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Spoo wants to go out on winning EIU note
As legendary Eastern Illinois head coach Bob Spoo sat down with reporters at the Ohio Valley Conference’s annual Football Media Day this past July, it was business as usual.
He knew it was going to be his last Media Day, and while the subject that kept getting brought up was his 25th and final season at Eastern Illinois as he prepares for his retirement at the end of the 2011 campaign, all he wanted to talk about was football.
“It’s been extraordinary,” Spoo said. “I’ve competed against some great programs. I’ve met some head coaches that are really significant in my life. It’s going to … I’m trying not to dwell on it. I don’t want to get into a bother about it. We’ve got football to get ready for, but it will be an exciting time for me. I don’t want it to be a distraction either for our team. We’re here to win football games – that’s what it’s all about.”
The year marks Spoo’s 50th as a coach, whether on the high school or the collegiate level. Spoo currently ranks fourth in NCAA Division I coaches who have stayed at one school for the longest tenure, following Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bob Ford at Albany and Andy Talley at Villanova.
“Fifty years, 25 (at EIU), was a good time,” Spoo said. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I’m a little weak, to be honest with you. … Where does the time go? It just creeps up on you. I’m sad to see it come to an end, but it has to be.
“I’ve been very fortunate, especially at Eastern Illinois, to be here for 25 years. There were moments when I could have been gone, I think, and it probably was close to that. So I’m very grateful to the people who have supported our program, kept us on, and I hope that we have repayed them by having a successful football program. I know we’ll continue that there. I’m working with a great athletic director (Barbara Burke).
The 73-year-old head coach had a scare a few years back, missing the 2006 season after undergoing a medical procedure the same week as the Panthers’ season opener. Spoo was originally expected to be out just four-to-six weeks but was unable to return until after EIU’s playoff run as acting head coach Mark Hutson led the Panthers to an 8-5 record and 7-1 in the OVC.
After Spoo returned, he has coached the Panthers to a 24-25 record through last week’s loss at Northwestern. For his career, Spoo is 143-123-1 as the head coach and 67-34 in the OVC through 14 campaigns. Spoo had led EIU to nine Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
As the Panthers enter OVC play this weekend against Tennessee Tech, Spoo noted some things that he hoped to see his EIU squad improve on from last year’s performance.
“We struggled last year,” Spoo said, referencing the Panthers’ 2-9 season a year ago. “I hope that was just an anomaly, but we’ve got to get back on the winning track and try to win football games again. We’ve got a great group of leaders who take us there. I think everybody’s focused. We don’t really have to remind our guys about last year. They know full well what’s important to get back on the winning track. They’ve worked extremely hard in the offseason program. I think we’re going to be a more competitive team.”
So many players have come through the EIU system, most familiar to most is current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but one player comes back to Spoo’s mind almost instantly.
“There are so many,” Spoo said. “There was a relationship I had with one of my former players – his name was Tim Carver. We recruited him out of Iowa. He’s been a special guy for me. I recruited him in the early ’90s, he was a captain and is one of the former players I continually keep in touch with day after day. The memories of that association are so important to me because they continue to this day. We’re very close and he’s been a special guy. I’ll always be able to focus on him being a highlight of my coaching career.”
In other sports, when a longtime coach announces his retirement, as he makes his way through the conference one last time, he is welcomed and showered with goodwill gifts. Spoo dismissed any notions of any kind of farewell from his fellow OVC coaches.
“I’ll be happy if nothing is done,” Spoo said. “I don’t want to detract from our players or their performance on Saturday. Some of that may happen, obviously that’s out of my control, but as little as is done is better than anything.”
What Spoo doesn’t really want to think about is next year when his career is over.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, first of all,” Spoo said. “I’m going to have to face up to the challenge of not going up to the office every day. I’m going to miss the coaches I’ve coached with, the players I’ve coached. But I’ll live through it. It’s going to happen. But I want this to be a special year in a lot of ways, not the least of which is winning. … It’s been just a great time for me at Eastern Illinois for these 25 years, but I want to make this one special, and that has a lot to do with winning. We don’t want to go out on the losing end. I want to go out on a winning note. That’s probably putting a bit extra pressure on myself and my coaches and the team, but I think it’s really important to go out a winner.”
by Thomas Corhern, Herald Citizen