As James Madison embarks on the search for a football coach, the school isn’t ruling anyone out, director of athletics Jeff Bourne said in a press conference on Monday.
After three seasons with the Dukes, coach Mike Houston agreed to become the coach at East Carolina on Sunday.
That set in motion what will be a swift process to find the eighth coach in program history. Bourne said JMU expects to make a decision in the near future, and that it already has made initial contacts with candidates.
The school is not limiting the scope of its search to one type of candidate, or striking out another type, whether it be current head coaches, coordinators or members of Houston’s staff at JMU.
“The lens is open,” Bourne said. “I don’t think you shut the lens on anybody. .. You look at the criteria that you feel are important for you. And you look individually at how each one of those persons ties back to that. That’s really the key.”
In a letter posted to the JMU athletics website on Sunday, Bourne listed seven core qualities that will guide the school’s search. The first bullet point on the list is, “Commitment to the well-being of our student-athletes.”
Asked Monday about what he’s seeking in the Dukes’ next coach, Bourne mentioned that list.
“If you look at that criteria, it didn’t start out, necessarily, at maximum wins,” Bourne said. “It started out at what’s the philosophy of the coach. Do you care for the young men and growing them into leaders? How well do you fit the culture of this institution?
“If that focus is right, normally the other parts will follow.”
The search is expedited by the new early signing period for football recruits, which begins on Dec. 19. Last year was the first for the early signing period, joining the traditional signing period, which begins in February.
The early signing period presents a challenge with its short window.
“On paper it looked really good, when it came down,” Bourne said. “And I honestly thought maybe it was a good thing. Having lived through what we did this year, it’s challenging.
“And, to me, at the end, the individuals that we have to really think about, and the impact on them, are the student-athletes.”
While the search is in progress, JMU is utilizing inside linebackers coach Warren Belin as interim head coach.
Joining Bourne on the search committee is Charles King, JMU’s senior vice president for administration and finance, and Roger Soenksen, the school’s faculty athletics representative. JMU has also brought on a search consultant, Parker Executive Search.
“I think there are a tremendous number of candidates that are out there, that are going to be interested in this job,” Bourne said.
Houston went 37-6 at JMU, including the 2016 national title, a trip back to the national title game last season and two Colonial Athletic Association titles.
Bourne said the school struck gold with Houston.
“Our loss is East Carolina’s gain,” he said. “I’m happy for them, and I wish he and his family the best in his new role.”
Bourne said he’s happy with where JMU is as a program. He’s excited to move forward with finding the next person to lead it.
“We’re looking forward to this process,” he said. “We’re prepared not to sleep a lot and get after it starting today.”