By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State’s human resources department was inundated with applications. That long list of applicants has now been whittled down as the RiverHawks continue to search for their next head football coach.
As for specific numbers related to the search, that’s where Tony Duckworth, NSU’s director of athletics, comes in.
“There are over 60 who have applied through the NSU human resources system,” Duckworth told the Tahlequah Daily Press in a recent interview.
Northeastern State finished off Central Oklahoma for the President’s Cup on Nov. 16 — the same day former head coach Kenny Evans was relived of his duties with the team.
Duckworth has reviewed the possible candidates and has narrowed his list to single digits.
“I have personally spoken to eight candidates,” Duckworth said.
Now the prevailing question: when will NSU appoint a new head coach?
“Ideally, we can have a coach hired and on campus working right after the first of the new year,” Duckworth said.
The clock is ticking.
The new head coach will have to jump in immediately and take over the recruiting reigns that were left to Evans’ assistants since his departure. But Duckworth has been emphasized the need to find the right head coach over getting recruits locked up for the 2014 season.
“I’m sure there has been some impact,” Duckworth said about the coaching vacancy hampering recruiting. “It is important to trust the search process and not rush a hire of this magnitude for the sake of a few prospects.”
As for what Duckworth is in search of in his ideal candidate, he said a proven track record is a must.
“I am looking for a quality coach who has significant successful experience at the intercollegiate level,” Duckworth said. “Those individuals who have been connected to successful D-II programs is also a positive. I will even factor significant playing experience into the equation for those who did play a major leadership role when they competed.”
In 2013, Northeastern State went 2-9 overall and 2-8 in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. In the two years since joining the MIAA, the RiverHawks have gone 6-14 in league competition.
Beginning in 2014, NSU will play everyone in the league since Lincoln and Southwest Baptist will start playing games in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. That means the RiverHawks will get rid of any non-conference competition and add Fort Hays State, Nebraska Kearney and Lindenwood to the slate of games, which already includes Pittsburg State, Emporia State, Northwest Missouri State, Central Missouri and the rest of the usual suspects in the MIAA.
Duckworth wants someone who will make NSU a viable threat in one of the deepest leagues in all of Division II football.
“The ideal candidate will have a clear plan and vision how to systematically develop the program into consistently producing winning seasons,” Duckworth said. “Intercollegiate head coaching or coordinator experience is also my preference.”
Does that mean Duckworth would trust his program in the hands of coach coming from the high school or junior college ranks? His answer was very noncommittal.
“We are seeking the best available coach who can successfully lead our program,” Duckworth said, “through the highly competitive MIAA.”
When that person starts leading NSU through the grind of the MIAA is yet to be seen. Only Duckworth can decide on the right candidate at the right time.