It's been just over a week since Eastern Illinois announced its decision to not renew the contract of head football coach Kim Dameron.
The Panthers were 3-8 this season and have not made the FCS playoffs since 2015. Dameron's record was 27-30 in his five seasons in Charleston. He had winning seasons in three of the five years. Dameron went 24-18 in OVC play, however EIU only finished in the top three in the conference in two of his five seasons.
Dameron's dismissal marks the first time that EIU has failed to renew a head football coach's contract since John Konstantinos in 1977. All of the coaches who followed Konstantinos left Eastern for other jobs (Darrell Mudra, Al Molde, Babers) or retired (Bob Spoo).
With an eye on its recruiting class, the Panthers are expected to hire their 25th head coach in program history by mid-December.
According to a 2014 Daily Eastern News story, Dameron earned a base salary of $170,000 per year and if he remained the head coach as of Sept. 1, 2017 (which he did), he would receive an additional $15,000 to his base salary.
Dameron's contract officially expires on Dec. 31.
In addition to his base salary, Dameron’s contract also had several academic and achievement-based incentives.
For example, if at the end of any spring semester his team’s GPA is at or above 2.8, Dameron received $2,000. He would also have earned $2,000 if the team’s Academic Progress Rate is at or above 950, starting with the 2015-16 academic calendar, according to the DEN article.
So where does EIU go from here?
Speculation has the Panthers' athletic department, headed by director Tom Michael, looking for someone who understands the culture and climate at EIU. Perhaps Eastern will hire someone with connections to Spoo or Babers, both highly successful in their time leading the Panthers. Perhaps that means Michael and company will lean more toward an offensive-minded head coach; however, that may not be the case if a defensive-minded coach wows them in an interview.
Certainly, Eastern will need someone who understands the challenges posed by the Illinois budget crisis of recent years.
Though, we at Prairie State Pigskin don't really have an inside information from those close to the situation, here are a few names EIU should consider. We present them in alphabetical order.
Bellatoni, 48, is the defensive ends coach and special teams coordinator at the University of Buffalo. Prior to the 2018 season, he served as the Bulls' director of player personnel.
Bellatoni was an EIU assistant under Spoo from 2001-2011, serving as defensive line coach, defensive coordinator and finally associate head coach He was the defensive coordinator from 2002-11 and the associate head coach from 2007-11. Bellantoni helped Eastern win five Ohio Valley Conference Championships (2009, 2006, 2005, 2002, and 2001) and make six NCAA playoff appearances.
Some felt Bellatoni should have succeeded Spoo when his mentor retired after 25 years at EIU.
Bellantoni came to Buffalo from Florida Atlantic where he spent three seasons as the defensive coordinator. He served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at FAU from 2014-16. At FAU, Bellantoni coached Trey Hendrickson, currently a defensive end for the New Orleans Saints. Hendrickson ended his storied career, three seasons of which under Bellantoni, as the program’s all-time leader in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles.
Prior to FAU, coached the defensive line and special teams at Villanova. The 2013 Villanova team finished the season ranked No. 6 in the NCAA SRS rankings. He coached All-CAA defensive linemen Rakim Cox and Antoine Lewis. He helped lead the Wildcats to the FCS playoffs in 2012.
Bellatoni's family lives in Florida, where his three sons are fully involved in football and baseball, so one wonders if he would be interested in the position that would require him to potentially uproot his family.
Hutson, 52, is the assistant offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns and a former Spoo assistant at Eastern.
Hutson has 28 years of coaching experience on the college and professional levels.
According to the Browns website, since Hutson joined the team in 2016, the Browns are second in the NFL with a 4.67 rushing average. The Browns finished 2017 sixth in the league with a 4.46 rushing average. In 2016, the Browns finished second in the NFL with a 4.89 rushing average. The average was the seventh-best in team history and the team’s best mark since 1966. In 2016, left tackle Joe Thomas became the fifth player in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons.
Prior to joining the Browns, Hutson spent the 2015 season as associate head coach and offensive line coach at EIU, where he previously coached for four seasons (2003-06). He served as the Panthers interim head coach in 2006 while Spoo was sidelined with an illness; Hutson led the Panthers to an Ohio Valley Conference Championship and NCAA FCS playoff appearance. During his tenure at EIU, the team captured two OVC titles and made the playoffs twice.
Hutson coached the tight ends for the Oakland Raiders for three seasons (2012-14) after spending five years coaching at Tulane (2007-11), including taking over as interim head coach in 2011. During his first season with the Green Wave, Hutson’s offensive line paved the way for running back Matt Forte, who rushed for a school-record 2,127 yards, the seventh-highest figure in NCAA history. Tulane recorded 26 rushing scores, tied for the second-most in school history, and 2,412 total yards, the second-highest total in school annals.
After beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma in 1990, Hutson had coaching stints at Arkansas (1992, 1998-99), Murray State (1993-96), Boise State (1997) and Tulsa (2000-02). He helped Murray State capture back-to-back OVC championships. At Tulsa, he worked with Kevin Shaffer, who was selected in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Hutson's son Ethan was an assistant under Dameron the past two seasons at EIU. Ethan Hutson coached running backs and also served as recruiting coordinator, something that would certainly help the Panthers maintain their recruiting class.
Ethan played offensive line at Ole Miss for three seasons before finishing his career at Troy University as a graduate transfer.
Johnson, 48, is in his second season as cornerbacks coach at Purdue.
Jackson spent the 2003 and 2004 seasons under Spoo at Eastern Illinois as defensive line coach. He helped lead defensive tackle Marcus Lorick to second-team All-America recognition and first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors in 2004. Defensive end Kory Lothe led the conference in sacks that season.
Jackson left EIU to join the staff at Northern Illinois, where he helped the Huskies win a share of the MAC West title and a spot in the conference championship game. Defensive tackle Quince Holman was named first-team All-MAC.
Jackson served as defensive line coach at Michigan State in 2006. From 2007 to 2009, Jackson coached the defensive line at Syracuse, including serving as co-defensive coordinator in 2008. In 2009, the Orangemen tied for sixth in the nation with 35 sacks, ranked 13th in rushing defense (101.8) and tied for 16th with 85 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones, a fifth-round selection by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2010 NFL Draft, thrived under the direction of Jackson, earning first-team All-Big East recognition in 2008 and 2009. He finished his career ranked third in Syracuse history with 38.5 tackles for loss. As a sophomore, Jones recorded 17.5 tackles for loss, which ranked ninth nationally and third on the Syracuse season list. Defensive end Chandler Jones was a 2012 first-round selection by the New England Patriots.
Jackson spent one season as the defensive line coach at Akron (2010) and Rice (2011), before moving to Wake Forest to coach cornerbacks.
During his time with the Demon Deacons, Jackson's cornerbacks: have their passing defense improve 49 spots from 100th to 51st and its scoring defense improve 53 spots from 91st to 38th, while finishing 32nd in the nation in total defense (2013); rank 12th nationally in fewest passing yards per game (186.6) and surrender merely 12 touchdown passes, which tied for sixth (2014); have Kevin Johnson drafted 16th overall by the Houston Texans (2015) and finish the season tied for ninth nationally in turnovers gained (27), 18th in third-down defense (34.1 percent), tied for 22nd in red zone defense (77.8 percent) and 23rd in scoring defense (22.2) in 2016.
However, Jackson has yet to be a coordinator, a strike against him jumping to the head coaching level.
Lynch, 41, is the Syracuse offensive coordinator and running backs coach under former EIU head coach Dino Babers.
The California native and former University of Montana player has 20 years of coaching experience, including time at EIU under both Spoo and Babers.
He has spent the past seven seasons with Babers, the last three at Syracuse.
Prior to being hired at EIU by Spoo for the 2005 season, Lynch coached at Utah State.
Lynch spent nine seasons in Charleston, coaching tight ends, receivers and running backs (2005-2013). When Babers left Eastern to accept the head coaching position at Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference, he brought Lynch along as his running backs coach.
When Babers took the Syracuse job, Lynch became his co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Lynch took over the offensive coordinator duties full-time this season. Syracuse is ranked No. 20 nationally with a 9-2 record.
Lynch spent his final two years at EIU mentoring two 1,000-yard rushers. All-Ohio Valley Conference honoree Jake Walker ran for 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. The following season, Shepard Little was named to the All-OVC First Team after rushing for 1,551 yards and 15 scores. Little ranked seventh nationally in rushing yardage and posted seven 100-yard games.
Most of Lynch’s first six years at EIU were spent coaching the wide receivers. While in that position, he guided the career of 2006 All-American Micah Rucker and led several productive units, including a 2011 Panthers receiving corps that accounted for 20 of the team’s 34 touchdowns. His 2010 collection of wideouts combined to catch 193 passes for 2,279 yards and 18 scores.
McMahon, 58, is a 1982 Eastern graduate who grew up in Rantoul, just a short drive from Charleston.
The former New Orleans Saints' assistant under fellow EIU graduate Sean Payton, McMahon is currently the specials teams coordinator at LSU.
McMahon played defensive back at EIU, during the heyday of head coach Darrell Mudra when the Panthers twice played in the Division-II national championship game.
He began his coaching career on Mudra's staff in 1982 before moving on to coach at Minnesota (1983-84), North Alabama (1985-87), Southern Illinois (1988), Valdosta State (1989) and UNLV (1990-91).
McMahon coached at Illinois from 1992-2004 (wide receivers, 1992-96; tight ends/special teams, 1997-04) before serving as the tight ends and special teams coach at East Carolina (2005).
McMahon joined Payton's Saints' staff in 2006 until being dismissed in 2016 (asst. special teams coordinator, 2006-07; special teams coordinator, 2008-16).
He was hired by LSU as an analyst for the 2017 season before taking over as special teams coordinator this year.
Reeder, 31, checks the boxes on many accounts. He's an Eastern graduate (2010), played quarterback for the Panthers (twice taking EIU to the playoffs) and is currently the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach of one of the top offenses at the FCS level (Eastern Washington).
Reeder, a 2004 graduate of Mahomet-Seymour High School, joined the EWU staff in 2017 after a three-year stint at Oklahoma State.
He spent the 2014-16 seasons working with quarterbacks at OSU and working in offensive quality control. Previously Reeder was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin-Stout from 2011-14. He spent two seasons as an assistant at EIU under Spoo where he served as a graduate assistant (2010) and defensive backs coach (2011).
Oklahoma State played in bowl games all three of Reeder’s seasons there, including victories in the 2016 Alamo Bowl (defeated Colorado 38-8) and the 2014 Cactus Bowl (defeated Washington 30-22). The Cowboys also played in the Sugar Bowl following the 2015 season (lost to Mississippi 48-20).
The 2016 OSU team was 10-3 and second in the Big 12 with a 7-2 record. The Cowboys were ninth in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in passing offense (323.9 per game) and 17th in scoring (38.6 per game).
Most recently, Reeder helped coach OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was ranked seventh nationally in passing in 2016 with an average of 314.7 yards per game. He completed 63 percent of his passes for a total of 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
While at Eastern Washington in 2017, the Eagles were eighth in FCS in passing (320.5 per game) and fifth in total offense (476.7), and was also 14th in scoring (34.5) and 11th in third down conversions (46.1 percent). Quarterback Gage Gubrud earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors, and helped EWU set a school record for passing yards with 545 in a 48-41 win at Montana. Gubrud had individual records of 549 yards passing and 560 yards of total offense.
This year, Reeder's offense ranks second among the FCS leaders. The Eagles averaged 553.2 yards per game (7.58 per play) with 61 touchdowns. A year removed from Gubrud's exploits, Eastern Washington has turned to its running game; the Eagles rank ninth nationally with a 274.1 yards per game average (7.08 per carry). Senior back Sam McPherson ran for more than 1,000 yards.
Eastern Washington posted a 9-2 season (7-1 in the Big Sky Conference) in a league that sent four teams to the FCS playoffs. The Eagles are the No. 3 seed in the playoff bracket and host Nicholls State Saturday in Cheney.
The Eastern Washington athletics website lists Reeder's recruiting areas as: WA – Northwest I-5 Corridor, CA – Sacramento / Northern California, NV – Reno, TX – Dallas / Fort Worth.
Reeder began his college career at Wyoming, then transferred to Eastern Illinois where he had 3,741 passing yards, 23 touchdown passes, and 356 career completions in 30 games. The Panthers advanced to the NCAA playoffs in 2007 and 2009.
Reeder passed for 6,582 yards and 67 touchdowns in his high school career. As a freshman starter, Reeder and Mahomet-Syemour finished 4-5. But the table was set for three straight playoff appearance as the Bulldogs compiled records of 6-4, 7-3 and 11-1 in his final three seasons.