After Disappointing Start, Questions Surround EMU Print E-mail
Written by Dave Ruthenberg   
Thursday, October 02 2008
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EMU Head Coach Jeff Genyk
Arriving back from the annual meeting of Division 1A athletic directors in Dallas, Eastern Michigan athletic director Derrick Gragg had little time to settle in, having instead to address questions surrounding the future of the EMU football program, and specifically, its head coach.

The Eagles are off once again to the type of start that has become all too familiar to fans and supporters of the program. After a preseason that held the promise of a winning campaign, potentially the first since 1995, the Eagles are once again mired in last place in the MAC West.
What's worse is that the team has saved its poorest performances this season for its two MAC home games, a 41-17 setback to Toledo in the rain, and a 37-0 drubbing by Northern Illinois on homecoming, leaving the team 0-2 in MAC play and 1-4 overall with its only win coming against hapless Indiana State (52-0), a team that has lost 42 of its last 43 games and plays in the FCS.
But Gragg, now in his third year as EMU's athletic director, remains hopeful that the Eagles can still turn things around this season and is not prepared to pull the trigger on a coaching change - yet.
"Being the positive person I am, I believe there is still time to turn the season around," noted Gragg. "There are still seven games left, including six in the conference."
Indeed, there is still 75% of the MAC season in front of the Eagles, but EMU's performance thus far has been far from confidence inducing.
"We have to be competitive. That is the important thing in evaluating the program. Football is a tricky game. Injuries play a large part and we have had two significant injuries with our quarterback. Those things take a toll. But we have to show that we are competitive, especially in the conference."
Gragg points to upcoming games against Army on the road and a home tilt against Akron on October 18 as potentially important benchmark games in reviewing the team's progress this season.
Gragg also hears the current rumblings around the program from the fans and alumni.
EMU head coach Jeff Genyk, pictured here after EMU claimed the Michigan MAC Trophy in 2007 wth a 48-45 win over Central Michigan, is 14-37 overall and 11-22 in MAC games.
Photo: Deb Ruthenberg
"I have been 100% supportive (of Genyk) since I have been here and am still 100% supportive right now," said Gragg who was quick to dispel talk of a change in leadership taking place before this week's game at Bowling Green but stopped short of guaranteeing that Genyk's job was secure for the rest of the season regardless of the team's progress.
"We evaluate things on a weekly basis and I meet with Jeff every week to discuss the team and our program."
When asked if there have been any discussions regarding making a change in leadership at this stage, Gragg stated that he has "not had those discussions regarding a change" with those who would be involved in such talks such as the Regents or the President.

"An Athletic Director makes his name off the coaches he hires," acknowledges Gragg, "But I have told Jeff from day one that even though I didn't hire you, you are my guy. I think I have proven my support after the team went 1-11 in my first year (2006 - Genyk's third season) and rolled his contract over."

With the rollover, Genyk is actually now in the first year of a three-year contract that runs through the 2010 season, which would give him seven years at the helm of the program if he coaches to the end of his current deal.
"Nobody is more disappointed in the way the season has gone than those who support the program, "continued Gragg "My main concern in staying positive is with the student-athletehow are they dealing with it and are they keeping their spirits up."
Gragg points to some of the positives of the season, such as 3,800 students turning out for homecoming, the largest student turnout in recent memory at EMU, and also laments some of the bad luck such as the torrential downpour that kept fans away from the conference opener against Toledo.
He also recounts some frustration over the team not getting out to a fast start after having a schedule that included three home games in the first month of the season, a rarity in Ypsilanti.

"We worked really hard to set that schedule up to get it the way it was," he noted.
"It's important to make sure that a coach gets an adequate amount of time to show progress in a program," added Gragg when asked if Genyk has been given the time needed. "You have to look at the program in totality, this is the fifth year which is admittedly a big year (in evaluating the program) and you have to look at everything from year one to year five in determining progress."
Genyk has compiled a career mark of 14-37 since coming over from Northwestern as running backs coach to take over an EMU program that posted only nine wins in nearly four full seasons under his predecessor, Jeff Woodruff.
When asked to recount some of the successes of Genyk, Gragg pointed to EMU's conference record under the fifth-year head coach.
During his tenure Genyk has recorded eleven wins in MAC play over the past four seasons compared to four wins by his predecessor who was let go with three games remaining in 2003.
"Last year we had the best record we have ever had since the MAC went to divisional play," noted Gragg. The Eagles finished tied for third in the MAC West with a 3-2 divisional mark in 2007 that included wins over in-state rivals Western Michigan and Central Michigan.
"He has done a great job in what I call 're-recruiting,' that is re-establishing EMU in recruiting locally in the State and in the region," said Gragg. Those local recruits included a second-round NFL draft choice in Jason Jones who was taken by the Tennessee Titans this past April in the NFL draft.
"We have had no publicized off-field incidents or issues since he came onboard and all of those things have to be taken into account," continued Gragg. "You have to look too at where the program was at when someone took over. You also have to hope that the person you have in charge is the right person to resurrect the program."
So is that person Genyk?
Gragg certainly indicates that he hopes it is, not wishing to have to go through the process of rebuilding the program which would be the likely outcome if there is a coaching change. "We are all pulling for Jeff to succeed here and want nothing more than for him to get things straightened out this year."
Still, he recognizes that all of the positives must nevertheless be balanced with winning.
"We have to be competitive," Gragg repeated, which is something that the team has fallen short on this season and as long as the team underperforms questions about the head coach's future will likely persist and if the losses continue to pile up, the calls for change will also likely increase.
For his part however, Genyk indicates that he remains focused on the short term goals of preparing for each week's opponent and not worrying about speculation about his future.
"I don't necessarily feel any additional pressure," Genyk said in his Monday morning press conference when asked about speculation over the program's direction. "I first realize that each game is critical and you really try not to look at the big picture because it's all about preparing for Bowling Green this week. Fortunes can change overnight."
Indeed. The question ultimately is in which direction will those shifting fortunes eventually land? The direction of the program, and job security, potentially hinge upon such matters.
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