You can take this to the bank: Mark Elder will remember his 38th birthday. It was Thursday, the same day he was introduced before fans, staff and media as the 14th head football coach in the history of Eastern Kentucky University.
Elder is the third coach to helm the Colonels football program since Roy Kidd, who won 315 games and after whom the stadium is named, retired in 2002. He replaces Dean Hood, who went 55-38 over eight seasons.
“I am humbled to walk the same path as some unbelievable coaches who have been here at Eastern Kentucky before,” said Elder, who has been on Butch Jones’ staff for the past nine seasons at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and most recently Tennessee, where he coached tight ends and was the Vols’ special teams coordinator.
“Dean Hood is not a good man. He is a great man,” Elder said of the coach he’s replacing. “(He) did a lot of very good things here, and I look forward to building upon those good things.”
Contract terms weren’t immediately available.
EKU Athletics Director Steve Lochmueller, who took over at the school in April, said Elder’s character, ability to recruit and the success he’s shown at multiple levels of football — from coaching defensive backs at Akron in 2001 to helping put Tennessee football back in contention — were crucial in his hiring.
“My expectations for EKU athletics have not dwindled a bit since I got here in April,” Lochmueller said. “They continue to rise. ... (Elder’s) vision, energy, passion and professional experiences make him ideal for the Eastern Kentucky University football head coaching position.”
We want to have as many people from our home state in this program that can help us win on a championship level. We want the community and state to be very much involved with things here and part of that is having Kentucky guys.
Mark Elder on his approach to recruiting
Recruiting came up frequently as an element EKU will be giving more emphasis as it goes forward, especially with a move to the FBS level still on its agenda. (The Sun Belt Conference in September selected Coastal Carolina to become its 12th football member. EKU was reportedly in contention.)
Elder said his experience across multiple levels has revealed what’s necessary to succeed, especially where money is a big concern. Being “creative budgetarily” is something he’s had to go through and hopes to apply lessons learned at EKU.
Lochmueller referenced Marshall, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee as schools that have made the jump to FBS. During those transitions, on-field talent deficiency was the biggest challenge in the first few years. That’s a challenge EKU wants and Lochmueller believes Elder is well-equipped to lead the charge.
“We aspire to go up,” Lochmueller said. “We’re not going to quit aspiring and asking until we get the opportunity.” He said Mark Elder “is the absolute right man to be in the position for that move.”
Richmond is “almost centrally located” and within six hours of the areas with which Elder is most familar when it comes to recruiting — he mentioned Cincinnati and Columbus in Ohio and the Carolinas, among others. Elder said he’s spent “a good amount of time” recruiting Kentucky in his previous jobs and sees no reason for that to end.
Said Elder: “That is where we’re going to start, first and foremost. … We want to have as many people from our home state in this program that can help us win on a championship level. We want the community and state to be very much involved with things here and part of that is having Kentucky guys.
“We’re not going to sacrifice talent but we are going to be going after the best players in the state and recruiting guys from this state to help us win.”
He plans to have a staff together “in a timely manner” but wants to make sure enough thought is given to prospective candidates. He wants to have coordinators in charge of both the offense and defense, and was non-commital when asked if any members of Hood’s staff would be retained. He said the Colonels will be balanced “but we’re gonna throw the football around ... and have a quarterback-driven offense for sure.”
Elder, who’s never been a head coach, was ready for the challenge of leading a program and was attracted to the Colonels’ tradition at the FCS level, where they’ve won two national championships, produced 32 NFL draft picks and reached the playoffs 21 times, second most of any school. The native of Sycamore, Ohio, also values the school’s geographical standing.
Said Elder: “This is an unbelievable opportunity. I can’t imagine someone not wanting to come here.”