YAKIMA — Ian Shoemaker will turn 40 next month, but he’s already planned to not make plans for what many consider a milestone event.
“Maybe the next year, when I turn 41, I’ll have a party and do all that stuff,” Shoemaker said Thursday night. “This one will be me living out of a suitcase and grinding on the recruiting trail.”
Because Shoemaker was confirmed earlier Thursday as Central Washington’s new head football coach, and will assume his duties in Ellensburg on Jan. 2.
Shoemaker, who the past six seasons has been co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, Minn., was announced as the program’s new leader by athletic director Dennis Francois.
He will succeed John Picha, a longtime CWU assistant who led the Wildcats last season on an interim basis after Blaine Bennett was fired on Aug. 9. Picha did not seek the job on a permanent basis.
John Graham, a former Central player and assistant and current associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Eastern Washington, was one of two other finalists. Chris Tormey, who’d been head coach at Idaho and Nevada and had also assisted at Washington and Washington State, was the other.
A fourth finalist from the initial pool of 55 applicants, Skyline High School head coach Mat Taylor, withdrew earlier this week.
“First and foremost, Ian is a highly intelligent individual who is able to translate his intelligence into success on the football field,” Francois said in a telephone interview. “Secondly, he is very focused on the student athlete and the student athlete’s total experience at the university. He embodies that philosophy himself, having excelled academically at Grinnell College.”
While Shoemaker made his coaching name in the Midwest, having assisted at four other schools in that region before moving to St. Cloud, he has roots in the Pacific Northwest.
A native of Graham, southeast of Tacoma, he graduated from Orting High School. And after earning a psychology degree from Grinnell while also being a four-year varsity starter in both football and baseball, he was a graduate assistant for two years at Western Washington.
“I realize Western doesn’t play football anymore,” said Shoemaker, speaking via telephone from St. Cloud, “but I’m also very aware of the rivalry between Central and Western. And I took some grief about that in the interview process.”
Shoemaker’s offenses usually meant grief for St. Cloud State’s opponents in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. His no-huddle, multiple-formation teams set single-season school records for points, touchdowns, passing efficiency, pass completions, yards per pass and total offense.
During his tenure as the school’s offensive mastermind, the Huskies’ scoring average improved from 25.3 points per game from 2004-07 to 32.8 from 2008-12. Their total yards per game, meanwhile, rose from 363 to 402.
St. Cloud State has reached the NCAA Division II playoffs three times in the last four years.
“I have a long-term plan and a philosophy regarding what we hope to accomplish at Central,” Shoemaker said, “but that does not give us a pass or enable us to not set our expectations high for immediate success.
“Every year is a little bit different. You’re not always blessed with the Mike Reillys of the world, or the personnel they had in their program in ‘02 (unbeaten regular season, first D-II playoff berth).”
Also, Shoemaker said he will not mold CWU’s personnel around his personal preferences.
“The first order of business is to evaluate the roster and define the players’ skill sets,” he said. “Ours is not a cookie-cutter offense that takes three years to develop. We’ve broken offensive records at three different universities, and we’ve done it a number of different ways ... ”
Regarding his staff at Central, Shoemaker said he’s compiling a list of potential assistants but will first evaluate those currently in the program and who might wish to remain.
“There are guys already there with a lot of football knowledge,” he said. “I’ll evaluate the chemistry, philosophies and the schematics and go from there. I haven’t offered anybody a job.”
Shoemaker’s new job, meanwhile, is one he said he’s long coveted.
“I haven’t applied for a job in 15 years,” he said. “But I’d targeted this particular job for quite awhile now, and viewed it from afar. It’s a great opportunity, and one I could not pass up.”
At St. Cloud, Shoemaker worked for athletic director Heather Weems, who had previously worked with Francois at Drake University before Francois came to Central last June.
Shoemaker said he’ll soon be joined in Ellensburg by his partner, Jenel Chang, and their son Kai, who’s almost 3, and daughter Quinn, 10 months.