Illness puts focuson family picture for EKU coach

RICHMOND — It is one of those sayings coaches use for motivation and as a mission statement, and just as he's saying it, you have no doubt that new Eastern Kentucky football coach Dean Hood believes what he's saying.

“As coaches,” he told a visitor on Friday, “we want to be concerned not only about the scoreboard, but about the team picture.”

Then something happens to drive that saying home.

For Hood, it has happened in his own team picture, his family picture.

After the Wake Forest defensive coordinator was named head coach at Eastern in January, Hood and his wife Crystal have been dealing this summer with medical issues facing their 5-year- old daughter Jada, who was recently diagnosed with the kidney ailment focal glomerulosclerosis (FSGS).

It's the same degenerative condition endured by Alonzo Mourning before the NBA center underwent a kidney transplant.

To make matter worse, Jada suffered a seizure that required her to be hospitalized for 18 days, much of that time in ICU.

“That really puts it into perspective,” said Hood. “Number one, it's real easy, especially as a first-year head coach, to get those blinders on, and want to win every game, and win a national championship, and win, win, win. And you do this right or else. It's usually pretty easy to get into that situation.

“But with Jada's situation, I thought I had a decent handle on it, but not so much as now. Pain is God's megaphone. It makes you stand up and take notice. I think I've got a better perspective now. You know what, this isn't really all that important in the grand scheme of things.”

And then again, it is.

“On the flip side of it, and this is where my energy comes from, life's fragile,” said Hood. “So don't piddle with your life. So if I'm going to sign a contract to be the head football coach at Eastern Kentucky, and I'm out here on this practice field, it's full-bore and it's everything I've got.”

Hood, 44, has a lot. He coached with Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State in West Virginia. He was defensive backs coach for four years under Roy Kidd at Eastern. For the past six years, he was secondary coach and defensive coordinator at Wake Forest under Jim Grobe, a man, said Hood, “Who taught me great humility. … He's a guy who at the end of practice you would see bending down and picking up tape, picking up a cup.”

In fact, when people used to call Hood and ask questions about opponents and schemes, they would also ask one other question: How do you get your guys to play so gosh-darn hard?

“They wanted some Vince Lombardi speech or some great deal that you do,” said Hood. “But the fact of the matter was Jim Grobe was a genuine, humble human being that cared about the kids, and they knew it. And he cared about the coaches, and they knew it.”

It's that same caring that Hood wants to bring to Eastern. For example, he welcomes Kidd, his former boss and Eastern legend, with open arms. He seeks suggestions, wants advice. He embraces the Colonels' tradition and expectations, with Eastern picked to finish second in the Ohio Valley Conference behind Jacksonville State this season.

In fact, it's less than two weeks before the opener Aug. 28 at Cincinnati. “We open with a BCS team and then a traditional rival in Western Kentucky,” said Hood. “We know we have a lot of work to do.”

Work that should be put in perspective. Little Jada, one of four Hood children (Daven, Cordia and Troy are the others) is doing better. Her prognosis is much better.

“She's doing a lot better,” said Dean Hood. “When they did the kidney biopsy, they think they got it in the early stages. So the meds that she's on right now are really working the way they wanted them to. So we've got the opportunity to knock it out before it's full-blown.”

He goes out of his way to compliment the doctors at the University of Kentucky and what they have done to help his daughter. And Hood says he sees the experience as affirmation that he made the right move coming to Richmond.

“I told the doctors, ‘You're going to figure it out. God's going to save our baby girl,' ” said Hood. “And they did (figure it out). That's just affirmation that we came to the right place.”

And affirmation in what he preaches, that there is more to life than football.