As the season slowly creeps to bowl season, the anticipation of coaching changes, and the drama around them, mounts. Miami University is known as the “Cradle of Coaches” due to the high profile football coaches that have coached at the university. Bo Schembechler, Jim Tressel, John Harbaugh, Ron Zook, Larry Smith, and Sean McVay all either played or coached at Miami. Chuck Martin does not qualify to be a member of the cradle.
The MAC has averaged almost two coaching changes a year over the past 5 years. Bowling Green has already parted ways with Mike Jinks so the number is already at one. One more and this year is an average cycle, two more and this season is a little unusual. The MAC teams only have so much control over this. If someone offers Lance Leipold $3.5M to coach at Kansas, he is probably on his way to Lawrence.
The Silly Scale
I’ve created a scale to help see the standing of each coach based on my opinion that I can justify.
The scale ranges from 0 to 100 with 0 being fired and 100 being poached. The limits that I used to set this are:
- 0 to 20 – likely to be fired.
- 20 to 50 – safe but looking for improvement.
- 50 to 80 – safe and performing well.
- 80 to 100 – likely to be hired elsewhere.
Some other considerations go into this as well. The most important criteria is the team’s performance this year. How has the coach done at this school and how that compares the schools record over the last ten years are about equally important after current year. I gave some consideration to the most wins in a season and their buyout.
This scale is not a perfect representation of the AD’s attitude or my power rankings of the MAC coaches. Terry Bowden is a fine coach but he isn’t better than Frank Solich.
Coaches with Upward Mobility
Lance Leipold Buffalo Head Coach
The value of Lance Leipold hinges partially on how much of his success at the division III level can translate to FBS football. Leipold coached at Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007 to 2014 and during that stretch he accumulated a record of 109-6. He won 6 national championships in 8 seasons. Mount Union was on a run as a power house at the D3 level, having won 5 of the last 7 national championships. While Leipold was the head coach of the Warhawks, either UWW or Mount Union won the championship. Every year that he was in the championship he was coaching against Mount Union. Lance Leipold out buzz sawed a buzz saw.
Leipold is currently 22-24 at Buffalo but is currently 9-1. He might be the beneficiary of a weak schedule but it’s clear that he can coach. He is 54 and has a buyout of $1.02M. He’s not a candidate to take control of a blue blood program but he might be interviewed at the place they poached from or a university in need of a rebuild. He has one more year with Tyree as his quarterback if he chooses to stay, but he might want to strike while the iron is hot.
2018 Record: 9-1
Record at Buffalo: 22-24 (.478)
Buffalo 2008-2017: 48-74 (.393)
Jason Candle Toledo Head Coach
Despite being 5-5 this season Jason Candle has a .684 win percentage in his third year at Toledo. Matt Campbell left a healthy program for his assistant head coach so instant success may have been the expectation. Candle is in a good spot but probably needs to have success further away from Campbell’s tenure at Toledo to get really serious consideration for P5 jobs. His buyout is far and away the largest in the MAC at $3.56M. It’s not something a large athletic department would worry about though. If quarterbacks Eli Peters, or Mitchell Guadagni develop further and next season is a 9 win season Jason Candle’s time in the MAC is probably over.
2018 Record: 5-5
Record at Toledo: 26-12 (.684)
Toledo 2008-2017: 80-47 (.630)
John Bonamego Central Michigan Head Coach
This season has been less than ideal for John Bonamego and Central Michigan. A down year was expected but probably not this far down. Bonamego was hired after signing day the season he started, February 9, 2015. Less than half of the 2015 class remains on the team. On offense the starting running back, two lineman, and the third wide receiver is from that class. The top recruit was a quarterback who is sorely missed given the QB play that Central Michigan has had. Their defense has been decent and the 2015 has contributed Mike Danna who is second in the conference with 8.5 sacks.
To sum all that up, the black hole class of 2015 was always on it’s way. Most are red shirt juniors now but all Bonamego has to do is survive this class, don’t let the losing fester, and improve from here. His buyout is $1.125M. That alone might be hard to swallow unless a donor foots the bill anyway. Coach Bono lives on but it better be a short stay in the basement.
2018 Record: 1-10
Record at Central Michigan: 22-28 (.440)
Central Michigan 2008-2017: 67-61 (.523)
Chuck Martin Miami Head Coach
Chuck Martin has been plagued by poor performance in one possession games. In any one year it’s really easy to call it bad luck and think that it will correct itself over time. Martin has gone 6-19 in his almost five years at Miami. In that group of 19 losses there was a tie or a lead in the second half thirteen times. When patterns usually built out of luck stretch that long, it is no longer luck. There seems to be a pattern of the Redhawks not performing well when the game is within reach.
Martin has recruited decently relative to other MAC schools, and despite all of the close losses he has delivered a win percentage that is an improvement over the last decade of Miami football. That’s not a high bar and being disappointingly close to far better seasons can sour coaches tenure. If Miami wins out and gets to a bowl game it would be hard to separate. If he fails, that might be the last straw. It’s not easy with Northern Illinois and Ball State left on the schedule.
2018 Record: 4-6
Record at Miami: 20-39 (.339)
Miami 2008-2017: 37-86 (.301)
Safe For Now
Rod Carey Northern Illinois Head Coach
Fans of Northern Illinois probably think that Rod Carey is rated a little too highly here. It makes sense to be frustrated to have five straight seasons of at least 11 wins then have 8, 5, and 8 win seasons. I think Eastern Michigan would like a word fanbase to fanbase, but that’s another discussion. Carey has the Huskies in the drivers seat in the west division this season and has actually improved the 10 year win percentage during his time at Northern Illinois.
Rod Carey is another perfect example of a coach who has proven he’s good enough to win and the answer to winning more is supporting him better, not firing him. Due to the offensive system a coaching change would need a harsh rebuild of the offense. Any system that didn’t feature quarterback designed runs and required 35 throws a game would stress the current personnel. Just sit tight Northern Illinois and everything will be fine.
2018 Record: 7-3
Record at Northern Illinois: 26-12 (.684)
Northern Illinois 2008-2017: 80-47 (.630)
Terry Bowden Akron Head Coach
Terry Bowden has been at Akron for almost 7 seasons. His record over that time is 35-49. Bowden has been to two bowl games during that stretch. Despite that less than stellar record, the last coach to have a better win percentage that is Gary Faust who last coached there in 1994. Bowden is older, 62 years old, but the Zips are finally back to being a respected team in the MAC.
Bowden took the job after Rob Ianello was fired. Ianello went 2-22 in two years. The rebuild took time but with patience the team made it to the MAC Championship game last year. Bowden is not going to build the team into a MAC powerhouse but he continues to be the steady hand that will keep the Zips out of the basement. Bowden is not far from retiring and providing a healthy program to the next coach at Akron.
2018 Record: 4-5
Record at Akron: 35-49 (.417)
Akron 2008-2017: 41-82 (.333)
Mike Neu Ball State Head Coach
The Ball State head coach has not found success quite yet. Year one of a rebuild is tough to hold against a coach if it doesn’t go well. Mike Neu’s first year wasn’t a disaster going 4-8. In his second season, injuries ended the season before it could ever really get going. The starting quarterback was lost for the season after three games and the back up went down before the eighth game. That’s only the quarterback position. There were a lot more.
This season is off to a 3-7 start with Western Michigan and Miami to finish the season. Ball State is not going to move on this year from Neu but his time is running out. He is producing at a rate well below what Ball State is used to and that’s not a lot. Ball State only has a .460 win percentage in the last decade. Mike Neu probably needs to make a bowl game next year to keep his job.
2018 Record: 3-7
Record at Ball State: 9-25 (.265)
Ball State 2008-2017: 57-67 (.460)
Frank Solich Ohio Head Coach
Frank Solich is in his 14th season at Ohio. Solich came to Ohio after being fired at Nebraska after six seasons there. The Bobcats have been solid football team under Solich although not capturing a MAC title. He has been to the championship game 4 times and ran into 4 stellar teams. A Brian Kelly Central Michigan team, a Butch Jones Central Michigan team, a Dave Doeren NIU team, and a PJ Fleck Western Michigan team. Only Dave Doeren returned to their university the following year, and he left the following season.
Frank is the mid point on the scale only because no one is going to hire him at a larger program at 74 years old. Ohio has also been a model of consistency in the MAC where no one is consistent. With the last win, Ohio became bowl eligible for the tenth consecutive season. The problem is the exit plan. Solich has that job as long as he wants it. What does the end of a career look like at a MAC school that has seen success? No one wants to see an awkward situation where performance slips to the point where a tough decision needs to be made. I hope it’s a ride into the sunset after he catches an elusive MAC title.
2018 Record: 6-4
Record at Ohio: 103-75 (.579)
Ohio 2008-2017: 78-53 (.595)
Bowling Green has already fired Mike Jinks and I found his replacement here.