College Sports

NCCU’s interim football coach set to coach like he’s going to be there for years

Granville Eastman puts the defensive backs through drills prior to N.C. Central’s game against Delaware State on Oct. 28. Eastman was named the Eagles’ interim head coach on Dec. 8.
Granville Eastman puts the defensive backs through drills prior to N.C. Central’s game against Delaware State on Oct. 28. Eastman was named the Eagles’ interim head coach on Dec. 8. NCCU athletics

The well wishes were coming in at such an alarming rate that Granville Eastman is convinced his iPhone crashed sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Eastman, who was named the interim football coach at N.C. Central on Friday, will step in for Jerry Mack, who left N.C. Central after four years to become the offensive coordinator at Rice University. Mack went 31-15 in four seasons in Durham.

Since 2014, Eastman worked under Mack as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator and safeties coach, but when Mack left, Eastman was rewarded with his first head coaching job after 24 years in the business.

So many messages flowed in over the weekend from coaches, current and former players and many other well wishers that Eastman’s phone shut down on him as he tried to text the N.C. Central coaching staff Sunday morning.

“I kind of regard myself as an old-school guy,” Eastman said. “There’s only two numbers I know off the top of my head: that’s my mom and my wife, Lynnette. I had to email them to let them know where I was. Thank God for email. That Sunday was a struggle, but I really think it was because of all the congratulations.”

Eastman will be N.C. Central’s interim coach through the 2018 season.

The Eagles went 7-4 overall in 2017 and 5-3 in the MEAC. Under Eastman, the defensive unit has consistently been one of the best in the MEAC. In 2016, when N.C. Central went 8-0 in league play and won the MEAC title outright, the defense was ranked No. 2 in the league in tackles for loss and sacks and No.1 in scoring defense.

Last season the defense was No. 2 in the FCS in third-down conversion percentage. Eastman, who didn’t want to make too many changes on the staff, will continue to coach the safeties and call the defense in 2018 along with his head coaching duties.

While the interim title will remain in front of his name throughout 2018, Eastman’s mindset is to coach like he’ll be the guy next season and beyond. Dr. Johnson Akinleye, N.C. Central’s chancellor, gave Eastman a piece of advice, telling Eastman to coach “like you’re going to be here for years to come.”

“That’s what I plan on doing,” Eastman said. “The other things are going to take care of themselves.”

Eastman has been an interim coach before, at Austin Peay State University for two months in the winter of 2013. He said his main responsibility during that span was to oversee recruiting weekends, joking that he just had to make sure there was enough food.

He’ll have a bit more than that on his plate as he takes over a roster that returns 13 starters, including nine on offense. Asked who he had to re-recruit first among the commitments, returning players and coaching staff, Eastman said N.C. Central is at a point where it sells itself, so he didn’t have to convince anyone to stay on board.

“A lot of the young men who were in the boat,” Eastman explained, “stayed in the boat.”

Eastman met with the coaching staff on Friday, but he has yet to hold a team meeting with the players. N.C. Central is out for winter break and the team has scattered home. He did speak to several players on the phone since getting the job.

Eastman steps into an ideal situation for his first coaching job.

Under Mack, N.C. Central has won at least seven games in four consecutive seasons. The Eagles were still in the hunt for a fourth consecutive MEAC title up until Week 10 this season when they lost at home, 13-10, to Bethune-Cookman. The next week North Carolina A&T defeated the Eagles 24-10 in the season finale, giving N.C. Central its first two-game conference losing streak since 2013.

In his first meeting with the staff, Eastman expressed to the group that he looks at them all as “power players” and how important it is for them to be there. Continuity is a big reason why Eastman decided to maintain his duties as the safeties coach and defensive coordinator instead of hiring from the outside or promoting from within the staff.

“We’re all creatures of habit,” Eastman said. “Our kids, especially our defensive kids, they react a certain way to certain things, and I did not want any disruption. Everyone is comfortable in my role as defensive coordinator, we understand the expectations from each position coach, so I did not want to disrupt that comradery.”

Eastman called the job a “dream come true” and embraces the challenges ahead, as long as the program continues to move forward.

“I’m kind of sitting in a situation where it’s ‘don’t mess it up,’ to be quite frank,” Eastman said. “We’ve got some really good things in place.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-6501, @JEPopeIV

The Granville Eastman file

Playing experience

▪ Saint Mary’s University, defensive back (1989-92)

Coaching experience

▪ York University (Toronto, Canada), assistant coach (defensive backs), 1994-95

▪ Arkansas State University, graduate assistant (defense), 1996-98

Tiffin University

▪ defensive backs/recruiting coordinator, 1999

▪ defensive coordinator/defensive line/recruiting coordinator, 2000

▪ defensive coordinator/defensive backs/recruiting coordinator, 2001-02

Austin Peay State University

▪ defensive backs/special teams coordinator, 2003-04

▪ defensive coordinator/special teams/outside linebackers/safeties, 2005-06

▪ defensive coordinator/special teams/defensive backs, 2007-09

▪ defensive coordinator/special teams/linebackers, 2010

▪ defensive coordinator/safeties, 2011-12

▪ interim head coach, Jan-March 2013

N.C. Central

▪ defensive coordinator/safeties, 2014-17

▪ interim head coach, 2018