Eastern Illinois officially hired Northwestern assistant Adam Cushing as its 25th head football coach Monday afternoon in Charleston.
Cushing, a Chicago native and graduate of Mt. Carmel High School, takes over the Panther program. The 38-year-old follows the five-year tenure of Kim Dameron, whose contract was not renewed by EIU.
EIU athletic director Tom Michael said that "dozens and dozens of prescreening calls" were taken in the search for a head coach. EIU brought two candidates to campus for interviews (the other was Minnesota running backs coach Kenni Burns).
“If there is such a thing as an ace up our sleeve in a football search, I had four of them in EIU Football Alumni – Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton, Ryan Pace and Tony Romo - some of the most highly qualified football minds in the world," Michael said."I spoke to each in regards to our football program and I asked directly what they felt was needed in our football program and each them were extremely helpful and passionate.
"I cannot overstate their involvement in this process."
In addition to being the 25th head coach in EIU history, Cushing is the sixth since the Panthers moved to the Division-I level in 1981.
Cushing has spent the past 15 years on the Northwestern staff, 13 under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are 8-5 this season, winning the Big Ten West Division with an 8-1 record, earning a trip to the Big Ten Conference Championship Game and the upcoming Holiday Bowl.
Cushing served as the NU offensive line coach, a position group he has coached since the 2009 season. During his time at Northwestern, Cushing has also served as the program’s recruiting coordinator while coaching the tight ends and what NU terms the "superbacks" position groups.
"The plan is to take the student-athletes to places they've never been before and transform this community on and off the field," Cushing said at Monday's introductory media conference.
After thanking a number of people, Cushing talked of the acronym WIN, What's Important Now.
"We're going to win games. We're going to hold up the OVC trophy. We're going to hold up the national championship trophy," Cushing said. "These things are a byproduct of living every moment with the focus, the attention to detail, positive attitude, the investment."
According to a Tribune story by Teddy Greenstein, Cushing initially was reluctant to interview at EIU because of state budgetary woes. However, he recalled the advice NU athletic director Jim Phillips shared with him: “If you trust the leadership of the school, you will be all right. The head coaching position is all about what is over your head.”
Cushing played collegiately at the University of Chicago, graduating in 2002. His first collegiate job was as an assistant coach at the University of La Verne in California.
Cushing remains at Northwestern through the Dec. 29 Holiday Bowl. Though his official start date at Eastern is Jan. 2, Cushing met with EIU team members Sunday night.
“Adam is a terrific recruiter, a relentless teacher of the game and someone I rely on constantly,” Fitzgerald told Greenstein. “He’s ready for this opportunity and he has earned it.”