Withers excited to coach JMU

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Everett Withers knew even before being an interim head coach at the University of North Carolina that he was ready to be a head coach. It took him two more years, but Withers finally has the opportunity to be a head coach again.

Withers was formally introduced as the head football coach at James Madison University at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

“I felt like I was ready then,” Withers said of his time at UNC. “And through the process of leaving North Carolina and being at Ohio State the last two years, I had the opportunity to be around one of the best head coaches in football. Being around [Ohio State head] coach [Urban] Meyer really made me understand it was my time. My time for a job like this, and I’ll go back and say it again — this is a gold mine. And I really believe that and I think our staff believes that and we’re excited to get going.”

Withers has spent the last two years as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, and the Buckeyes went 24-2 during those two seasons.

Withers became the head coach at UNC after Butch Davis was fired there right before practice began. The Tar Heels went 7-6 that season, and lost in the Independence Bowl. Withers said he learned a lot from that season as head coach.

He has plenty of experience throughout his coaching career including stops at Austin Peay, Tulane, Southern Mississippi, Texas, one season with the New Orleans Saints and six seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

Withers said he also was able to play against JMU when he played college football at Appalachian State in the early 1980s. He said even then he knew what a great football program JMU had.

“This was one of those programs that the sky’s the limit and I truly believe that,” Withers said. “I’m excited. My family’s excited. I’m really excited about the challenge. This is not a dormant football program. This is a football program that’s really just asleep a little bit right now.”

JMU went 6-6 last season and missed the playoffs for the last three years. The university fired Mickey Matthews on Nov. 25. Matthews had been the head coach since 1999.

Withers said he wants the Dukes to be up-tempo and run a lot of plays on offense.

“I’m excited about what returns on offense here,” Withers said. “I think we can be explosive. I want to be fast-paced. I want to be up-tempo. We’d like to play with three, four wide receivers, play some empty backfield [sets], throw the ball around be exciting. We want to be exciting on Saturdays. If we can get into the 85-90-play range a game, that would be really good for us. So don’t go to the bathroom.”

On defense, Withers said he wants his team to be aggressive.

“I tell people, and I say this as a defensive coach — I want to die fast if I’m going to die. I don’t want to go real slow and let people bend, but don’t break,” Withers said. “I want to try to go hit the quarterback. Be attacking, not sit back.”

Withers said he’s looking forward to meeting all of his players when they return to campus next week. He said recruiting will also be a top priority now and in the future. JMU announced on Monday the hiring of six assistant coaches, and Withers said all of them are already hard at work on recruiting.

“One thing I will tell you about recruiting is I think I put together a staff, it’s not entirely out together yet, but some guys that are bulldogs in recruiting,” Withers said. “And that’s what we want. We want to bring in young men that represent this university well, but also are talented on that football field.

“Obviously, we’ve got to take care of Virginia. We’ve got to our due diligence within this state and make sure we do a good job with the high school coaches in this state. The one thing you know about Virginia high school football is the coaches are very knowledgeable, and they know what football players are. We’re going to have to do a really good job in this state of not only recruiting the kids, but also building that relationship with the high school coaches with high school clinics, those type of things.”

JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said the university felt Withers was the perfect fit for JMU.

“Everett Withers is a proven winner and he’s had success both on and off the field,” Bourne said. “He has a deep resume both at the collegiate and the professional levels.
“He’s a person we look forward to sharing many successful seasons with as the head coach of our football program.”

Withers said from what he’s seen on film and what he’s learned about the team so far, he feels that the Dukes need to learn how to finish games, and if they do that more wins will come.

“We have a blueprint,” Withers said. “We have a plan and when we put that plan in place, if the players buy in and they open up their chests and allow us to coach them, then we’ll have some success here.”

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