CHARLESTON -- After ranking second to last in the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring offense with only 17.6 points per game, Eastern Illinois football head coach Kim Dameron knew the program had to go in a different direction on that side of the ball.
It wasn’t a slight of Greg Stevens, who was EIU’s offensive coordinator for four seasons, Dameron said. He wanted to bring a type of offense in that would be hard for other Ohio Valley Conference teams to prepare for after a 6-5 season.
“We were able to win six games because of grit. I am proud of the fact that we won six games and three in overtime and we won three on the last play of the game,” Dameron said. “That tells you a lot about the kids that are here and their competitive spirit and not giving up. But if you fall behind in a game, it was going to be over. We have to be able to put more point on the board.”
Dameron had his mind set on running the Air Raid offense, the offensive scheme made famous by coach Mike Leach during his time at Texas Tech and now at Washington State.
So as he made calls to other coaching staffs about recommendations, one name kept popping up - Scott Parr, the offensive coordinator at Navarro Junior College.
Dameron brought in Parr and he bought into what Parr was saying. He offered the job to Parr, who accepted. On Monday it became official and Parr was named EIU’s new offensive coordinator.
“I am really excited, not just with Scott, but with the direction that the offense will go in,” Dameron said. “It will be a much more aggressive, wide-open style of offense. The last time EIU won the conference back-to-back, they were in a spread passing attack. Scott is somebody that fits exactly the direction I wanted to go offensively.
“Everything pointed to him. We brought Scott in for an interview and it was apparent that he was the guy we needed.”
Parr has been at Navarro for the past three season and the team finished eighth in NJCAA in total offense. In his first season, Navarro was second in NJCAA with 564.2 yards per game. In 2016, Navarro was third in total offense.
Parr also was the offensive coordinator at NCAA Division II West Texas A&M for three seasons and the offense ranked in the top 15 nationally all three seasons.
When Dameron offered the job to Parr, he didn’t hesitate in accepting the job.
“Coach Dameron has a great reputation in the profession. When I did my research, everyone defined him as an A-plus man. Him wanting to run this style of offensive was attractive to me and this style of offense works best when the head coach has bought into it,” Parr said. “Plus the tradition of EIU football and the quarterbacks they’ve had. I want people to know that I respect the history of EIU football and it’s an honor and privilege to get this opportunity. My family is excited to move to Charleston. We aren’t going to take any days off and we are going to give our heart and soul to EIU football.”
Dameron is fully on board with the Air Raid offense and he said he isn’t just going to “dabble” in it, which is why he brought Parr in.
The Air Raid offense is designed out of the shotgun formation with four wide receivers usually, two in the slot, and one running back.
Dameron said it’s a distinct offense that is difficult to prepare for.
“There’s nobody in our league that does it, not this way, not this fast or the way we are doing to do it,” Dameron said. “It’s something akin to the triple option, people have to get ready for it in only three days. It’s not the same thing you prepare for week after week in the OVC. It’s harder to defend.”
The Panthers have two quarterbacks coming back next season. Redshirt freshman Scotty Gilkey Jr. played in nine games and passed for 606 yards and three touchdowns. But he also only completed 44.9 percent of his passes and threw five interceptions.
“We just have to find us a quarterback or Scotty has to develop into that quarterback that can play at a high level,” Dameron said. “It will be fun to see how Scotty does in this offense and his development. He will grow by leaps and bounds. In this game, you can’t just have one quarterback. We have to recruit guys that will come in and play. Scotty is here now and he has an advantage as does Jaylon Banks. It will be fun to see what he does this spring.”
Banks was a 6-1 freshman this past season and redshirted. He graduated from Oswego East and passed for 1,983 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.
Gilkey, who is 6-4, also ruhed for 275 yards and six touchdowns.
Parr likes the size Gilkey brings to the table and looks forward to seeing how Gilkey and Banks fit into the offense.
“Scotty, he’s a prototype with the measurables that you want to recruit in this system. We throw a lot of balls over the middle and being 6-4 gives him the ability to have natural vision,” Parr said. “He has a really strong arm and can make a lot of throws that are beneficial. Jaylon, from what I’ve heard he’s a gym rat and he can’t get enough of studying the game. He’s going to have the ability to extend plays with his feet and is a smooth player.”
Still, Parr knows EIU has to bring in quarterbacks now with only two on the roster currently. In each of the last two seasons, injuries forced EIU to play three quarterbacks throughout the season.
Parr said he would like to bring in a couple of transfers and wants to have five quarterbacks total when fall camp opens.
“We are scouring the country right now for transfers and freshmen. Ideally, we would like to have a transfer, possibly two, that can come in during the spring,” Parr said. “Having five quarterbacks in this offensive, it helps with drills and competition. If we can find a couple of transfers to go with Scotty and Jaylon in the spring, that would be ideal. If not, it’s not a deal breaker.
“High school kids, they are throwing the ball more than they have and are picking up this offense quicker than they did 10 years ago.”
Dameron and Parr both think EIU has the pieces in place to run the offense. Isaiah Johnson rushed for 683 yards and five touchdowns. Alexander Hollins caught 47 passes for 694 yards and seven touchdowns and Aaron Gooch caught 42 passes for 353 yards.
“Like anything, it’s how we coach it and our ability to teach it,” Parr said. “From watching the players that are currently here, I am impressed with their talent and I see a lot of potential. I like what we see and just having the tradition of quarterbacks that Eastern has had in the past, it helps us recruit quarterbacks and that will be beneficial to give us momentum in recruiting.”
Dameron also promoted Kwahn Drake, who was EIU’s defensive line coach, to co-defensive coordinator with Cary Fowler.
“I thought he did a really great job last year,” Dameron said. “One of the reasons we were as good as we were defensively was because of how his kids played. I felt good about our defense last year and Kwahn takes ownership like the other coaches do and I thought this was warranted.”