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Mark Story: Did EKU do right by Dean Hood?

Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood congratulates his team after they scored during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game in overtime.
Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood congratulates his team after they scored during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game in overtime. AP

When I got the Eastern Kentucky University email Monday morning announcing that the school had fired head football coach Dean Hood, I was left with two preeminent feelings.

One was ambivalence.

The other was sadness.

EKU letting Hood go after eight seasons and a 55-38 record was not a surprise. The preseason scuttlebutt was that EKU needed to make a run in the FCS playoffs to secure Hood’s job.

Not only did Eastern not make a playoff run, the Colonels (6-5) did not make the playoffs.

Hood, who was defensive coordinator at Wake Forest when the Demon Deacons made the Orange Bowl after the 2006 season, was hired to replace Danny Hope at EKU before the 2008 season. The coach’s tie to Eastern was a prior stint (1994-98) in which he had been an assistant under iconic Colonels head man Roy Kidd.

Hood seemed to be doing more than paying lip service to the idea that coaches have a responsibility to educate their players in areas that go beyond football.

The decision-makers now in place at Eastern Kentucky were all hired after Hood. EKU President Michael T. Benson began his tenure in 2013, Athletics Director Steve Lochmueller in April of this year.

Any time coaches work for an administration that did not hire them, their position can be precarious.

Under Hood, Eastern won two OVC championships and made three playoff trips. However, the coach never won more than nine games in a season nor won a playoff game.

So there’s a valid argument to be made that Hood had taken Colonels football as far as he was going to, and it was time for new blood.

I get that.

Yet, and here’s the point where ambivalence and sadness merge, the fact Hood got pink-slipped does not say much good about college athletics.

I’ve met few college coaches who seemed as decent as human beings as Dean Hood.

In my dealings with him, two things always stood out.

Hood seemed to be doing more than paying lip service to the idea that coaches have a responsibility to educate their players in areas that go beyond football.

Under Hood, the EKU football team took up a collection once a month to sponsor a young boy living in an orphanage in Haiti. Hood made donations from Eastern players, coaches, etc. mandatory. But he capped them at $5 maximum with a minimum of one penny to make sure everyone contributed something, but no one was overburdened.

This past summer, Hood went on a service trip to Haiti with some of his players. The Eastern team’s members did heavy physical labor during the day, yet the children at the orphanage they were helping still expected them to play sports with them at night.

“Can you think of better preparation for being a father than that?” Hood said.

The second thing I respected about Hood was, he was routinely respectful of Kidd and his unique standing in Eastern football. That was not always the vibe given off under his predecessor.

Eastern entered the 2015 football season with lofty expectations. A lot of those were based on the return of star running back Dy’Shawn Mobley.

In earning the 2014 Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year award, Mobley ran for 1,491 yards and 20 touchdowns while catching 33 passes for 309 yards. This year, however, the ex-University of Kentucky back developed hamstring problems in the preseason and was a shell of the player he had been.

Mobley finished 2015 with 347 yards on 110 carries.

If you are using a season to evaluate a coach, an injury that negates the effectiveness of the most significant offensive player on the team would seem to be a rather significant mitigating factor.

There has seemed an increasing frustration building among Eastern football fans in recent years.

Once one of the dominant programs at the FCS level, EKU has not won a playoff game since 1994.

In his eight seasons at EKU, Hood won just less than 60 percent (59.1) of his games. Hope won around 61 percent in his five years. Over his final five seasons, even the legendary Kidd won at a 63.6 percent clip.

The factors that have limited Eastern Kentucky football success over the past two decades seem deeper than the head coaching.

Still, with aggressive new leadership and ambitions of replicating what Western Kentucky has done in moving up to the FBS, EKU may find a better coach than the one it just let go.

It may not, too.

Either way, Eastern will be hard pressed to find a better person than Dean Hood.

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