldwin.
Baldwin was a young assistant coach for Central Washington University when his alma mater won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) title. But so did Findlay of Ohio, as the two teams tied 21-all and walked away with a share of the championship.
That probably won’t ever happen again, and certainly won’t this Friday (Jan. 7) when Baldwin’s Eagles take on Delaware in the 2011 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff at Pizza Hut Park is 4 p.m. Pacific in a game televised live on ESPN2. About 1,300 tickets have been sold to Eastern fans, including a large number of ex-Eagle football players.
The Eagles arrived in Frisco late Tuesday night, then spent Wednesday practicing, fulfilling media obligations, visiting Bright Elementary school in Frisco and then capping the day by attending the Great Texas Barbecue Bowl.
Baldwin has come a long way since his early days at Central, where he was once beat out for the quarterback job by current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna. Baldwin would eventually become a highly-regarded quarterbacks coach at both Central and Eastern.
In fact, Baldwin’s quarterbacks coach at Central was current Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Greg Olsen. And when Baldwin first came to Eastern, one of his fellow assistants in 2003 was Jimmy Lake, who is also now on Tampa Bay’s staff as a defensive backs coach. Lake was a high school graduate of North Central High School in Spokane and was an Eagle football player from 1995-98 before graduating from EWU in 2000.
Just last Sunday, Olsen and Lake catered a dinner for the Eastern coaching staff as their way of congratulating the Eagles on their 12-2 season. Tampa Bay concluded its season with a 23-13 victory over defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans, finishing 10-6 and just missing out on a playoff berth.
Baldwin has now spent 17 seasons as a coach, including 10 years at Central and seven at EWU. He has coached in 17 post-season playoff games, with a record of 10-6-1. He has made four appearances in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs (4-3), two in the NCAA Division II Playoffs (2-2) and two in the NAIA Playoffs (4-1-1).
Eastern’s co-Big Sky Conference title in 2010 was the sixth conference title he has been a part of as a coach.
Have you and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna talked about your experience in the NAIA Championship Game back in 1995?
“Oh yes, we talk about things all the time and certainly have talked about that. Even in years past we’ve talked about that season and how you draw from things you learn. Recently, we’ve talked about that season again. He’s one of those guys who is so grounded and has always appreciated where he came from. I don’t want to speak too much for him, but I’ve heard him say it before that that was maybe the most fun he has ever had playing football. And you are talking about a 13-year veteran in the NFL, and he’s played in Europe for a year. He’s done some amazing things in the NFL, but he still looks back on his days at Central, and especially the 1995 year, as one of the best times in his life.”
Will you get to see him while you are in Frisco?
“He already has plans for a family vacation -- ironically he will be coming to the state of Washington on Wednesday. He was going to come out and see the team on Tuesday when we first got in, but because we got in so late we weren’t able to make that work.”
What did you learn from that experience in 1995 that you can use this week?
“You just learn that once you get in, it’s a matter of taking one week at a time. In a tournament format, you don’t have to get overwhelmed with beating all 16 or 20 teams the first week -- you just handle them one at a time as they come. Sometimes you get overwhelmed by looking at the whole tournament. When you really break it down and simplify it, that’s what allows you to have success in that particular week and not try to win the whole thing the first week.”
How about the national championship game itself. What do you remember from that?
“I think more than anything you have to come out and make sure you settle down and treat it like just another game. I can remember a few guys that were maybe a little too excited -- both coaches and players. They weren’t overwhelmed as much as they were overanxious. You have to be careful of that because you are not going to be able to play your best when you get a little hyped up too early. I’ve learned you need to settle down and just play football. I know this game has a huge magnitude, but once you get going you forget you are on national TV -- you are just trying to execute on each particular play. It’s a better team each week along the way, and then the championship game will be between the best two teams. You know you are in a dogfight, but you just have to break it down to one play at a time, one series at a time and one quarter at a time. The end will take care of itself.”
One thing is for certain, you won’t have a tie.
“We will not have a tie. I think that is the last tie in college football history because I think they went to a tiebreaker after that season. That is still something that is unique and it was a strange way to finish a game, that’s for sure.”
Did finishing in a tie have some merit, or would you rather have had a winner and a loser?
“Both teams would have rather been the winner, but I guarantee we both appreciated that each of us had a national championship ring rather than losing. At the time, nobody wanted to end in a tie -- it was a strange feeling. Years later when you can look back, you appreciate that it’s still tough to get to that point even though we had to share the national title.”
How did the coaches dinner on Sunday night come about?
“It was set-up by Greg Olsen and Jimmy Lake. Greg was my quarterbacks coach at Central from 1990 to 1993 during my four years at Central. He has since gone on to do some amazing things, and is now at Tampa Bay. Jimmy Lake was somebody I coached with for one season here, and I’ve stayed really good friends with him. Out of nowhere they got hold of our athletic department -- they didn’t even get hold of me because they wanted it to be a little bit of a surprise. They knew Sunday would be one of our later nights in the office, and catered in some barbecue from the Red Lion. It was really nice.”
Was it a surprise for the other coaches?
“It was, but I couldn’t leave it as too much of a surprise because I didn’t want them to take off and eat dinner somewhere else. I had to let them know early on that we had something planned and food coming in. It was still a little bit of a surprise.”
Did you talk to Greg or Jimmy afterwards?
“I left a message with coach Olsen thanking him, but also congratulated him. He did an amazing job at Tampa Bay and they did an amazing job as a team to finish with 10 wins with a young football team. I talked with Jimmy on Monday, and unfortunately, he wasn’t sure if he could actually be at the game. But he’s certainly going to be watching on TV -- he’s a really excited alum.”
The outpouring of former players planning on attending the game has to be overwhelming to you. That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?
“It’s awesome -- I’ve either talked with them directly, received e-mails or heard from others about how many former players are excited and will be there. It’s neat for our guys and something we appreciate very much. It means a lot that we will have a huge showing of former Eagles down there supporting us.”
What has been the best part of the last three weeks for the team and yourself?
“I think the chance to truly appreciate where you are, but not to be content. And these players are not content. It’s a fine line, but it gives you some time to soak it in and appreciate what you accomplished. But then you get back to work. Delaware is thinking the same thing. You are not content with where you are -- you are excited about trying to go win one more because the ultimate goal when you start the playoffs is to win it all. These three weeks have given us plenty of time to prepare, but at the same time to be around our family and friends at a fun time in our lives.”
You’ve practiced in cold weather and snow. Who copes with it the best and who copes with it the worst?
“I’d have to think about that one a little bit. They’ve been pretty good about it. If we were 5-5 practicing in this weather we would probably have more belly-achers. But the fact we get to play for a national title, I think every one of these guys would practice in a freezer.”
Does Aaron Best get honorable mention for always coaching in shorts?
“I would say Coach Best has handled it the best. Honestly, his attire has not changed from August 10th to January 3rd. I give him the award for that.”
With students back from Christmas break, do you feel a little more of the buzz around campus?
“It’s exciting to see people in town and talking with them, whether it’s on campus or wherever. It’s pretty neat and a good feeling -- this is exciting. People are really behind us and a lot of fans are making the trip.”
How excited are these guys to play and quit practicing? And you’ve practiced a lot.
“They are very excited. We’re hitting week three now in terms of the amount of time since we last played. Having essentially two byes in a row is unusual, obviously. It’s time to play a game. Once you get down there, you get re-energized again with something new and exciting. We’ll have two practices down there and the time will go by fast in Texas.”
How do deal with the distractions and the other events taking place in conjunction with the game?
“I think the coaches have done a great job and have handled it so well to the point we felt like after last Friday we were ready to play on Saturday (Jan. 1). That’s how we treated it. It’s a lot easier to deal with these distractions knowing that everything is in and ready to go. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning and re-running some of the plays and the looks we expect to see and run in the championship game. Not having to game-plan or teach at this point makes it easier to deal with the distractions along the way. All year we have had a mature group that has handled these types of distractions and adversity. We are just going to enjoy it.”
You want the guys to have fun, but it’s a business trip too. Is there a balance you have to find?
“I think the fact you get there early allows you to really enjoy it and appreciate it. I’m not one of those coaches who is going to ask them to have their game face on for three days --that’s not me. We’re going to practice and get moving, but we are going to enjoy it. I want them to be somewhat relaxed because I think they perform better when they are. But Thursday night we’ll be into our normal routine before a game.”