Amazing turnaround sends Eastern to Bahamas

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton

Ypsilanti — Maybe Eastern Michigan administrators and football coaches knew something the rest of college football didn’t.

Before the season began, they had players get their passports updated to use to play in the Bahamas Bowl.

And considering the Eagles were coming off a 1-11 season — the program’s 20th consecutive losing season — it seemed like more than a just a leap of faith.

But on Monday, the optimism paid off when athletic director Heather Lyke was told by the Bahamas Bowl selection committee Eastern Michigan was invited to play Old Dominion in the Dec. 23 game.

“(Sunday night) we got a text for an emergency meeting so a lot of things go through your heads and a lot of texts were being sent throughout the guys ... just making sure everything would be OK and a lot of guessing,” said junior quarterback Brogan Roback, who led the Eagles to their first winning season since 1995, finishing the regular season 7-5. “Then, when we walked down (Monday morning) and saw the cameras, we had an idea we’d find out where we’d play the bowl.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling. Words probably don’t do justice how excited everybody is.”

The last time Eastern Michigan played in a bowl was the 1987 California Bowl, a victory over San Jose State.

Lyke, too, was thrilled with the news.

“We were fortunate that they selected us and we’re really thrilled to be going,” Lyke said. “I have said from the time I got here, one of core values is ‘Expect to win.’ I feel you have to be prepared for success. You want to instill that kind of mindset to the culture and to the department. We felt if you have your passports, they are more likely to pick you than someone else who doesn’t have them.

“People may have thought we were a little crazy, but I feel it’s also a little bit of a motivating factor too for our kids.”

And for her coach, too.

Lyke hired Chris Creighton following the 2013 season.

Watch: EMU players react to Bahamas Bowl news

And while he had 16 years experience, it was at Ottawa (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), Wabash (Division III), and Drake (Football Championship Subdivision).

“He won everywhere he had been, built programs and sustained them,” she said. “I asked him to tell me about recruiting because ‘You have 85 scholarships and this is a big transition, the lifeblood of your program, you have to be able to recruit.’

“He said, ‘You give me girls and scholarships, I can recruit.’ ... There’s no question, one of the things he does really, really well is challenges the recruits to get to know themselves, what they’re looking for and then describes what the program is about and has them see if it’s a fit.”

Creighton, however, wasn’t the only person being praised for the turnaround — and support.

Broback said Lyke has a lot to do with the team’s success, too.

“The belief they instilled with us as a program and in the locker room, we just kind of took that and ran with it and build confidence and what more could you ask for,” Broback said. “We’re doing this for all the alumni and future Eagles as well and I’m just glad that we can share something together.”

Old Dominion had beaten Eastern Michigan each of the previous two years.