Dean Hood, Eastern’s head football coach, was honored with the American Football Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year award. His Colonels won the school’s 21st Ohio Valley Conference championship. (Progress File Photo)

By Ryan Alves

After his team began the season 1-3, head football coach, Dean Hood, led his Colonels to the program’s 21st Ohio Valley Conference championship.

And Tuesday, for his coaching efforts, Hood was awarded an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Regional Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).

Hood was unavailable for comment as of deadline Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s great to see Coach Hood receive an honor like this,” senior defensive lineman Emory Attig said. “He has done a great job changing this program into being about something more than just championships, awards and football. He has turned this program into a place where kids arrive in August for football camp and leave as men with integrity, shaking the president’s hand and receiving something that no one can take away from you because you earned it.”

Hood, who relinquished his defensive coordinator position in the off-season to take a more general head coaching approach, led his Colonels (7-5) to six wins out of their final seven regular season games en route to hosting its first NCAA FCS playoff game since 1994.  

The move didnt go unnoticed by his team.

“It says a lot about Coach Hood to step back from DC and hand over something he was so close to,” Attig said.  “It shows that he had faith in God to let it be in another person’s control. I know it was not easy for him, but he did an exceptional job keeping his distance, and I believe Coach Hatmaker did a great job picking up where he left off.”

The Colonels were struggling at a 1-3 record, and coming off a loss to the conference’s worst team in Austin Peay when the team went on its bye week.

But then Eastern reeled off five straight wins before losing to Tennessee Tech on Nov. 12.

During that stretch of game, the Colonels pulled off a remarkable comeback against Jacksonville State when they scored 28 unanswered points with less than 8 minutes in the game.

Eastern won its final game on senior day over UT Martin to clench the OVC championships.

The Colonels have now captured two OVC championships in Hood’s four seasons as head coach. The other two seasons they finished as runner-ups, just barely missing out on a share of the title.

One of Hood’s mantras with his team has been just that: preparing his players for the real world.

“It is amazing to look back on all my years and know I have a coaching staff that equipped me well for the real world, where things will not always be warm and fuzzy and sometimes you have to accept responsibility and do things that you don’t want to do,” Attig said.

Other coaches around the nation that won the region-based award were: Towson’s Rob Ambrose (Region 1), Georgia Southern’s Jeff Monken (Region 2), North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl (Region 4) and Sam Houston State’s Willie Fritz (Region 5) were the other honorees. All five coaches guided their teams to at least a share of a conference title and a berth in the FCS playoffs.

The 2011 Regional Coach of the Year winners will be recognized at the AFCA Coach of the Year Dinner at the 2012 AFCA Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

The dinner is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10.