Keeler: Dukes get their man

James Madison University may have found themselves a keeper.

While it’s too early to know how Everett Withers will do on the field, he certainly said all the right things at his press conference on Tuesday.

One of the first things that struck me about Withers listening to him talk was his energy. He mentioned energy several times, and he’s certainly going to need it to help get JMU back to where they want to be — national champions.

He will need the energy in recruiting, and he said that the assistant coaches that he has hired will also have plenty of energy.

“My overall philosophy with hiring a staff is I believe in energy plus creativity equals production,” Withers said. “Guys that have energy, guys that have ideas are guys that are going to be productive.”

Withers is inheriting a pretty good football program. The Dukes are a known commodity at the Football Championship Subdivision level, in part because they won the national championship in 2004, and because they have traditionally made the playoffs — until recently.

If JMU stays at the FBS level, Withers’ biggest challenge will be to get the Dukes over the hump and back to being a national championship contender year after year.

However, if JMU goes to the Football Bowl Subdivision, I also think Withers could be the right guy for JMU. The university has looked into going to FBS, and had a study done which said the school is ready for it. That move could come as early as this year.

Withers has plenty of experience at the FBS level, including spending the last two years as the defensive coordinator for Ohio State University. He also was the interim head coach at the University of North Carolina in 2001, and he spent a season as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Saints, and six seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

He also said two of his biggest coaching influences were Mack Brown, who recently retired from the University of Texas, and former Titans coach Jeff Fisher.

Those are two pretty good coaches to learn from, not to mention spending the last two years under Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.

Withers dodged the questions about the possible move to FBS, but did say he felt confident if the move happened.

“I don’t have any doubt in my mind I’m ready for that challenge,” Withers said.

Another thing that struck me about Withers was his dedication to academics. JMU is an academic school, and Withers made it clear that academics are important.

“Many people talk about championship culture,” Withers said. “I really believe in championship culture, but I believe in championship culture in a couple different ways, not only on the football field but in the academic environment. We want young men that have the competitive spirit to not only go and compete on that football field, but go over into that academic environment and work their tails off to be successful. That’s what we will recruit. That’s what we will grow here with the players that are here now. And that’s what will be about every day at JMU.”

Withers talked about wanting the football team to be in sync with the rest of the sports at the university.

He also mentioned how important it was for the football players to act in a responsible way both on and off the field.

“We have to be accountable as a football program to the rest of this university,” Withers said. “Accountable not only in winning football games, but the way we represent ourselves on and off the field. That’s going to be truly an important part of the program that we put in place.”

Withers also appears to be a people person. He talked about wanting to meet the players and getting to know them. He said not only wants to get to know them, but their families as well.

“My goal is to know this entire football team, moms, dads, uncles, the whole gig,” Withers said. “I’m excited about that.”

I think JMU fans have a lot to be excited about as well. If Withers can back up his words, I think he could turn things around and put JMU football exactly where he and all the fans want them to be.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd