Joining his 1997 teammates in the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend, Eastern offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Best is in his 16th season as either a player or coach for the Eagles
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
Some call it yelling a lot, but Aaron Best describes it as expressing himself loudly.
This Saturday (Oct. 6), besides expressing himself to the offensive line he coaches, the Eagle offensive coordinator will join his 1997 Eastern Washington University teammates as inductees into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame. An induction breakfast takes place Saturday morning, with the team introduced at halftime of EWU’s game versus North Dakota, which starts at 5:05 p.m. at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
After playing center for the Eagles for four seasons (1996-99) Best joined the Eagles as an assistant coach in 2000. Apart from a one-year stint in the Canadian Football League coaching in Toronto (2007), he has been coaching at Eastern ever since.
Best started 22-straight games at center for Eastern in 1998 and 1999, earning honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a junior and first team honors as a senior. He also earned honorable mention All-America honors his final season, and was honored nationally academically for his 3.3 grade point average.
He was Eastern’s long-snapper for four seasons and was a backup lineman in 1997 when Eastern led the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in total offense (505.6 yards per game). That team finished 12-2 and advanced to the FCS “Final Four.” The Eagles were 31-16 in the four seasons Best played for the Eagles, and EWU had a 1,000-yard rusher each year. In all, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher in 10 of the previous 15 seasons Best has been at EWU.
In 2010, as the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, Best helped Eastern finish 13-2 and win the NCAA Division I title. Eastern’s offense ranked 22nd in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in yards per game (397.1) and 18th in scoring (31.5).
The Eagles are off to a quick start this season with identical 32-26 Big Sky Conference wins over Weber State and Montana for a 3-1 record overall. An early jolt to the season has been a surprise change of quarterbacks. Kyle Padron, a junior who transferred from SMU, started the first two games; mobile Vernon Adams, who was a redshirt freshman last year, has started the last two.
This weekend the 1997 Eastern team that you played on will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. What are some of your best memories from that season?
“The one memory that stands out the most was winning against Montana at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula. We ran the ball 13 times in a row on a 75-yard touchdown drive to put the game on ice. I think it was at that point the nail started to go in the coffin on them and that we knew we were a really good football team. There are a lot of good memories, but that win was huge.”
“I remember it was really cold in the semifinals of the playoffs against Youngstown State (a season-ending 25-14 loss on Dec. 13) trying to long-snap. That year we ran the ball really well, we had a great defense and we were timely and opportunistic as a team. I was a long snapper as a true sophomore playing behind an All-America center (Kevin Peterson). I’m still really good friends and acquaintances with a lot of those guys from the 1997 team, and it will be great to be back together again.”
You had an opportunity to play for and coach on arguably the best two teams in Eastern’s football history. What were some similarities between the 1997 team and 2010 team?
“There are several things that come to mind. Both teams played great defense, with guys flying around and making plays no matter what the opponent was doing. The two teams weren’t really exotic with what they did, but they just did it really well. I think we were defensively sound in both years and had explosive players on offense.”
I’ve heard you referred to as the coach who yells a lot and whose voice goes hoarse during preseason practices. Why is that?
“I don’t always yell, but I’m always loud. Screaming, taunting, bantering . . . you name it. I say what I see and I say what I feel -- sometimes maybe too much. I just have a lot of passion. I always like to tell our players that if you’re doing something, you have to be passionate about it.”
Would you say you enjoyed playing more or coaching?
“You always enjoy your time playing and afterwards there are no regrets. I knew when my time was done, and I never try to live through my players. You take the opportunity you were given and make the most of it whether it’s playing or coaching.”
Congratulations on the win over Montana. What were the biggest positives that you were able to take from the game apart from obviously getting another W?
“I was going to say scoring more points was a big positive, but that’s too obvious. I think the positives out of this one are that there are still a fair amount of things we need to clean up – I know it actually sounds like a negative -- and yet we still found a way to win. Coach (Beau) Baldwin has been talking about the resiliency, the perseverance and the toughness we seem to have. Even though the third quarter didn’t go well, we found a way to win. That was the main positive -- we won even though there are many things we can still clean up.”
It’s not every game that a team recovers an onside kick that leads to a win. What was it like on the sidelines when the Eagles made the recovery and subsequently went on the game-winning drive?
“It’s interesting because everyone believed. We were in that same situation many times in 2010 and a few times last year, and we’ve just been a team of destiny in the fourth quarter. Against Montana we not only had to recover the onside kick to win, but we had to score the touchdown once we got it. When we recovered it we felt like we were in the driver’s seat, and everyone on our sideline knew what was going to happen. It was just a matter of when and not if.”
Against Weber State you pulled the switcheroo on us and you went with Vernon Adams at quarterback, and nobody outside of the team knew about it. How much fun is it to go into the game knowing you’re doing something that none of us knew?
“You’re asking the wrong guy because I didn’t know either. Coach B must have had a three-headed coin -- heads, tails and Vernon on the other side. We knew that both Kyle and Vernon would play in some capacity, but we didn’t know who was going to start. Honestly I’m just worried about those five guys up front and I didn’t even know whether it was 2, 16, 42 or whoever taking snaps.”
Do you incorporate the mobility of Vernon into your offensive game plan, or is his ability to avoid sacks enough?
“It’s a combination. We want to know where he’s throwing the ball and when the running backs are running it, but we want to utilize his ability. We do know he’s going to take off sometimes in drop-back situations, which we’re more than okay with, because when he does that he puts defensive coordinators into a tough situation.”
You have two young children. Are you a daddy jungle gym at home?
“Oh yeah. Tackling dummy, jungle gym, you name it . . .”
Your son Tank was 10 pounds and 7 ounces at birth. Is he as big as a 4 1/2 year old as he was an infant?
“He measures out at about 46 pounds at the ripe old age of four and a half. He’s kind of thinned out now and looks more like mom.”
Is he starting to understand and love football?
“He loves it. My daughter loves it too -- she always wants to come help me coach. They go with me to meetings sometimes and travel with me. I need to keep them involved with my profession because it’s so time consuming. If he wants to play football as he gets older then that will be great, but I will never force him.”
How did you and your wife, Kim, come up with the names of Tank and Tenli for your children?
“The first one I’ll take credit for. He’s named after a safety, Tank Williams, who played for the Stanford Cardinal. I was always intrigued if I would be able to find a wife that would allow me to name our son Tank. She fought it for a couple of years before we even started talking about having kids. Then it just dawned on her that it’s not that bad, and away we went. But I didn’t believe it until the birth certificate came. From there we just went with the T and came up with Tenli. Further down the road we hope to have a third child and come up with another T.”