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The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

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Meet the Coaches: Chris Wilkerson

Chris Wilkerson is in his second year as Eastern’s head football coach. (File)

In the winter of 1990, defensive tackle from Lawerence North High School in Indianapolis, Chris Wilkerson, came on his visit to Eastern Illinois University. Falling in love with the school and the community of Charleston, he committed and played football for the Panthers from 1991 to 1994. 

Wilkerson came to Eastern with the goal of becoming a teacher and a coach, but he always thought it would be at the high school level. He was student teaching at Mattoon Junior High School and had passed the Illinois teaching exam when former Eastern football head coach Bob Spoo posed him a question. 

“As I got towards the end of my career, the man that sat in the [head coaches chair] Bob Spoo was like a father to me,” Wilkerson said. “He said, ‘have you thought about coaching college football?’” 

At first, Wilkerson declined. He noted how he and his wife, former Eastern softball player Shauna Wilkerson, were getting married in the spring of his fifth year and how he was ready to coach at the high school level. Spoo responded by offering him a job as a coaching assistant in the spring of 1995. 

Coach Wilkerson accepted the offer, which led him to coach at Eastern for seven years, from 1995 to 2001.  

“[Coach Spoo] encouraged me to broaden my horizons, and I had a chance to go to California,” Coach Wilkerson said. “So, I went San Jose State for three years.”  

Out in San Jose, California, Coach Wilkerson started a family with his wife. He had two children during his time in the bay area. 

After his third year, Buddy Teevans reached out to Wilkerson. Teevans is the winningest head coach in Dartmouth College football history. Wilkerson and Teevens met during Wilkerson’s time at Eastern. Teevens reached out to Wilkerson to offer him a job at Dartmouth as part of his initial coaching staff, as this was Coach Teevens’ first year coaching football at his alma matter.  

Wilkerson accepted and coached in New Hampshire for eight seasons.  

After his time at Dartmouth, Coach was looking to take on a head coaching gig. The opportunity then presented itself to be the head coach at the University of Chicago in 2013. He brought the Maroons to an 8-1 season in 2014, winning the University Athletic Association conference.  

He coached at the University of Chicago from 2013 to 2021, when he was hired to be the football head coach at Eastern Illinois. 

Chris Wilkerson played for Eastern from 1991 to 1994 as a defensive tackle. (File)

It’s clear that Coach Wilkerson has been in all types of coaching environments. He has coached at academic institutions like Dartmouth and the University of Chicago. He has coached in California and across the country to New Hampshire. He has coached for FBS, FCS, and division three schools. 

Regardless of the school, Coach noted his end goal for each job. “Coaching is Coaching, regardless of the level. It’s about the relationships that’s you build, and can you impact, enrich, and transform lives.”  

Looking back at the beginning of his story, you can see how much of an impact Coach Spoo had on the life of Coach Wilkerson. He was the man who got coach his first coaching job as well as the man who encouraged Coach to branch out to San Jose. Wilkerson expressed just how grateful he was that Spoo had put him in such a position to succeed.  

The mindset of Coach Spoo, which was to enrich the lives of his players, was certainly passed down to Coach Wilkerson.  

“We are measured by wins and losses in this profession, and I understand that.” Wilkson said. “What I would tell you is, if you came back 20 years from now, and if the guys in this building every day are good leaders in their chosen profession, good members of their communities, good husbands, if they’re good fathers, if those answers are ‘yes’ then we had a heck of a year.” 

Coach Wilkerson has led the Panthers to a 5-3 record through eight games in the 2023 season, the most wins from an EIU team in six years. 

He will be back on the sidelines at Lindenwood University on Nov 4. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Aidan Cusack can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Rob Le Cates
Rob Le Cates, Editor-in-Chief
Rob Le Cates is a junior journalism major. He previously served as summer editor-in-chief, photo editor and assistant photo editor at The News.

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