Houston excited to be new coach at JMU

HARRISONBURG – Mike Houston had no intentions of leaving The Citadel, where he was the head football coach the last two years, before he heard about the James Madison University opening. But as he took a look around the campus at JMU on Monday he knew Harrisonburg was where he needed to be.

Houston was officially introduced as the new head football coach on Tuesday at a press conference held in the Bridgeforth Stadium Club in front of many fans, students and other JMU supporters.

“My family and I are thrilled to be coming to James Madison and Harrisonburg and to be a part of this community,” Houston said. “As I toured the campus yesterday and met with the committee and other members of the department it became abundantly clear that JMU presents an amazing opportunity. … In my eyes this is the best (Football Championship Subdivision) job in the country.”

Houston replaces Everett Withers, who left two weeks ago to become the new head coach at Texas State.

The 44-year old Houston started out as a high school coach at a couple different schools in North Carolina. He was the defensive coordinator at Division II Brevard College in 2006. Then he became the defensive coordinator at Lenior-Rhyne from 2007-10. In 2011, he took over as head coach Lenior-Rhyne and led the Bears to three consecutive South Atlantic Conference titles.

He was head coach at Lenior-Rhyne for three years, and led them to the Division II championship game in 2013. He then moved on to the Football Championship Subdivision level as head coach at The Citadel. The Bulldogs went 5-7 in his first season, but this past season they went 9-4. The Bulldogs won the Southern Conference title, and won a playoff game. They also knocked off Football Bowl Subdivision school University of South Carolina this season.

“When we finished our process, the entire (hiring) committee felt like we had found the individual that was going to represent this university and be a good spokesperson,” JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said. “He shared our vision as an athletic program and as a university. … Mike’s built a reputation in the college football ranks as an individual of integrity, leadership, character and a leader of men. Most of all he does things the right way.”

While at both Lenior-Rhyne and The Citadel, Houston ran the triple-option offense. He said that he will not be running the triple option at JMU. He said he will stick with the spread offense that JMU currently runs.

The Dukes ran a very fast-paced no-huddle offense under Withers last season, but Houston said they won’t always go as fast as they did the last two years. He said it’s important that the defense is as strong as the offense.

“I think our offense and our defense have to match-up. That’s very, very important,” Houston said. “It’s obvious that we’ve got to improve dramatically defensively, and that’s kind of my background. Part of that is how we play on offense. We are going to have the ability to go fast when we want to go fast. But we’re not going to go fast at the expense of putting our team and winning in jeopardy. We want to score points, and we want to put pressure on opponents. If they can’t handle the tempo then we’ll probably put our foot on the gas. If we need to slow it down, we’ll slow it down.”

Houston said the defense will be multiple and will function out of a 4-2-5 and a 3-4 shell.

Houston said he plans to hire a coaching staff as soon as he can. He said he also plans to start on the recruiting trail over the next few days. The national signing day for college football is Feb. 3.

Bourne said that as of Tuesday afternoon they were in the process of finishing Houston’s contract, but they were operating under a memorandum of understanding. He said that the contract will be for five years, and the base salary will be 300,000 a year.

Houston said he was very impressed with the players when he met with them on Tuesday morning.

The players were also impressed with him.

“I love the fact that he’s dedicated to making this a better program not just football-wise, but making us better as people,” JMU junior wide receiver Brandon Ravenel said. “I thought that was a really good thing to hear. That’s big. That’s big with me too.”

JMU junior linebacker Gage Steele said it was good knowing that Houston was putting an emphasis on defense, where the Dukes have struggled the last two years.

“It is definitely nice to have a defensive guy, which is even more of a reason why I want to meet up with him and get to know him even better,” Steele said. “…. Obviously stopping the run is one of the biggest things coach (Houston) had mentioned. That’s something we have to work on. But with him coming in here, I believe what he’s bringing in and what he will bring in coaching-staff wise will help us with that.”

Houston said his main goal is to win a Colonial Athletic Association conference title each year, and then try for the national title after that.

He said he has no plans of leaving after a few years, and wants to be at JMU for a long time.

“I have no intentions of being here for the short term,” Houston said. “Mr Bourne and I talked extensively about establishing some stability in the program. It’s going to take little bit of time to get things exactly the way I want them. I think this is a place that I can be at for a very long time and be very happy.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com