JMU starts search for new coach

James Madison head coach Everett Withers, left, talks to an official during a game against Maryland on Aug. 30, 2014, in College Park, Md. Withers resigned as JMU coach on Wednesday to become head coach at Texas State. AP file Photo/Nick Wass)

HARRISONBURG — The search for a new James Madison University head football coach will be quick but thorough.

Everett Withers resigned Wednesday night as head coach at JMU to accept the same position at Texas State. JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said they will try to get a new head coach as quickly as they can, while also making sure it’s the right candidate.

National signing day for college football is Feb. 3, and Bourne said they would certainly like to have a coach in before then.

“Recruiting is critical, and we all know that starting on (Jan.) 15th the next three weekends are large recruiting weekends for us,” Bourne said at a news conference on Thursday. “Obviously it would benefit us to move the search along as quickly as possible, but yet also being diligent to make sure that were thorough and we end up with the right candidate.”

JMU announced the hiring of John Bowers on Thursday as the director of player personnel. Bowers had been the assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator for the past two years, but was fired at the end of this season.

Bowers, a JMU graduate, will be helping the current players through the transition as well communicating with recruits, according to Bourne. Bowers will remain at JMU for at least a year when the new coach is hired.

“John has a very good rapport with the student athletes, and at the time that he left there was a lot of support for him,” Bourne said. “…Transition’s a trying time. It’s stressful. Students are worried about their academic work as well as what’s going on, and what’s your future look like? I think John is a seasoned coach. He’s been around that. They relate well to him and, again, I think the fact that he’s a JMU product helps. He understands the JMU community and how we work here, and I think he’s going to be a real benefit to us.”

Bourne said he believes the players found out Wednesday evening through John Streicher, who is Withers administrative assistant.

Withers had an 18-7 record during his two seasons at JMU. He took the Dukes to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs both years, but they went 0-2 — both were home games. Withers was hired in December 2013 to replace longtime head coach Mickey Matthews.

This past season JMU gained national attention as ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ brought its show to Harrisonburg. The Dukes started out 7-0 this season, but went 2-3 in their last five games. JMU senior quarterback Vad Lee suffered a season-ending injury in the eighth game.

Withers was a candidate for the East Carolina University head coaching job last month but did not get it. Bourne admitted that it helps that he thought Withers might be leaving when the ECU job came open.

JMU will work with Bill Carr from CarrSports, a search firm, to help with finding a new coach. Bourne said after ESPN came to JMU he realized he probably needed to start working with Bill Carr.

“When you’re an athletic director you have to always be prepared,” Bourne said. “When we had ‘College GameDay’ here I started working with Bill Carr, because I thought, you know what, ‘when you do what I do it’s likely you could lose your coach.’ So you have to be prepared and we do that on all levels, but certainly on this one. We were well prepared had East Carolina come along. We’re well prepared now.”

Bourne said that he expects Withers to announce who his coaching staff at Texas State be in the next few days, which could include other members of JMU’s coaching staff. Bourne said that the new coach will be able to pick his assistant coaches.

JMU has considered going to the Football Bowl Subdivision level over the last few years, but there hasn’t been much change at that level or many openings. Bourne said it was “hard to tell” if that had any bearing on Withers’ decision to go to Texas State, which is an FBS school in the Sun Belt Conference.

Bourne said that for now JMU is a Football Championship Subdivision school and the best thing they can do is to be the best FCS program they can be.

“One of the best things that can happen for JMU and JMU’s future is to assure that we are winning a lot of games, going deep in the playoffs in FCS and hopefully winning a national championship at FCS,” Bourne said. “That’s what brings recognition to your program. And when you look at programs that have done this consistently — look at what North Dakota (State’s) done. They lost a coach, they reloaded, they kept a good coaching staff in place and they’re there knocking at the door again this year. I think that has to be the plan for JMU. If we do that, then we’re going to have a lot of other options going forward as we’re considered by different conferences.”

Bourne said he has no doubt that there a lot of great coaches out there who want the JMU job, and he’s sure they will make the right hire.

“I feel really good about where we are right now,” Bourne said. “I felt that way through the fall. I’m constantly getting a barometer on people interested in your program, even when you don’t have an opening. But in the last day my phone locks down with people trying to say ‘yeah, I’m interested in being a JMU Duke’ — so that’s a good thing.”

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