It's safe to say that this evening's news caught this Bowling Green fan and alum off-guard. With little-to-no news leaking about the search for the next head coach of the Bowling Green Falcons, I assumed that the search was going slowly and would be completed after next Thursday's bowl game.
How wrong I was.
A few hours have passed, and the news has been properly absorbed. My verdict? If this is going to be the kind of hire that new athletic director Chris Kingston is able to make, Bowling Green is going to be a force across the board in the Mid-American Conference for years to come. In cliche baseball terms, Kingston jacked one out of the park.
There's two parts to this equation: what Dino Babers brings to the job and what he inherits from Dave Clawson. Let's examine the Babers question first.
Babers has just two years of head coaching experience, but prior to that, he accumulated over 25 years of experience as an assistant coach on offense at several different levels on the NCAA football food chain. He coached running backs at Eastern Illinois in 1987 and wide receivers at Purdue and San Diego State in the early 1990s. He was offensive coordinator at Arizona from 1998 to 2000 and at Texas A&M in 2001 and 2002. Babers was also assistant head coach, responsible for running backs and quarterbacks, at UCLA from 2004 to 2007. Those stops included some fantastic seasons. Arizona went 12-1 in 1998. Texas A&M won 8 games in 2001. UCLA won 10 games in 2005 then had a monumental upset of #2 USC in 2006.
However, Babers made his real mark when he moved to Baylor in 2008 when Art Briles was hired to coach the Bears. Babers was responsible for wide receivers and helped lead the Bears to become one of the nation's biggest forces on offense. His finale in Waco was a 2011 season during which Baylor went 10-3 and beat Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl.
Babers took over at Eastern Illinois in 2012 and inherited a team that had finished 2-9 in 2011. What did he do? He used what he learned at Baylor and other previous stops to transform EIU's offense into a monster. Eastern Illinois went 7-5 and made the FCS playoffs in 2012, then improved to 12-2 with a trip to the FCS quarterfinals in 2013. His teams won back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference titles, while he won back-to-back OVC Coach of the Year honors.
Think of it this way -- Bowling Green was the only team to score more points against Northern Illinois in 2013 than Babers' squad did. And Eastern Illinois didn't do it at a neutral site, either; they put up 39 points on NIU in DeKalb.
The Panthers never scored fewer than 34 points in any game. They averaged over 48 points and 589.5 yards per game. They finished the season with 8,253 yards of total offense, which was good for nearly seven yards per play. Babers' offense featured a passer who accounted for over 5,000 yards and a 53:9 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. Those numbers earned Jimmy Garoppolo the Walter Payton Award -- the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Did I mention they also had a 1,500-yard rusher plus another guy who ran for 988 yards (and both scored double-digit touchdowns)? Their top two receivers accounted for (get this) 208 catches, 2,849 yards and 32 touchdowns. Their next two receivers had 99 catches for 1,617 yards and another 17 touchdowns.
You can't make that stuff up. Is that even possible in a video game?
Certainly, you might think that all these insane numbers on offense mean (as they often do) that the defense is a sieve. Not so fast. EIU is in the top 30 in scoring defense, red zone defense and passing defense efficiency. They also forced a ton of turnovers -- 37 to be exact, including an FCS-best 23 fumbles. Their turnover margin of +14 is among the nation's top ten.
Now, of course, all of this is meaningless without the second part of the equation. What is Bowling Green bringing back for 2014?
Don't worry -- the cupboard is well-stocked. Some might say it's overflowing. Matt Johnson will return for his junior season and, with the departures of Jordan Lynch and Keith Wenning, will be arguably the MAC's best quarterback heading into 2014. In a more conservative offense than what you'll see with Babers' spread attack, Johnson threw for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games. Those numbers ought to go up...way up. At running back, players who accounted for 2,639 of the team's 2,697 net rushing yards in 2013 will be back. That includes Travis Greene, Ronnie Moore, Andre Givens, Fred Coppet and William Houston. Admittedly, the team's two leading receivers (Shaun Joplin, Alex Bayer) will be gone, but the Falcons reload with a wealth of talent. Ryan Burbrink and Heath Jackson will both be back, and both Chris Gallon and Jared Cohen should return strong from season-ending injuries.
And none of those guys are Gehrig Dieter. What, you don't know him? You will. Dieter is a monstrous 6-3, 209 package as just a redshirt freshman and may already be one of the best pass-catchers on the team. As a true freshman at SMU, he played in ten games (started three) and made ten catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.
It is true that the offensive line will lose both Dominic Flewellyn and David Kekuewa, but three starters return to a very deep unit. Very good depth should also prevent losses of players such as Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates and Ted Ouellet from hurting too much.
In other words, Babers is a hot coach used to winning games who is inheriting a stacked team used to winning games. My #MACtion-loving friends, that's a formula for great success if I ever saw one. Obviously, we'll be able to fill in more details as time goes by, whether it's about Babers' staff, his ability as a recruiter, and so forth. For now, though, I defy any BGSU fan to dislike this move.
As for the timing of the move, I know there are two separate camps on this, but I fall squarely on the side that this is excellent timing, even for the now-outgoing coaches. While you can be disappointed for guys like Adam Scheier (and personally, I am), it's good that they know this news now and can move on. They know about the business side of this, and I don't believe that it will affect them or their desire to see this season through to its final conclusion. As for the players, this is fantastic news. It completely removes any and all uncertainty about the future (and this is true both for current players and recruits) and allows players to focus on the upcoming bowl game. If anything, this will add to the team's motivation and will help their preparation.
I'm sure Babers will be there during the next seven days to assist however he can in bowl preparation, but my immediate assumption is that he and his prospective staff will use this time to get a head-start on recruiting, much like Urban Meyer did with Ohio State when Meyer was hired before OSU's bowl game following the 2011 season.
Five years ago, Bowling Green raided an FCS school for a program-building coach that could take Falcon football to new heights, and it worked out as well as anyone could have possibly imagined. Now, they raid a different FCS school not for a program builder but rather for a guy who can maintain what has already been built and add to it. I don't think it will take five years to find out just how great a choice this was, either.
Word of warning to the rest of the MAC: watch out. You thought BGSU was scary-good over the last six weeks? If Babers is as good as advertised, you haven't really seen "scary-good" yet...but you will.
For your viewing pleasure and to get a better idea about Babers, his staff and the offense he led in 2013, here are a couple of videos. The first is an ESPNU segment on Babers and his coaching staff, while the second is highlights of the EIU-NIU game.