It took me a little while, but I tracked down Mike O’Cain after Mickey Matthews was fired. O’Cain was the offensive coordinator and QBs coach under Matthews for the 2013 season. He also was named caretaker of the program during the search for a head coach. In this story, which ran Dec. 7, 2013, he confirms his interest in the job and talks about what happened when Matthews was fired.
HARRISONBURG, Va. — In the absence of a head coach, Mike O’Cain was appointed steward of the James Madison football program. On Friday, the Dukes’ offensive coordinator confirmed he wants to be more.
The 59-year-old O’Cain said he has “interest” in JMU’s head coaching job, vacant since last week when Madison fired Mickey Matthews after missing the Division I-AA playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
O’Cain would not say whether he has formally applied for the job.
“I don’t want to get into that at this point in time,” O’Cain said during a telephone interview. “I think there’s interest, let me put it that way. … I have an interest in the position.”
Sources also have confirmed that Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and University of Arizona co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith are interested, with DeFilippo — a former JMU QB who graduated in 2000 — recently emerging as a strong candidate.
Other coaches who are thought to be interested are a pair of Virginia Tech assistants: associate head coach/running backs coach Shane Beamer, the son of head coach Frank Beamer, and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring, another JMU grad.
O’Cain said the deadline to apply to Carr Sports Associates — the consulting firm handling the search — is Wednesday. Interviews are expected to start shortly thereafter.
JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne named O’Cain — whose multiple offense produced the best passing numbers in Madison history — as the football program’s caretaker because of the Orangeburg, S.C., native’s previous head coaching experience.
He led North Carolina State from 1993-99 and had a 41-40 record, including a 28-24 win over Mississippi State in the 1994 Peach Bowl. The Wolfpack finished 9-3 that year. It was O’Cain’s best season. He also went 7-5 twice, 3-8 twice, 6-5 and 6-6.
After N.C. State, O’Cain was an assistant at North Carolina (offensive coordinator and QBs coach), Clemson (his alma mater, where he was the OC and QBs coach) and Virginia Tech.
O’Cain spent 2006-12 in Blacksburg, coaching quarterbacks. In 2011-12, he called plays before being fired as part of an offensive-staff purge that included Curt Newsome, who also landed at JMU, where he coached the offensive line this season.
Reports have linked Newsome to the open head coaching position at Division III Emory & Henry, his alma mater. Newsome could not be reached for comment Friday.
Ulrick Edmonds, meanwhile, became the first JMU staff member to get a new job. Old Dominion announced Friday that the 34-year-old — a former JMU defensive lineman who had coached at Madison since 2004 — is its new linebackers coach.
O’Cain said he found out about Matthews’ firing from Matthews, who called a staff meeting the morning he was let go, Monday, Nov. 25.
“I guess right after they told Mickey , we had a staff meeting at 8:30, 9, 9:30 — I don’t remember exactly what time it was. I was in the office already,” O’Cain said. “And Mickey walked in and said we need to get together.”
O’Cain said the caretaking job has been characterized by keeping the players focused on academics and a strange sort of recruiting.
He and the other assistants (most are under contract through January) are staying in contact with JMU’s 2014 recruits to keep them abreast of what’s happening in Harrisonburg and assure them that their scholarships will be honored by the university, regardless of who is hired as coach.
“You’re not really recruiting. I use that term loosely. You’re trying to be a stopgap,” O’Cain said. “Let them know a little bit about what’s going on, a little bit of the process. They’re opening the head-coaching search up to a national search, and there’s going to be two weeks before they start interviewing people … [Bourne] said he wanted to do it as quickly as he possibly could. So you try to just let them know that part of the process and how it will be and let them know [that] as soon as we know something, they will know something, and try to keep them informed that way. But you’re not recruiting. You’re just trying to hold down the fort, so to speak.”
O’Cain said he was not surprised that Matthews, who had one year left on his $222,000-a-year contract, was fired. O’Cain said he was aware of rumors about Matthews ‘ job security before he took the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach job in March.
“You’re around and you hear certain things, but it wasn’t really a concern,” O’Cain said. “Because when … I got here and looked at our players and our staff and we got to work — and you really kind of put that out of your mind and just got to work. And as you get into it, we really believed that we had the makings of being pretty good and having a chance to make a big run into the playoffs, and for whatever reason, it just didn’t materialize.”