TERRE HAUTE —
The two most successful football coaches, in terms of winning percentage, in Rose-Hulman history are returning to familiar roles with a new — and it really is new — challenge for the future.
Steve Englehart and Jayson Martin will reprise their roles as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, when Florida Institute of Technology, located in Melbourne, Fla., plays its first football game in school history in 2013.
A key difference? Englehart is taking his career path out of his hometown for the first time, while Martin is returning to his hometown.
If you recall, Englehart was a standout quarterback at Terre Haute North, then at Indiana State University. His coaching career began at Rose-Hulman, four years as an assistant, then four years leading the Engineers to a 26-14 mark — four consecutive winning seasons — from 2006-09. After Rose, he spent last season as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, helping direct the Sycamores to their first winning mark in 1996.
Martin was also an outstanding quarterback, first at Holy Trinity High School in Melbourne, Fla, then for four years at Kentucky State. He returned home as an assistant coach at Holy Trinity for four years, then returned for one year at Kentucky State as a volunteer assistant.
Applying for a coaching position at Rose, Martin was hired by Englehart, serving as an assistant for two years — the last year as offensive coordinator. When Englehart departed, he took over as Rose’s interim head coach for the 2010 season.
Just how did they manage to get back together?
“Before I took the ISU job, I was contacted by Florida Tech to see if I had an interest in helping them start their football program,” Englehart recalled. “I thought the opportunity was off the table, since I was already coaching at my alma mater. I was thinking [FIT] wouldn’t be hiring anyone until at least after the 2011 season.”
During this time period, Florida Tech had started the recruiting process, led by former Notre Dame player Ray Herring, bringing in 48 freshmen players for this school year.
“They decided they needed a leader for those 48 freshmen, so they expedited the hiring process,” Englehart said. “We did a phone interview, then an in-person interview, then offered me the job after the interview.”
Meanwhile, Martin enjoyed a successful 6-4 season as Rose’s interim coach. He applied for the permanent position, but Jeff Sokol was hired instead.
“[Rose] opened up the job and hired another guy,” Martin stated. “I was left holding the bag, so I had to move on. I knew about the situation [at Florida Tech]. I’m happy where I am now.”
It just so happened, Martin’s former high school coach, John Thomas, moved on to be Florida Tech’s director of football operations — charged with making the fledgling football program a reality.
“He asked me, ‘Would you like to come back here?’ ” Martin said. “I said yes. So I started in with recruiting and he said I’d be on the coaching staff when they start playing in 2013. I’m excited to get back to Florida.”
Englehart is excited too.
“This is a great opportunity,” Englehart noted. “I get to do things the way I want to do them from the ground up. Literally. I’m in on the plans for our new locker rooms, weight rooms, building a stadium. I’m even helping to design the new uniforms.”
“We’re the only Division II school in the state of Florida,” Englehart said. “We’ve just joined the Gulf South Conference, the likes of Valdosta State, Delta State, North Alabama. The best Division II conference in the nation. Sixteen of the last 24 years, teams in this conference played in the [NCAA] national championship game … 10 times they were champions.”
Florida Tech is similar to Rose-Hulman, being an engineering school. But FT is much bigger, with an enrollment of about 7,000. They also have additional educational options such as business and sports management.
“I’ll be spending a lot of my time this year recruiting and raising money,” Englehart said. “We’ll wait to fill out our coaching staff after this football season, when more coaches will be available. Next fall, we’ll have about 80 to 90 players on the team.”
In 2012, Englehart says his team will conduct intrasquad scrimmages, play some exhibition games, possibly against junior colleges. Gaining experience for the big jump in 2013.
One person Englehart can rely on for assistance during this time of transition is former Rose coach Ted Karras. Karras, who hired Englehart to his staff, left Rose to start the football program at Marian University in Indianapolis.
“Ted has been a mentor to me,” Englehart said. “We’ve talked two or three times. I’ve asked him ‘what did you do’, just to get different ideas. This situation is very similar to him.”
Englehart knows his team will suffer growing pains at the outset, just as Karras’ did. Karras’ first team was 1-9, before three straight winning seasons followed leading into this season.
“I know there will be bumps in the road … freshmen and sophomores playing against experienced teams,” Englehart admitted. “But with smart scheduling, we can get better each year. The fact we’re the only Division II school in Florida is should get us some good players.”
Englehart feels the time is right to move out of his comfort zone in Terre Haute.
“I’ve lived in Terre Haute all my life, so I think it’s time to enlarge my territory,” he said. “I’m getting to go out and do something that most coaches don’t get to do … design and build a program from the ground up.”
Englehart has been in Florida for just two months, his two boys with him as he enrolled them in school.
“My wife is finishing things up selling our house in Terre Haute, packing as we speak,” Englehart said on the phone last week. “[Last] Friday, she’ll be down here for good.”
Englehart laughed when he mentioned enjoying the ocean breeze, with the school near the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re just 30 minutes from the Kennedy Space Center,” he said. “Coming here to school, a big sell is location, location, location. Even if you’re in the center of campus, you can have your toes in the sand in less than five minutes … the beach is just over the causeway.”
Lou West, the former ISU head coach (2005-07) and Rose assistant coach (2008-10) — serving on the staffs of Englehart and Martin — has a new coaching gig this season. West is the new defensive coordinator at Garden City Community College, about 50 miles west of Dodge City, Kan.
West was fired at ISU in the midst of the 2007 season, leaving with just a 1-25 record. Last year, he was special teams coordinator and coached outside linebackers for the Engineers.
Prior to his time in Terre Haute, West had been on collegiate coaching staffs at Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Kent State, Cincinnati, Kansas, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Middle Tennessee State, Arizona and Toledo.