Bowers, longtime friend of Cushing, joins Eastern from Northwestern as new defensive coordinator


Analicia Haynes

Analicia Haynes | The Daily Eastern News Adam Cushing (left) accepts an Eastern football jersey from Athletic Director Tom Michael during a press conference in December 2018. Cushing added Chris Bowers and John Kuceyeski to be his defensive and offensive coordinators.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

It was going to take a lot for Northwestern football’s Director of Player Personnel Chris Bowers to leave his job on Pat Fitzgerald’s notoriously tight-knit staff.

And why should anyone leave? Northwestern had a family-like atmosphere, and the program was doing well in the Big 10 Conference.

But when Bowers’ longtime and close friend Adam Cushing, a man who appears in Bowers’ wedding album, accepted a job as Eastern’s head football coach and had interest in making Bowers his new defensive coordinator, Bowers decided this would be the right opportunity to leave Northwestern and take over control of Eastern’s defense.

Cushing and Bowers started working together in 2004 at Northwestern, both as graduate assistants, Bowers on defense, Cushing on offense. Even all the way back then Bowers noticed something in Cushing that led Bowers to take the job at Eastern: Cushing’s incredible organization skills.

When the two were just low assistants on Northwestern’s staff, Cushing was in charge of two special team’s groups and asked Bowers if he would want to work with one of the two groups and help him out.

Before Bowers could choose whether he wanted to help with the scout team or the starting personnel, Cushing informed Bowers that he had already done most of the work organizing the looks for the scout team; that was all Bowers needed to hear, and he chose to help with the scout team.

“(Cushing) was that efficient, and he was that organized at like a really young age,” Bowers said.

Bowers left Northwestern for a brief period to coach at Concordia University, serving as recruiting director, secondary coach and defensive coordinator, but he still kept in touch with Cushing who remained at Northwestern.

Bowers returned to Northwestern again in 2011, where he worked as the Director of Player Personnel, and began once again working very closely with Cushing. Their families lived in the same neighborhoods; Bowers’ children are friends with Cushing’s children.

It was this long professional and personal relationship with Cushing that made Bowers feel comfortable leaving Northwestern, a place he said was “really hard to leave.”

“I was not leaving unless it was the right person, the right leader and someone I knew among other things,” Bowers said. “You don’t leave working with Pat Fitzgerald to just go work with anybody, but Adam isn’t just anybody. Adam is someone I believe in, someone I know will be successful, someone who is one of the smartest football coaches I have ever been around, who is hyper organized and efficient, but also shares the same values that I do.”

Bowers and Cushing had talked about what it would be like to coach together before, but never really considered the Eastern scenario as a huge reality, which made their process of getting to Charleston more interesting.

Bowers knew early on that Cushing was a candidate to be Kim Dameron’s replacement as Eastern’s head coach, but said honestly, he wasn’t sure if it was something Cushing would do.

Then Cushing kind of threw out the idea to Bowers of leaving with him for Eastern, if indeed Cushing did get the job, but still it was too early to really, seriously consider anything.

The day before Cushing’s on-campus interview with Eastern, he and Bowers talked a little more concretely about the possibilities.

The day of Cushing’s interview, Bowers expected to get one of two phone calls from Cushing, either one saying there was no way Cushing would take the Eastern job, or one saying Cushing definitely had to take the opportunity.

Neither phone call came.

Cushing did indeed get offered the job ,and after discussing it with his wife Jamie, decided to take the job. But he did not tell Bowers quite yet; in fact, Bowers did not find out Cushing got the job from Cushing.

The day Cushing got the Eastern job, Bowers got a text from Fitzgerald that read, “So are you going to EIU?”

Bowers replied that he was not even sure that Cushing got the job, and it was then that Fitzgerald told him to expect a phone call from Cushing.

Cushing and Bowers did eventually get to have that talk, and as Bowers put it, “That was that.” Eastern had its new defensive coordinator.

Bowers fits well to the goal Cushing has to become the best FCS recruiting school in Illinois, as Bowers is the self-proclaimed “former recruiting guru of Northwestern.”

As the Director of Player Personnel, Bowers understands the importance of recruiting. Like Cushing and new offensive coordinator John Kuceyeski, Bowers too comes from a strong recruiting background.

What makes Bowers’ job tougher from the outside looking in, however, is that he is inheriting a defense that was quite frankly bad on good days and atrocious on most.

The Panthers ranked second-to-last in the Ohio Valley Conference, surrendering 40 points per game and 492 yards per game, last season. To say Bowers has some fixing to do to whatever it was that ailed Eastern last season would be an understatement.

But, Bowers has inherited situations like this before. When he took over at Concordia, that team was coming off  of a season in which they had given up 44 points per game and ranked near the bottom in yards allowed.

“I have done this before,” Bowers said. “I have kind of seen the same story and how it ends if we do things the right way, which we will.”

Bowers said that without drawing up one defensive X or O and without calling one play, Cushing will do more to fix the defense than anything, just by the way the program will be run under his leadership.

“I told the team, there is not a magic scheme and there is not a magic play calls,” Bowers said. “We are going to change how we play, not what we play.”

Every defensive player returning for Eastern will get a clean slate in Bowers’ eyes. To him, there are no returning starters.

Regardless of who is playing for Eastern, Bowers wants his defense to be recognized by opponents as one that “plays really freaking hard.”

And if his team plays hard and the recruiting goals of the program work out the way Cushing, Bowers and company hope, than Bowers, like Cushing, is a believer that one day Eastern can win a National Championship.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]