The Easterner

Aaron Best ready for second season at the helm

Head football coach Aaron Best reflects on two decades at EWU, looks ahead to 2018

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Head football coach Aaron Best leads the football team out after halftime against Weber State last season. Best has been a part of the Eagles' last eight Big Sky Championships - one as a player and seven on the coaching staff | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

Head football coach Aaron Best leads the football team out after halftime against Weber State last season. Best has been a part of the Eagles' last eight Big Sky Championships - one as a player and seven on the coaching staff | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

Head football coach Aaron Best leads the football team out after halftime against Weber State last season. Best has been a part of the Eagles' last eight Big Sky Championships - one as a player and seven on the coaching staff | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

By Taylor Newquist, Reporter

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Aaron Best has been a part of the EWU football program for 20 of the last 21 years, beginning with his playing career in 1996. This fall, Best will start his second year as the Eagles’ head coach, after finishing 7-4 in his first campaign.

He began his career for the Eagles as long snapper and center, starting 22 straight games over his junior and senior years, and earning All-Big Sky honors. His then-head coach Mike Kramer told The Easterner that in Best’s playing days the word tenacious should’ve been renamed after him.

“I’m so proud of what he’s accomplished,” Kramer said. “After one year he has a good idea about what he needs to do to be successful. He’s going to want to bring them to a national prominence, and he is yet to put his mark on the program, which I know must be like sandpaper to him.”

Best has been a part of the Eagles’ last eight Big Sky Championships – one as a player and seven on the coaching staff. He credited the current state of the program to his predecessors Dick Zornes, Mike Kramer, Paul Wulff and Beau Baldwin, who all won at least one Big Sky title in their time at EWU.

Head football coach Aaron Best directs the team during a scrimmage on April 13. The Eagles went 7-4 overall and missed the FCS Playoffs in Best’s first campaign at the helm | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

“The Big Sky Championship is something that we pride ourselves on going after and obtaining every single year,” Best said. “I don’t know if that was the case 15 years ago. We talked about it, but it wasn’t something that was tangible.”

Best said that success was amplified with Baldwin’s recruiting classes and the appeal of The Inferno’s red turf.

“With sustainability you get attractiveness,” said Best. “Not only from Northwest people, but outside of the Northwest. So now people want to be a part of your program that maybe 15 years ago didn’t know it existed.”

Coming with an offensive lineman’s perspective, Best is more prone to run the ball than Baldwin’s previous EWU regime. In 2016 under Baldwin, the Eagles passed on roughly 60 percent of plays. Last season they passed on 55 percent of plays. Best said the Eagles offense will aim for 60-65 percent passing plays in the upcoming season.

“In any offense,” said Best. “No matter who it is, your quarterback has got to be the guy you lean on most individually. We became a little more balanced last year, but we’re always going to be pass first.”

He said that to him, any carry for less than four yards is not good enough. Best added that designed quarterback runs will be a key part of opening lanes for running backs. Similarly, he said a strong rushing attack will make the quarterback’s job easier.

Most evidently, Best wants to keep the defense guessing. He said the offense will be rotating between no huddle, slow huddle or all huddle play calling systems this year — varying the speeds they approach the line of scrimmage before the snap, and how much time they are using on the play clock. He compared the strategy to driving on the highway.

“You set the cruise [control] at 75 mph and you know how it is going to ride the entire way,” said Best. “You go 60 mph and then 80 mph, then people around are thinking ‘you just passed me and now I’m passing you’ and it keeps people guessing. That’s where we want to be from an identity standpoint.”

On defense Best wants the team to ramp up the turnovers. He said that last season the team didn’t capitalize on the opponent’s potential mistakes.

“Collectively as a team we need to find ways to get more balls out,” said Best. “We got to strip balls, we got to sack the quarterback and get the ball out in blindside situations and we got to intercept the ball more.”

Best said that he and his team are aware of the expectations they will have put on them ahead of next season. The team is returning 28 seniors and the same coaching staff, and he said that comes with better communication between players and coaches alike.

“On paper it says we’re going to be better because we’re a year older,” said Best. “I talked to the team about that and told them – just because you’re a year older, doesn’t mean you’re a year better.”

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Aaron Best ready for second season at the helm