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Houston: 'You Can Build A Program Here'

Detailing How And Why It Was The Right Time For Houston's 10-Year Extension At James Madison

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James Madison coach Mike Houston (shown earlier this season) signed a 10-year contract extension on Tuesday.
Daniel Lin/DN-R

HARRISONBURG — The timing of the announcement was purposeful.

On Tuesday, James Madison announced that football coach Mike Houston signed a contract extension that runs through 2027.

“I think a large part of it has to do with the national recruitment that is going on at this point with early signing in December,” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said. “And for us, we felt like it was an appropriate time to release that news in light of the national recruiting scene.”

The new 10-year deal replaces a previous extension signed this past offseason that would’ve kept him at JMU through 2021 and raised his pay from $300,000 to $375,000 annually.

For leading JMU on its run to the 2016 FCS championship, Houston earned incentive bonuses netting an additional $87,500.

The school’s athletic department would not disclose the financial details of the new extension.

Over the last month, Houston was reportedly a candidate at FBS Georgia Southern and Rice University.

Houston said Tuesday he had turned down multiple FBS opportunities while the Dukes were busy trying to put together another championship run. JMU hosts South Dakota State on Saturday in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs.

“We’ve got a pretty good class we’re going to sign on the 20th,” Houston said. “And the thing that people are trying to use against us is that everybody is telling those kids that I’m not going to be here, that I’m going to take another job and that they shouldn’t sign here because they’ll be playing for a different coaching staff, which is bull. We’ve been telling the recruits that, but I thought it was critical that the timing of this was important so we could put a lot of that stuff to rest.”

The decision from JMU to offer an extension to Houston began before this year’s college-coaching carousel started to spin.

Bourne said he initiated discussions and negotiations in the early part of the fall.

“I anticipated last year and knew that several of the large [Southeastern Conference] jobs would likely turn over given the performances this past season,” Bourne said. “I felt like there would be change and the trickle-down effect in our industry happens every year to some degree.”

Houston said it was not only important for him, his wife, Amanda, and their two sons to be happy, but also that his coaching staff was taken care of as well.

“One of the big things being here for me was making sure my assistants were a part of it,” Houston said. “And the university is committed to making sure we try to keep this coaching staff together and it’s important to me because it’s not just a decision for me and my family, but it’s also a decision for my coaches and their families.

“People don’t think about that stuff, but I’ve got 10 assistant coaches and support staff and they have kids and families. Everybody is affected by decisions, so JMU’s commitment to taking care of our entire staff is something that’s very important and I commend them for the way they’ve stepped up.”

Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said he’s excited Houston’s extension was completed.

“It’s the time of year. It’s the crazy season of college football,” Kirkpatrick said. “There’s lots of rumors going around and everybody is a little concerned about those things, so it takes all the concentration off of football and going to win.

“And it’s nice to come to work at a place where they appreciate you and want to win and reward you for winning and doing a good job with the other things because it’s not a school where it’s all about winning. It’s also about doing things right, getting the kids educated and making them into better men.”

Bourne declined to share any details of Houston’s new contract.

Before Houston signed the deal, he said he spoke with his mentor, Fred Goldsmith, the former coach at Rice, Duke and Lenoir-Rhyne, as well other coaches in the industry that he respects.

He said they all gave him good advice.

Houston’s coaching career began as a defensive coordinator at Forbush High School in East Bend, N.C. From there he worked his way up to head coach at T.C. Roberson in Asheville, N.C., and eventually to the college ranks as a coordinator at Lenoir-Rhyne before becoming the school’s head coach. He left for The Citadel and was hired at JMU before the 2016 season.

Since then, the program is 27-1, has captured a national championship, two Colonial Athletic Association titles and has won 25 straight games entering the FCS semifinals on Saturday.

Houston said he doesn’t plan to stop building on what he’s already achieved over the next 10 years.

“Yeah, we won a national championship last year and we’re making a run at another this year, but I think we can have a program here that, number one, represents JMU the way it should be represented,” Houston said. “We try to do things the right way. We try to recruit players that fit this university. We try to make sure they grow into solid citizens and that they represent James Madison off the field in a way that makes everyone proud. So I think that we can do that here and we can also win at a very high level here.

“You can build a program here that is the way that I think college football is supposed to be, have the values in the things that I believe and also at the same time win championships and compete for national championships.

“And who knows where James Madison University is going to be. Will we be FBS one day? I don’t know. I think if we are, I think we’d be highly competitive. But I think whatever level we’re at, we’ll have a program here that is one that everyone can be proud of.”

Junior running back Marcus Marshall said he’s just happy he’ll have Houston at the helm of his senior season.

“That was his decision and I was going to respect it either way,” Marshall said. “But definitely, I was excited to hear that. I love Coach Houston and I love the way he runs the team, so I’m happy to have him for my last year.”