It’s been quite a year for Eastern Michigan. After going 21-4 in Mid-American Conference play to clinch the league’s West Division title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament–which they hosted–the Eagles lost to Kent State 3-2 in the MAC championship game, leaving them out in the cold on NCAA tournament selection day. The fall was tumultuous for EMU, as coach Roger Coryell was suspended for a month, reportedly for inadvertently sending an objectionable e-mail to supporters of the program. After his suspension, Coryell decided to retire after 20 years with the Eagles, resulting in a rather unusual November coaching search.
But Eastern Michigan didn’t have to look far to find the perfect replacement, and Jake Boss didn’t even have to look for a new house after the Eagles hired him away from Michigan. In fact, Boss said his new office in Ypsilanti is closer to his home than his old office in Ann Arbor, where he had served as a Wolverines assistant since the 2005 season. Before that, Boss spent seven years as an assistant to Coryell at EMU, so succeeding Coryell was an ideal situation for him.
"I desired to be a head coach at some point, obviously, and to be able to make that jump and not have to move my family was huge," Boss said. "It was an opportunity that I didn’t think I could really pass up."
Not that it was easy to leave Michigan, which will move a potential national top-10 team into a sparkling new facility in 2008. But in another sense, it was the perfect time to return to the Eagles, who boast a number of key seniors (like Steve Bradshaw, Michael Boyd and Jeff Davis) that were recruited by Boss before he left for Ann Arbor. That connection eased the coaching transition.
"I think (the EMU seniors) were pretty happy for me," Boss said. "It helped–the familiarity–because of the timing of the whole thing. It’s kind of a rough time of year to be making a major change like that, so I think it was a positive."
Providing further continuity, Boss retained EMU assistant Del Young, who had served as interim head coach after Coryell’s retirement. For his recruiting coordinator, Boss tapped former Georgetown assistant Mark Van Ameyde, who he had met during Van Ameyde’s days as an assistant at the now-defunct Detroit Mercy program.
The Eagles will have their work cut out for them in the competitive, underrated MAC, especially since they lost their top two pitchers in Jeff Fischer and George Biddle. But righthander Sean Hoffman (7-2, 3.97 in 2007) and lefty Kevin Sikora (3-0, 2.82 out of the bullpen) return, and Boss expects big contributions out of 6-foot-6 senior lefthander Dan Puls, who has increased his velocity and now runs his fastball into the 88-90 mph range from a deceptive low-three-quarters arm slot. Add in junior righthander Matt Shoemaker (1-2, 3.97 out of the pen), who had a big summer in the Great Lakes League and will move to a weekend starter spot, and promising 6-foot-4 freshmen Jordan Goldschmidt and Collin Taylor, and Eastern Michigan should have a quality pitching staff to go with its veteran lineup.
That will be enough to make the Eagles very competitive with MAC favorite Kent State in Boss’ first season. The MAC doesn’t get a lot of respect from the selection committee, receiving only its automatic bid each year, but teams like Central Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and EMU have solid programs that churn out 40-win seasons and draft picks, and it’s only a matter of time before the conference is rewarded with an at-large bid. Especially since the change-of-season plan and looming roster cap will benefit cold-weather conferences and funnel more quality players to the MAC.
"I think it could benefit the league," Boss said. "Obviously we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, but I don’t think it could hurt from our standpoint."
All the more reason it’s a great time to be the boss at Eastern Michigan.
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