Dixon native Benny Boyd has longed to move up the college football coaching ladder, and his latest step is bringing him closer to home.
Boyd recently accepted a position to be the special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach at Eastern Illinois University, a Division I FCS program located in Charleston. He had been the special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach at Central Washington, a Division II program in Ellensburg, Wash., for the past four seasons.
He helped the Wildcats to an 8-3 mark in 2018.
“I am very excited,” Boyd said. “It’s an opportunity
to coach at the Division I
level and get in on the ground floor of a program that is going to do some great things.”
The wheels were set in motion for Boyd to move from the West Coast to the Midwest when former EIU coach Kim Dameron was fired on Nov. 18. The Panthers were 3-8 this past season, and 27-30 in five seasons under Dameron.
On Dec. 9, Eastern Illinois hired Adam Cushing as its head coach. Cushing had been an assistant at Northwestern the past 15 seasons, and Boyd had a roundabout connection there.
Going into the 2018 American Football Coaches Association convention in Charlotte, N.C., Boyd was urged by Tim Heffelfinger, a Sterling native and a scout for the New England Patriots, to get to know decision makers, or at least those close to decision makers, at the collegiate level.
At the convention in Charlotte, Boyd had about a half-hour chat with Cody Cejda, the Director of Football Operations and Strategy at Northwestern, and a person who works closely with head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Cejda explained there was likely nothing at Northwestern for Boyd at that time, but to stay in touch. Boyd followed up with a thank-you letter, occasional emails prior to and during the season, and at the conclusion of Central Washington’s season, an updated résumé.
A few days after Boyd sent Cejda his information, Cushing was hired at EIU, and he had a coaching staff to fill. Cejda contacted Boyd and hooked him up with Chris Bowers, the Director of Player Personnel at Northwestern who was also headed to EIU to be Cushing’s defensive coordinator.
Boyd called Bowers to inquire about the situation at EIU, and they ended up talking for 2½ hours. Bowers liked what he heard from Boyd, and a formal interview was set up for Thursday, Dec. 20 in Evanston – after Northwestern’s final practice for the Holiday Bowl game against Utah.
Boyd, who was coming home for the holidays anyway, met with Bowers and Cushing, it went well, and they offered him a job on the spot. He immediately accepted.
Boyd still had the not-so-small task of returning to Washington to clean out his apartment and belongings at the CWU football office, and hauling everything back to Illinois.
“It took about 26 hours to pack everything up, and then 27 hours to drive back to Illinois,” Boyd said. “It was definitely a whirlwind there for a while.”
Boyd officially began his duties at EIU on Jan. 2. His early time on the job has been filled with supervising 5 a.m. player workouts, and hitting the recruiting trail. His territory stretches basically from Chicago to the Quad Cities.
“We got off to a late start with recruiting, so that’s what the whole staff has been doing a lot of,” Boyd said. “We want to win the state of Illinois.”
High school: Dixon, class of 1996
College: Aurora University (2000)
FYI: Recently hired as special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach at Eastern Illinois. … Previously coached at Central Washington, Aurora University, Luther College and North Dakota.