Getting the opportunity to be a head coach, to run your own program, is something most every coach aspires to at some point in their career. For Ron English it took 16 years of coaching at various levels and locations before that call came.
When English was hired at Eastern Michigan he was one of only six African American coaches at the Football Bowl Subdivision. Success was not easy to come by for the disadvantaged program. They went 0-12 in English’s first season and 2-10 in his second year. However, 2011 saw the Eagles’ best season in 17 years when English’s team finished 6-6 (4-4 MAC) and earned a bowl bid. The success wouldn’t last. A 2-10 record in 2012 led to a 1-8 start in 2013 before English was fired for cause over an expletive laden recording of his speaking to his team.
He wouldn’t coach again for three years, an eternity in coaching circles.
“Coming from where I’ve been and doing some of the things I’ve done, it humbles you,” English said on Tuesday. “But it’s a good thing. It’s a blessing to be able to display humility.”
English said he spent the three years away from coaching trying to find balance. He spent time at his church, found a love for smoking meat, was a better father and husband and did his best to stay active.
“I learned that sugar and processed foods are the death of the human body. So stay away from sugar and processed foods,” he said. “Smoked a lot of meat, grilled a lot of meat, learned about that. I learned about etiquette. When you pick your kids up from school, you’ve got to do it exactly right or it’s a problem. So I learned about that after the first couple days. Did that. I learned to keep my mouth at basketball practices and games. Learned about that because I have two kids that play ball.”
Throughout those three years away from football English learned that the key to life was balance. He said often times he’d be at home with his family but not really there. Whether it was thinking about something that had happened at work or on the phone with a recruit, he was present when inside his home with his family but he wasn’t really there. He also learned that he still loved coaching and it was something he wanted to get back into but that when the opportunity presented itself he had to go about it differently.
“I still love coaching and nobody had to convince me to get back into it,” he said. “I like the fact that I’m kind of almost starting over, if you will.”
The opportunity came when San Jose State needed a defensive coordinator. A year after Dan Mullen offered him a job at Mississippi State coaching safeties. He took that job and at the end of his first season with the Bulldogs Mullen was hired at Florida.
Mullen brought English along with him to Florida, where he believes he can use all of his experience, good and bad to help get the most out of the young men he will coach this season.
“It is a blessing to get back into coaching guys like that and learning about their lives and all the minute details and all that stuff,” English said. “But the experience I’ve had, leading men as a head coach and a defensive coordinator at multiple places, will help serve me well.”
Coaching safeties at Florida isn’t necessarily English’s end goal. When asked if he was comfortable with his new role he said he wouldn’t want to work with anybody that’s comfortable.
“I just don’t think that’s how the world works,” he answered. “I would want to work with a guy who wants to ascend back to where he believes he should be.”
That doesn’t mean Florida is a stepping stone or that he’s not invested in the program and the student-athletes he’ll coach.
“If you’re asking me what I’m interested right now, it’s winning a national championship. I think Florida can win a national championship. They’ve done it multiple times before. I coached against them in between two national championships, so I know it can be done here. I’m excited about the opportunity to help Florida get back where they should be.”