Monday, December 15, 2014

Video Blog: Devin Crosby on challenges of home attendance, and a special invitation for Jan. 7

Deputy Athletic Director Devin Crosby discusses his role at Kent State, the challenges of home attendance, and offers a special invitation to attend the Golden Flashes men's basketball game against Bowling Green on Dec. 7 at the M.A.C. Center.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Remembering Don James: Looking back at Sunday's memorial service at the University of Washington

I first became aware of Don James when he went to Washington and had all of those great teams with the Huskies. And then I had an indirect association with coach James when I was at Illinois State. Our head football coach there was Jim Heacock, who had served on coach James’ staff at Washington as defensive line coach for several years.

I heard quite a bit about coach James from Jim, so I felt like I knew a lot about him just from listening to those stories.

Of course, growing up in Iowa, I remember when his 1982 Washington team played Iowa in the Rose Bowl and beat the Hawkeyes 28-0. So my awareness of coach James goes back quite a long way.

When I accepted the job here at Kent State, I called coach James fairly early on just to introduce myself. A few months later when we were searching for a new head football coach, I actively involved coach James, along with coach Saban, coach Pinkel and coach Holtz.

From talking with coach James then, I remember the same things that everyone said about him on Wednesday during his memorial service in Seattle. He was honest, genuine and direct. And yet he was direct in a style that didn’t feel like he was as direct as he probably was. He was very willing to help. He was very people oriented. And it was clear he cared a great deal about Kent State.

I spent some time on Wednesday with Carol James, and she told me about how much Kent State meant to her husband and how much he wanted to see us succeed after he left Kent. They really enjoyed their time here. They enjoyed that time here as a family. I talked to their daughter, Jill, who is a Kent Roosevelt High School grad, a Kent State grad, and a former field hockey player at Kent State. She told me about how much she loved Kent, Ohio and her time here.

Kent and Kent State is an important part of their history, and you could tell that in Don’s voice when he assisted us with the coaching search.

A lot of coach James’ love for this area had to do with his upbringing in Massillon and his association with so many coaches from the area prior to his taking over at Kent State in 1971. There was a hometown, northeast Ohio feeling that I got every time I talked with coach James.

The memorial service at the University of Washington on Sunday was impressive. The school did a great job. It was a first-class tribute to a great man.

The love in that room and the outpouring of love for the James family was palpable. You could feel it. 

I’ll never forget some of the presentations by the speakers at the service. There were two former players, a couple of friends, some former assistant coaches, including Gary Pinkel. Jill and one of coach James’ grandsons spoke. It was one of the most memorable events that I have ever attended.

There memorial was attended by roughly 5,000 people. The current Washington football team was there and coach Steve Sarkisian spoke.

It was just very well done, and when you listen to Carol and a few of the speakers, it was clear the reason why it was so well done is because coach James scripted the service before he passed away. They had been working on it during the last few weeks.

Carol said that he approached scripting out the service like a game plan. He picked out who would speak. All of the music that played over the videos was picked by him. You could tell it had his fingerprints on it. 

All of the speakers were to hold their presentations to three minutes. Not 3:01. Not 3:05. He said I do not want any of you to speak for over three minutes.

It was all part of that coach James philosophy and discipline of … here is the game plan and everyone sticks to it. 

The whole day was a celebration of coach James’ life. There were some unbelievably genuine, heartfelt comments that had everyone choked up. I was sitting four seats down from coach Jim Mora. I didn’t realize they coached together in 1968 at Colorado. He shared some great stories.

Kent State had three or four former players represented, including coach Pinkel, who flew out after a late game on Saturday. They all did a great job.

After the ceremony, which was held at the basketball arena, there was a special get-together for all of coach James’ former players and coaches in the appropriately-named Don James Room at Husky Stadium. There were probably 200 or 300 people with an open mike and probably 25 speakers.

Jeff Woodruff, from Ravenna, was the MC of the open mic. He married Jill James and he is also a Kent State alum who coached with coach James. Jim Mora and Skip Hall both spoke, along with a ton of his former players like Hugh Millen and Greg Lewis. It was a who’s of Washington football. 

Handy Lampley spoke for the former players at Kent State. He did a great job talking about what coach James meant to us in Kent. The Washington people really accepted that. At the end, Handy said Golden Flashes’ fans are Husky fans today because we all feel the same pain. It was really true because all of us from Kent State didn’t feel like outsiders at the memorial for coach James. They welcomed us like they welcomed their own.

Don James will always be remembered for being an iconic figure at Washington and in the city of Seattle, we felt like we were a part of that. When you talk to coach James’ long-time assistant coaches at Washington, most of them coached with him here in Kent. When you talk to his family, most of them talked about Kent State and what it meant. That made us feel like we were at home even though we were 2,500 miles away.

While I was out there, I was with our Kent State people a majority of the time. We talked quite a bit about what we should consider doing to honor coach James and his family at Kent State and specifically at Dix Stadium.

One of the things I have noticed is you could walk around Dix Stadium for hours and never realize that Don James was our head coach for four years and that he led us to our only Mid-American Conference championship in our history. I told the guys on the trip that we need to do something about that. And not just for coach James.

A lot of great coaches and great alums have come through this place and we don’t make that history as visual as we should. Miami is famous for its cradle of coaches, but if you look at our coaching tree, it is pretty impressive. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Energized for the start of a new year

By Joel Nielsen
Director of Athletics

This time of year is always energizing for everyone around the campus, but it is especially so in athletics as we start to see student-athletes and coaching staffs return to campus around Aug. 1.

This is also a time when you start looking forward to the first home football game because that is the first really large event for the entire campus. The Aug. 29 game vs. Liberty is the Thursday night of the first week of classes. With AMETEK's help and sponsorship, we are expecting that opener to be even bigger than last year's.

The cross-promotion with AMETEK last year really worked out well. After last year's game, we heard nothing but outstanding comments about everything from the pre-game hype in Kent and all of Portage County to the post-game fireworks. With everything that Matt French and his staff are doing at AMETEK, it is almost like having a marketing arm for the institution and the athletic program. 

I'm really looking forward to that first night of football, and in the same regards I am looking forward to what our volleyball team has to offer as it starts at the end of August. I'm looking forward to women's soccer and what Rob Marinaro and his young ladies can do coming off of a great finish last fall. And obviously cross country and field hockey. All of our fall sports are kicking off and reporting ba
ck to campus.

Like every August, it's a time of rebirth and renewal. It's a new beginning and a fun time of year.

One of the new things that I've been checking out for the last couple of weeks is the new NIKE "Sideline" package that is going to be sold over at the Kent State Bookstore this year. I've been asked on several occasions over the last three years about being able to purchase what our coaches or administrators are wearing on the sideline on gamedays. This will be the first year that I can factually respond and tell them they can go to the bookstore and purchase that same gear. 

NIKE puts out a great product, and they have been very supportive of our entire program, and especially football and men's basketball. I know our fans are going to be really excited about the quality of the product and the look of the product. I want to thank the bookstore for continuing to push that point about our being offer a line of "Sideline" gear.