ANN ARBOR - If Troy Woolfolk had his way, he would keep in touch with Ron English. But Woolfolk has a friend with jealousy issues preventing Woolfolk from phoning his former coach.
"I have a dog and he likes to chew on everything," the University of Michigan safety said this week. "If you leave anything around he'll take it and when I chase him he tends to throw it up in the air. Not a good combination."
Julius, a 1-year-old part beagle, has ruined several phones storing the former UM assistant's contact information. Saturday Woolfolk and English will reunite in person when Eastern Michigan makes the 10-minute trek to the Big House for a noon kickoff with the 25th ranked Wolverines. It was English who recruited Woolfolk, the son of former Wolverine All-American Butch Woolfolk, to UM out of Sugar Land, Texas, three years ago.
"He's the reason I'm here right now," Woolfolk said. "To be going against him is kind of weird. At the same time I want to show him that he recruited me for a reason, so I want to go hard against him."
English worked on Lloyd Carr's staff at UM from 2002-07, serving as defensive coordinator his final two years. After spending last season as Louisville's defensive coordinator, English was hired in December to replace the fired Jeff Genyk, who couldn't get much going in five years as EMU's head man. English, 41, is one of just seven black head coaches in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision, or as most still refer to it, NCAA Division I-A.
"I know Coach E is going to have everybody fired up to play," UM linebacker Stevie Brown said. "It's going to be nice to play against him."
On EMU's staff is former Wolverine players Kurt Anderson and Tyrone Wheatley and former assistants Tom Burpee and Steve Szabo.
English inherits one of the more difficult projects in the country, attempting to breathe life into a program that hasn't had a winning season since 1995 - a 6-5 record - and has struggled to win recruiting battles in the Mid-American Conference.
EMU dropped English's opener 27-14 to Army, but the Eagles responded a week later by nearly knocking off Northwestern.
Trailing 21-3 at halftime, EMU rallied to tie the score before the Wildcats escaped with a 27-24 victory on Stefan Demos' 49-yard field goal with six seconds left. A near win on the road against a Big Ten opponent was a sign of progression in the eyes of English.
"We got better at some things but we have such a long ways to go in terms of executing and really understanding the offense and understanding the defense," English said. "We did improve in a bunch of ways and we hope to improve this week."
When asked if coaching against his former employer and some players he recruited would dig up any special feelings, English didn't exactly get sappy. Perhaps English is bitter over UM coach Rich Rodriguez not retaining his services - running backs coach Fred Jackson is the only holdover from Carr's staff - but it's more likely English just isn't the type of person to get wrapped up in a sentimental story line. With unwavering intensity and a voice that commands fear and attention, English is more similar to Woolfolk's ferocious pooch than he is to the playful Woolfolk. Woolfolk, though, says English has a personable side that isn't readily apparent to the public.
"It's hard to see," Woolfolk said. "You have to look deep down in there. He's a nice person at heart. I've seen him interact with his kids and family so I know he has it somewhere in there."
INJURY REPORT: Starting guard David Moosman (shoulder) will not play tomorrow and receiver Junior Hemingway (ankle) is listed as probable on an injury report released last night by the team. John Ferrara worked with the first team offense at Moosman's right guard spot during Wednesday's practice, although UM coach Rich Rodriguez said several players could see time in Moosman's absence.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.