EIU community mourns loss of Hall of Fame coach

EIU community mourns loss of Hall of Fame coach

CHARLESTON — Bob Spoo left a lasting impression on the Eastern Illinois football team and EIU community at large. Easy to do considering the Hall of Famer's 25 seasons on the sidelines in Charleston.

Spoo, 80, died Monday in Rockford after a recent bout of illness. The outpouring of stories remembering the longtime coach only served to cement his influence beyond his school-record 144 career wins with the Panthers.

"I was there 11 years with the guy," former EIU defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said. He's now the defensive end coach and special teams coordinator at Buffalo. "Words can't even begin to describe that guy to me. I went there as a young coach — I was young and dumb and thought I had all the answers — but it wasn't all about the Xs and Os. It was about caring about people and treating them with dignity and respect. He showed me how to be a better husband, a better father and a better coach. He treated my kids like they were his grandkids. He was like a second father to me — especially after my dad passed away."

Erik Lora was a member of one of Spoo's final recruiting classes as a freshman in 2009. The former All-American wide receiver and Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target is back in Charleston as an assistant athletic director for development. It's a move he said he made to give back to the university that gave so much to him.

Spoo was part of that.

"Coaching is one of those dynamic things," Lora said. "It's not just about the Xs and Os. It's how you can motivate players to get what's great out of them. He knew personnel. He knew how to bring the most out of people.

"He had a pretty deep voice and he would make it known when he thought you messed up, but there was no better feeling when he looked at you with a smile and said, 'Good job, son.' He really meant it when he said those things."

Spoo maintained a strong relationship with his players even in the latter stage of his coaching career. He had the same kind of relationship — one built on respect — with his assistant coaches.

"The players had the utmost respect for coach," said former EIU offensive coordinator Mark Hutson, who is now an assistant offensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns. "He ran a first-class program with discipline first, and they understood that. They really didn't want to do anything to disappoint him.

"We, as a staff, felt the same way with the professionalism and fairness he showed. I have nothing but great memories from working with coach Spoo."

Mike Bradd has spent the last three decades as the radio voice of EIU basketball and almost 20 years on EIU football broadcasts. Two words — integrity and respect — came to his mind when remembering Spoo.

"He just really did everything the right way," Bradd said. "It was very important to him to do things the right way and with class. Tony Romo would probably have held a lot more records, but Bob would never run up the score on anybody. (Romo) would spend the whole second half handing it off, sitting on big leads."

Spoo went 144-131-1 in his 25 seasons at EIU, leading the Panthers to five conference titles and nine playoff berths. He was inducted into the Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Eastern Illinois Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I lump all the big wins together," Bellantoni said. "I can still see his face in the locker room after those big wins and talking to the team and just how happy he was. Like we had made our dad proud. He was just so proud of us. That's what really sticks out to me."

Spoo missed the 2006 season with a health issue, but Hutson stepped in on an interim basis to lead the Panthers to an OVC championship and a playoff berth.

"You didn't like the circumstances, but coach wasn't available and we wanted to keep the tradition alive," Hutson said. "We had a good team and knew early in the season we had a chance for the playoffs. I tried to lead that program in a manner that would make coach proud."

Spoo's lasting impression on football in general can be seen with his coaching tree. His first EIU staff included Syracuse coach Dino Babers (who replaced Spoo in Charleston in 2012) and Illinois State coach Brock Spack. Current EIU coach Kim Dameron was also an assistant under Spoo, and numerous other former players and assistants are scattered across the college football coaching ranks and in the NFL.

"He influenced me and hundreds of players and coaches," Bellantoni said. "Now we're going out in the wold and having influence on hundreds of players. His legacy is going to live forever."