‘The Bug Bit Me’

Madison Hires Ohio State Assistant As Its New Football Coach

Posted: December 21, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Everett Withers wanted to be a head coach so bad he took a $260,000 pay cut.

James Madison University announced Friday evening that it had hired the Ohio State assistant as its new football coach, hoping to re-energize a fan base that had become restless with a program that appeared to be slumping into national irrelevance.

The university did not announce contract terms, but a JMU source said Withers agreed to a five-year deal worth $325,000 a year, about $100,000 more than the fired Mickey Matthews earned.

A university spokesman said some details still need to be hammered out before the contract is actually signed.

Withers made $585,000 as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator.

“I had an opportunity to [be a head coach] in 2011 at North Carolina, and the bug really bit me,” Withers said by cell phone from Columbus, Ohio, at around 9:45 Friday night after flying back from Harrisonburg. “I really wanted to get back in that chair. …  It just seems like JMU was the job that, to me, had the most appeal, the best fit for me and my family.”

JMU announced Withers’ hiring shortly before 6 p.m., and the 50-year-old Charlotte, N.C., native was never formally introduced at a press conference in Harrisonburg. Instead, he flew back to Columbus to resume his duties at Ohio State, where he also coaches the safeties.

Withers will stay with OSU until after the Buckeyes play Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, but James Madison said he also is the Dukes’ coach effective immediately. Withers said he plans to be heavily involved with Madison despite being at OSU for another two weeks and will travel back and forth between Columbus and Harrisonburg.

“It’s a juggling act,” he said.

The hiring took a little longer than expected — JMU’s players were told of a tentative 1 p.m. press conference, a press conference that never happened — but after nearly a month of shopping, the Dukes finally have Matthews’ replacement.

Withers, a 1985 Appalachian State graduate, said JMU’s success was the primary appeal of the job. The Dukes won the 2004 Division I-AA national title under Matthews and have a 25,000-seat football stadium that is among the best at its level.

Many expect Madison to move from I-AA (aka FCS) to I-A in the near future, but Withers declined to discuss if there is a I-A clause in his deal. He also stressed that the JMU opening was marketed as I-AA job, although he said he is aware of the I-A feasibility study Madison hired Carr Sports Associates to perform.

“I’d like not to discuss my contract in that fashion,” Withers said. “The negotiations themselves were based on my desire to be the head coach of an FCS school, that school being JMU.”

His plans for Madison? Withers said he wants to run an up-tempo spread offense that features a power running game, and an aggressive, multiple defense that blitzes. Withers is the former defensive coordinator at North Carolina, Minnesota and Louisville. He also coached in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans (2001-06 as defensive backs coach) and the New Orleans Saints (defensive quality control assistant in 1994).

Withers is now the highest-paid coach at JMU, topping men’s basketball coach Matt Brady, who makes $302,000 a year. JMU President Jonathan Alger makes $420,000 a year.

Withers said his agent made first contact with JMU and Carr Sports Associates — the consultant group that aided Madison in its coaching search and a firm that Withers said he has worked with before — about 2½ weeks ago. Withers said he interviewed Tuesday at a hotel near Dulles International Airport and that JMU offered him the job late Wednesday. He said he accepted Thursday night around “6 or 7 o’clock” after flying to Harrisonburg and spending the day with Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne.

Friday, Withers said, was spent working out the details of his contract and that he signed the deal around 5 or 5:30 p.m. He said there no was major hangup.

“Mostly just trying to get on the same page … with the contract,” Withers said. “Nothing in particular, just general legalese.”

Bourne did not return a call seeking comment.

Withers has spent three decades as an assistant — with a one-season run as North Carolina’s interim head coach in 2011 (he went 7-6).

Hiring a staff — Withers said he would like to have assistants in place by the end of the month and that he would consider current assistants — and recruiting are two of the new coach’s biggest priorities. He also, of course, wants to meet his new team.

“My first plan … is to get in touch with several members of the football team,” Withers said. “To make phone calls here tonight and tomorrow and call a bunch of football players to let them know who I am and get to know them a little bit. And I’m in the process as we speak — I’ve already made a few calls tonight about my staff, trying to get people in place by the end of the month.”

Among the other serious candidates for JMU’s opening were Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, Virginia Tech tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring and Vanderbilt defensive backs coach/defensive recruiting coordinator George Barlow.

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