When Brock Spack signed on as head football coach at Illinois State nine years ago, he said he was in it for the long haul. Does that mean when the day comes to end his career that he will still be the Redbirds’ coach?
“Yeah, I hope to,” he said. “I hope everybody lets me, but yeah I’d love to. My football career started on a football field in Illinois and I’d love for it to end on a football field in Illinois. I always thought this would be a great job.
“I watched it from a distance for a long, long time. It’s been a very good fit for me. It’s been a very good fit for my family and I hope the people think we have been a very good fit for Illinois State. I’ve had opportunities to leave, but I’m just not excited about that.
“My wife and I love it here. I keep telling people that. I think my actions have proven I’m in this for the long haul. This is our home. We have put our heart and soul into this program.”
Spack does admit the past season was a disappointment after the Redbirds failed to make the FCS playoffs for the first time in the four years.
“Very disappointing,” added Spack. “No one puts more pressure on me than me, and on us than us. But that’s good because the bar—the expectations—have been raised. No one can put higher expectations on us than us.”
Despite a 6-5 record Spack doesn’t want to take anything away from what the outgoing senior class brought to the program by compiling a 35-16 four-year record, winning two Missouri Valley Conference championships with many of the players on the 2015 team that played in the national championship game.
“I still want to recognize what those guys have done here,” he said. “I don’t want our seniors to leave here thinking they failed. That wasn’t quite the ending we wanted, but if we’re in FBS football we’re bowl eligible eight out of nine years.
“Getting in the FCS playoffs is difficult. We had a team in 2011 that may have been our best team that didn’t get in at 7-4. The team got in last year because of the win we had at Northwestern. This year we didn’t have that.”
Spack said what made the past season more disappointing was that the Redbirds didn’t cash in on opportunities in a handful of games.
“We had it right in front of us,” he added. “We couldn’t finish a game at South Dakota State. We couldn’t finish a game here at home. We didn’t play well at Southern Illinois. We had a 14-point lead that we blew against Western Illinois, so there were opportunities for us.”
Spack said now it’s time to move on.
“You have to manage disappointment, but now we’ve moved on through that and where we’re going now,” he said. “It never changes here. It’s always that we look at the next championship. The leadership, hard work ethic, toughness—all that stuff we’re going back at.”
Youth and inexperience hampered the Redbirds, but didn’t particularly catch Spack off guard.
“I worried about experience at certain spots,” he continued. “I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you I had concerns about our experience, but there’s no way to get experience except to play through it.
“When I watched us in preseason we played very well at times. Some of your strengths are taken away when you’re not balanced on offense, defense or special teams. If you’re too heavy in one area, a team can take that away from you. That showed itself in some games down the stretch.
“I had concerns, but I felt that the parts of our team we could rely on our strengths and get to the playoffs. And once you get to the playoffs out of this conference, anything can happen.”
And what does Spack feel the Redbirds need to do to return to the playoffs?
“We have to re-establish our identity on offense and even defense in some regards,” he added. “There are some things we need to get better at. Offensively, we have to have an identity. One week we were really good and the next week we weren’t. We were just really inconsistent.
“Our identity on offense has been of a very good running team, play-action pass, explosive receivers and tight ends. We have to get back to that again. You have to score unfortunately in this time and this era. A dominant defense can’t win. You can’t be bad on defense, but you have to be able to score.
And what will that take?
“We have to become more explosive,” said Spack. “At times we were, but the last two years we haven’t been explosive. Maybe we don’t have enough explosive players. I think our players are good, but we need to continue that though recruiting. We have to develop an explosive identity on offense.”
Spack also appreciated fan support.
“They don’t take us for granted,” he said. “They appreciate the effort, the hard work, being competitive and the championships. They appreciate what we’ve done and that’s what makes this place special. It’s a lot easier go to work when your appreciated.”
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