Joe Paterno's half-century-plus of football coaching stability is not the norm. Dennis Springer is living proof of that. For about two months the former Northrop standout and Indiana assistant football coach was out of work.
Did he worry? Sure. Did he give up? Not a chance.
Now, as the receivers coach at Northwestern, he has enough work for two people.
“It's a great opportunity,” Springer said.
Springer got the job on Jan. 31 and hasn't had much of a break since while learning a new system, new players and head coach Pat Fitzgerald's way of running a program.
“Being separated from my family, I had nothing else to do, so I spent a lot of time in the office day and night to cram and get it learned,” he said. “I'm the only new guy on staff, so everything is in place.”
The uncertainty that arose after ex-IU head coach Bill Lynch was fired and his staff was not retained was difficult, Springer said. He spent more time with his wife, Nicole, and daughters Sophia and Sydney.
“I tried to take advantage of that down time. I enjoyed that part of it.”
Networking to find another job wasn't as enjoyable, although Lynch and other coaching friends helped.
“It's never comfortable when you're not steadily working and you're looking, especially in these times,” Springer said. “It's the nature of the business. We all know that. You do the best you can to fight through it and get on to the next opportunity.”
Springer arrived at Northwestern, ironically, after Wildcat receivers coach Kevin Johns left to become co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach at Indiana. Springer used to work with Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall while both were at Bowling Green. McCall opened the door, Lynch provided a strong recommendation and Springer did the rest.
“It was a matter of Coach Fitzgerald getting to know me. We had a phone interview and then he invited me up. He felt like I'd be a good fit.”
Added Fitzgerald in a statement: “Dennis is a great coach and a great mentor. He's established himself as a great motivator and recruiter as well. He's going to be a major asset to our team.”
Springer coached running backs at IU, but he used to coach receivers when he was at Ball State. In fact, Springer has coached just about every position except quarterback during his 17 years in the profession that also includes a stop at Western Kentucky.
“Throughout my career I've coached on offense and defense,” he said. “It gives me a good feel for the game in general. I had to shake off the dust with the position a little bit, but in this profession, you never stop learning anyway.”
Springer inherits a strong group of receivers that includes All-Big Ten receiver Jeremy Ebert, who led the team with 62 catches for 953 yards last season. “They know the offense better than I do. They're coaching me up a little bit as well.”
Springer will recruit Indiana, parts of southern Illinois, St. Louis, Kansas City and north Florida. He had recruited much of the same territory for the Hoosiers.
“It's a good fit,” he said.
Northwestern's run of success — it has been to three straight bowl games and six in the last decade — should provide the kind of stability IU (one bowl in 17 years) never did.
“Obviously you have to prove yourself year to year,” Springer said, “but Coach Fitzgerald and the program he's put together and the philosophy here, it was built for that sustained success. This is not a flash-in-the-pan program. It's been proven over time.”
That's the kind of program Springer hopes to some day lead as head coach.
“I've always thought I'd like to run my own program. As far as what level, who knows? I think I've been around enough good people, including Coach Fitzpatrick and Coach Lynch, who are great examples of how to do it and how to do it the right way.”