New Owls coach emphasizes family
If there's one thing newly-hired Marshall head football coach Jay Eilers values, it's family.
It's a tribe that's about to grow much larger than his wife, Rebekah, and two young sons -- Ethan, 7, and Evan, 4. He's about to adopt the Owls, and the community around them, as his own.
"Number One, they have to know that Coach Eilers is someone who they can trust, that cares about them away from the weight room and playing field," he promised. "I want to develop them for the game of life, not just to be great football players."
It's an ethic formed during his high school days at West Burlington-Arnold (Iowa) High School, where coach Bill Nelson was and remains an influence, and was strengthened at Northwestern Missouri State University by coach Mel Tjeerdsma.
"It's not how much football I know, it's how much I care about the kids," Eilers explained. "I want to develop the whole person. The wins and losses take care of themselves as long as you take care of people."
Eilers' ebullient personality has served him well as a recruiter at Missouri Western State College, where he had coached the offensive line and been strength and conditioning coordinator during his four years at St. Joseph. The recruiting won't stop at Marshall, where he hopes to draw students -- whether athletes or not -- into his program.
"If you decide not to play football, we want you to be part of the program," Eilers said, listing a variety of roles for both genders and a desire to support all school activities. "There's an opportunity to be part of the family we're going to create."
Even though success didn't come readily on the field at Albany, a struggling Class 1 team which ended a 30-game losing streak in Eilers' third and final season, it was a valuable experience.
"I learned everything ... how to deal with administrators, parents and young men," Eilers said. "I became a much more mature person -- as a husband, as a father, as a football coach and as a person."
It may be that the vicissitudes of his own playing career has shaped his holistic philosophy. He was on offensive tackle on the Bearcats' first NCAA Division II championship team, but has also endured five operations on his foot and has been both a starter and back-up in college and professionally in arena football.
"Coach Eilers has experienced every situation out there," he wants his players to understand. "It's not the guy who scored 22 touchdowns that's the motor of the program, it's all of us."
The fuel will be an emphasis on fundamentals.
"You've got to block, you've got to tackle, you've got to secure the ball," Eilers declared. "If we do that, we have an opportunity to win every game."
Eilers isn't committed to a single approach schematically, but will "evaluate the players we have and the situation in which we work." That flexibility also applies to his staff.
"As a head coach, one of your responsibilities is to develop coaches," he said. "I want to do that to the best of my ability."
That was among the achievements of the man he replaces, Paul Thomas having begun his 10-year hitch with experienced assistants, a staff which evolved with the arrival of young coaches -- like Jason Price, Jon Stockman and Ian Verts -- who grew on the job.
Eilers is only the Owls' fourth head coach in over 50 years, the first 35 under Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame charter member Cecil Naylor. Under Thomas, Marshall enjoyed the highs of three NCMC championships and two district titles, but haven't been to the playoffs since 2006 and have won only 10 games in the last three seasons.
"I don't see a challenge, I see an opportunity," Eilers said.
And he can't wait to get started.
"There's pure excitement, pure energy," he professed, "and it will be even more when I get to be a part of the Marshall community."