Former players fought for coach’s job

In 1994, Eastern head coach Bob Spoo’s job was in serious jeopardy. The football team had a record of 2-5, and former athletic director Bob McBee told The Daily Eastern News that he would “evaluate the (job) situation” because “you gotta’ win.”

After coming to Eastern in 1987, Spoo had only had one winning season in seven years, so McBee said when the coach’s contract was up on Dec. 1, 1994, he would evaluate his status as head coach.

The Panthers had four games left in the season and after McBee made his statements, the team knew they were playing not just for a winning season but also for a coach’s job.

Although McBee did not come out and say it, Ray McElroy and the rest of the team knew that if they did not have winning season, Spoo would be fired.

“People were questioning his coaching ability,” McElroy said. “In ’94 he was also coaching the special teams.”

However, Spoo proved his coaching ability against Illinois State, McElroy said.

In the week of preparation, Spoo called McElroy, a 1994 graduate, into his office to watch some film. McElroy said he wanted to point out a small detail about the ISU punt team.

“(Spoo) said ‘watch this guy and look at his stance, if you rush him the right way you should be able to block it,'” McElroy said.

That weekend, Eastern beat ISU, 16-13, and McElroy blocked a punt, which made the difference in the game, he said.

“After that I was able to go in the paper and share what happened,” McElroy said. “It was not my athletic ability, but it was coach who showed me that.”

Tim Carver, a 1995 graduate, said Spoo also made a big decision that season by sticking with quarterback Pete Mauch amid a quarterback competition.

The quarterback position changed hands multiple times early in the season, but Spoo went with Mauch and the Panthers finished on a four-game win streak to end the season 6-5. Spoo’s job was safe, and the next season Mauch led the Panthers to a 10-2 record.

Now that Spoo has announced that he will retire after next season, McElroy said he is truly happy for him.

“In the business of football, 95 percent of the time coaches are getting hired or fired,” McElroy said. “Rarely is a coach so successful that he can walk away on his own terms.”

There will always be a spot in McElroy’s heart for Spoo, he said. As a walk-on, Spoo gave him a chance in his sophomore year, when no other school would have.

“This little known football coach gave this kid from Chicago a chance,” McElroy said.

After his career, McElroy was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

Carver, the 1995 Gateway Conference Defender of the Year learned from day one at Eastern that Spoo wanted him to succeed first in the classroom, then the football field.

“I don’t take that for granted,” Carver said.

Currently, Carver is the assistant principal at Urbandale High School in Urbandale, Iowa, and Spoo is still the head coach at Eastern.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or [email protected]