Eastern finds new offensive coordinator in Kuceyeski from Cornell University


Analicia Haynes

Adam Cushing, the new head coach of the Eastern football team, accepts applause after giving a press conference in December 2018. Cushing hired John Kuceyeski as his offensvie coordinator.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Eastern’s new offensive coordinator John Kuceyeski comes to Eastern with one large thing in common with all of the other new coaches joining Eastern’s football program: a long relationship with new head coach Adam Cushing. In Kuceyeski’s case specifically, Cushing is one of his longtime and most influential mentors.

Kuceyeski worked directly under Cushing on Northwestern’s staff from 2010-2012, where he served as the offensive quality control director and also worked with Cushing’s unit the offensive line. This was just Kuceyeski’s first job after graduating from Penn State in 2009, but he had already found a mentor that would impact him for the rest of his football career.

“Really for me in this business, (Cushing) has been kind of my mentor from day one and somebody that I have stayed in close contact with through every single job I have had, through every milestone in my career, he is somebody that I have always reached out to for advice,” Kuceyeski said.

Kuceyeski comes from a very similar background as Cushing, having worked at Northwestern straight out of college, and like many of Cushing’s new staff members, also has a strong background in recruiting and scouting.

Kuceyeski has been at Cornell since 2016, where he served as an assistant coach, running backs and offensive line coach. But prior to that, he served as Iowa State’s scouting director.

Cushing made his desire for Eastern to recruit stronger, particularly in the state of Illinois, explicitly clear in introductory press conference, so to see him bring in a person like Kuceyeski is a sign that Cushing means to make well on his words.

Kuceyeski saw a program get turned around by recruiting during his time at Iowa State and believes that if Eastern can target a five-hour radius around Charleston in recruiting players, specifically Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis, that Eastern will soon after become competitive again.

“The fact of the matter is that (Cushing) has brought together a staff with extreme ties to the Midwest, specifically Chicago, myself included, and those relationships are not something that you can just make up in a day,” Kuceyeski said. “Those relationships are going to help us immediately as we build this roster to truly be the FCS option in Chicago, and we will be that.”

Eastern’s offense performed quite well last season all things considered, so it will not be as if Kuceyeski is taking over an underperforming unit. The Panthers were second in the Ohio Valley Conference with 445.7 yards per game on offense and were third with 32.5 points per game.

Schematically, Kuceyeski’s offense will be different than former coordinator Scott Parr’s was, but Kuceyeski really feels he can help the unit get even better by smoothing over other areas.

“I think the biggest thing for us is yes, we had some talented players, but when you look at why there were discrepancies last year, there were a lot of shortcomings offensively from a mental standpoint,” Kuceyeski said. “From bad turnovers and penalties and things that we really need to address, we will fix the scheme to be what we like and we will be consistent with what Coach Cushing has been a part of. But I am ecstatic to inherit the room I have.”

Eastern’s quarterback situation, which was not always crystal clear, is another thing Kuceyeski will be inheriting and will have to work out for himself.

Both quarterbacks Harry Woodbery (1,374 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT) and Johnathan Brantley (2,016 yards, 14 TD, 2 INT) started games and got playing time in a split role for Eastern last season, and along with fellow returners Scotty Gilkey, Jaylin Banks, Khrishtjan Frrokaj and Qua Gray, Eastern will once again have a litany of options to sort through at the position.

When addressing the situation, Kuceyeski said that whether or not the players like it, they all have a clean slate. He watched film on all the players that played “meaningful time” at Eastern and will look for individuals to stand out to him over the next few months.

“I am going to play the individual who communicates, who leads and who makes the right reads,” Kuceyeski said. “That’s very tangible. You can watch each practice film and grade it out and say, ‘This guy is making the right decisions, not making mistakes, and ultimately the guy is a playmaker, I mean he has got be able make plays and rise up to his ability. I feel great with that room (of quarterbacks). Truthfully that’s the deepest room on our football team, and you don’t usually say that at the quarterback position.”

Whether its Brantley, Woodbery or one of the others under center for Eastern, Kuceyeski will demand that the offense plays fast and physical.

“I want teams to see that we are extremely disciplined, that we are a fundamentally strong football team and that we don’t hurt ourselves,” Kuceyeski said. “College football is hard enough, everyone has a Division-I roster and they’re all recruiting toward scholarships. We can’t put ourselves in poor situations.”

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