Cullowhee, N.C. – A five-year contract extension for Western Carolina University head football coach Mark Speir has been unanimously approved by the executive committee of WCU’s Board of Trustees. The announcement came Saturday afternoon as a part of the National Signing Day Reception held in the Ramsey Center celebrating Speir and his staff’s 2019 incoming class, which was ranked 10th nationally by HERO Sports – tops in the Southern Conference.
The board initially granted the contract extension as a part of a teleconference in late December. Speir was entering the penultimate year of a first contract extension that was announced in February of 2015 and began in July of 2016.
“Mark Speir has done a phenomenal job since he came back to Cullowhee in late 2011. His focus on the ‘student’ and not just the ‘athlete’ is what led to us signing the best incoming recruiting class in the history of WCU this year,” said Randy Eaton, WCU director of athletics, of the decision to request the contract extension. “While we were not able to fund the football program anywhere close to our peers in the Southern Conference during Mark’s first seven years, he was still able to achieve three seven-win seasons – that speaks volumes to his, and his staff’s, ability to recruit and coach. Now that we finally have been able to reasonably fund the football program, I look forward to our successes on the field over the next six years.”
Eaton added, “In short, I believe in this man, and I know he is the right fit for Cullowhee, for Western Carolina University and, most importantly, for our student-athletes.”
A former assistant coach at WCU in the early to mid-1990s, Speir was hired as Western Carolina’s 13th head football coach all-time in December of 2011. He was originally signed to a four-and-a-half-year deal, with the first extension keeping him under contract in Cullowhee through June of 2020. With the current extension, Speir will be under contract through the summer of 2025.
“I am honored and blessed to be the head football coach at Western Carolina University. I’m very grateful for the confidence that Randy Eaton, the administration, and the WCU Board of Trustees have bestowed upon our coaching staff in continuing to lead and shape this football program,” said Speir. “This is a community, a university and a football program that Paige and I truly love. I am excited about the future of where this program is headed. Our staff’s sole vision continues to be leading young men and developing champions on and off the field. Bottom line… I’m excited to be a part of the Catamount Nation for another six years!”
Among 20 national finalists for the 2014 Eddie Robinson national FCS Coach of the Year award, Speir has guided the Catamounts to a trio of seven-win seasons and thrice to the doorstep of returning to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs during his tenure. Five different Catamounts have earned All-America honors, including four in the past five seasons on the STATS FCS All-America team.
Since taking over the program in 2012, several individuals have thrived under Speir’s tutelage. A combined 32 players have collected All-Southern Conference first or second-team plaudits, while 22 have earned SoCon All-Freshman selections, including quarterback Tyrie Adams, who became just the fourth WCU football player to earn SoCon Freshman of the Year in 2016. Three first-year Catamounts went on to be finalists for the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award
In 2018, WCU saw three players grace the three different STATS FCS national watch lists for awards that honor the top offensive, defensive, and freshman players. Adams, who became just one of 11 NCAA FCS quarterbacks all-time to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season, finished 19th in the national voting for the Walter Payton Award. Adams led the SoCon in rushing as a QB, averaging 91.5 yards per game. Senior defensive back Marvin Tillman appeared on the Buck Buchanan Award for the top defensive player and Ronald Kent Jr., was on the Rice Award Watch List last season.
Two Catamounts recruited and coached by Speir and his staff landed with NFL teams following the 2017 season, headlined by rookie defensive back Keion Crossen who gave WCU its first draft pick since 1994 when he was selected in the seventh round by New England. He was joined by a former teammate in running back Detrez Newsome who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Chargers. A two-time All-America selection, Newsome set a WCU school-record as the first player to post three-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2015-2017. Crossen and Newsome met on opposite sidelines in the 2018 NFL postseason in the divisional round with Crossen becoming WCU’s fourth Super Bowl Champion with New England’s win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Speir’s successes aren’t just limited to the field as nine players earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors, with Darius Ramsey becoming just the fourth Catamount football player all-time – and the first since 2003 – to garner Academic All-America status, collecting first-team honors in 2014. WCU has also put six players on the prestigious FCS ADA Academic All-Star team under Speir.
With the increased success, the fan base has reacted as Western Carolina has led the Southern Conference in home football attendance at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field the past two seasons, ranking 23rd nationally in the FCS in 2017.
Also, on Saturday, Speir announced the addition of former WCU assistant coach Arketa Banks to his coaching staff where he will coach the running backs and tight ends.
With Banks’ addition, Speir also unveiled several changes to the coaching responsibilities of the remainder of the staff. Reuben Wright, who coached the running backs a season ago, will move to the defensive side of the football to coach the defensive line while Mark Rhea will concentrate on the outside linebackers in WCU’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Justin Hood, who is in his second year at WCU, will take over coaching the