In what is probably the biggest surprise of the MAC offseason, Dan Enos resigned his position as head coach at Central Michigan University to become the offensive coordinator at the University of Arkansas. No interim coach named, and a press conference will be called today to announce the latest happenings.
Here at the Belt, we have a few potential candidates to take the reins of the Chippewas program, ranging from "bland, but reasonable" to "coaches with prior history" to "intriguing outsiders." Here are the candidates:
BLAND BUT REASONABLE
CMU Asst. HC/ST/ LB Coach Kyle Nystrom
A 1988 graduate of Michigan State, Nystrom has been the linebackers and special teams coach in the last four seasons in Mt. Pleasant. Nystrom has been coaching for the better part of twenty years, starting at MIchigan State as a graduate assistant in 1988, before spending 1989-2001 at Western Michigan in a variety of positions. From 2002-2004, he coached inside linebackers at TCU, coaching an All-American in his time there. Nystrom spent a yer in DePauw as assistant HC/strategy coordinator, parlaying that into a job at North Dakota State as an assistant HC/defensive run game coordinator form 2006-2008. After a year at Fort Hays State in the same position, he was picked up by Dan Enos to join the Chippewas' staff.
In his time at CMU, Nystrom has coached linebackers such as Shamari Benton, Justin Cherocci, and Cody Lopez, and has consistently led one of the best linebacking corps in the MAC as the defense has made leaps and bounds in the conference. With the moniker of "assistant head coach," it is likely that Nystrom will be appointed interim HC by default. Nystrom has been a very consistent coach, and if CMU decides they need to go in-house, then he's a top candiadte. A couple things going against him: he has never been a coordinator besides on special teams, and he could be considered a "Western Man" by the CMU fan base for his time spent with WMU early in his career.
CMU DC Joe Tumpkin
If you haven't heard of Joe Tumpkin, now you're going to. Tumpkin has quietly led the Chippewas to one of the best defense in the conference in his five years at the helm, with five Chippewas making the All-MAC team in his first season alone. Under Tumpkin's watch, CMU had the best defense (statistically) in the MAC this past season, and he has had CMU among the top defenses in the conference since 2008.
Tumpkin has a long and proven track record, starting as a grad assistant in 1994 with Lakeland College. In 1995, he was a defensive line coach with Northern Michigan. In 1996, he accepted a job with Defiance College as a linebackers coach, before heading to Western Michigan the next year as a graduate assistant. Trumpkin would go on to coach eventual Pro Bowler Bart Scott at Southern Illinois University from 1998 to 1999 as a linebacker coach/recruiting coordinator. Trumpkin revisited Lakeland College, this time as a defensive coordinator in 2000 and 2001. He then took linebacker coaching jobs in various places, including Sam Houston State (2002-2004,) SMU (2005-2007), and Pittsburgh (2008-2009). He was also a training camp coaching intern with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006.
There are certainly some positives about this hire: 1) his track record as current CMU DC, 2) the potential for stability as an in-house hire would do major things for current recruits and players and 3) a variety of experience all along the defensive end of the field. The only thing that could be said to disqualify Trumpkin is that he has no head coaching experience. (Well, that and his early time with Western Michigan.) However, he seems to be the solid in-house favorite.
OUTSIDERS WITH PREVIOUS CMU EXPERIENCE
Vols OC Mike Bajakian
Following the quasi-sainted Butch Jones to Cincinnati and Tennessee, Bajakian has been looked at as a potential candidate due to his deep-rooted connections with CMU's heyday in the mid-2000s. Fueling the speculation was his own resignation mere minutes after the Enos resignation, when he stated he was pursuing "other coaching opportunities."
With an offensive background, it is easy to see why Bajakian is considered a solid candidate. He was the offensive coordinator/QB coach at CMU from 2007-2009, and coached both Dan LeFevour and Antonio Brown in their collegiate careers. Bajakian was also the QB coach at Central in 2002.
The rest of his coaching record is an assortment of professional and collegiate experience, getting his first big job at Rutgers in 1998 and 1999 as a graduate assistant with the defensive backs. In 2000, he left to coach quarterbacks at Sacred Heart for a year, before leaving for a GA position at the University of Michigan in 2001. His stint in Mt. Pleasant in 2002 was followed by a stop in the NFL as the Chicago Bears' WR coach and offensive quality control man. He went back to CMU as Butch Jones' OC and parlayed that into an OC job at Cincinnati, where he coached Zach Collaros and the Bearcats to conference titles in his last two seasons, scoring 33.3 points a game in the process. The Vols have experienced a renaissance on offense under Bajakian, as the rushing offense has exploded under his leadership, eclipsing 2000 yards in his first season and coming close this year.
For Bajakian, a comeback to Mt. Pleasant would be a coronation of sorts, thanks to his prior experience at Central. Bajakian has also proven to be a successful coach in the Big East, SEC, and the NFL and would certainly be one of the more experienced candidates to consider. However, considering the way Enos left for a higher-ranking job, CMU could be seen as a springboard job for Bajakian to a bigger job, and for a school that needs stability right now, that is the last thing CMU needs to worry about.
Fmr. Buffalo HC Jeff Quinn
Jeff Quinn was fired mid-season by Buffalo after a tumultous campaign, but is known as a pretty solid offensive coach, specifically on the offensive line. Quinn has also been an interim coach at Central Michigan University before, a bowl victory win over Middle Tennessee State in 2006. Quinn does have a son, named Ryan, who wrestles at Central.
Quinn has experience in wrestling and football coaching and spent 15 years in a variety of positions at D-II power Grand Valley State University, winning national championships in 2002 and 2003. Under his leadership, the 2001 version of the Lakers averaged 600 yards and 58 points per game. Quinn emerged at Central in 2004, serving as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator and helping to lead the Chippewas to the 2006 MAC Championship. Quinn then followed Butch Jones to Cincinnati, where he coached the offense to top 10 numbers, including passer efficiency (1st), sacks allowed (10th), and passing yards (6th). Quinn's time at Buffalo is perhaps best known for developing prospects Brandon Oliver and Khalil Mack, the latter of whom was a top 5 overall pick and recently was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, Quinn finished a paltry 20-36.
Quinn has previous head coaching experience, and he was the offensive coordinator at Central during CMU's last MAC Championship run. However, as we saw in Buffalo, Quinn was an adequate, but not great coach. CMU must hit a home run with their next coach, and hiring Quinn could be seen as a step back.
Vols WR coach/recruiting coordinator Zac Azzanni
CMU might take a page out of Western's playbook and go for an unknown outsider with previous MAC experience with the hire of Zach Azzanni. Azzanni is a graduate of Central Michigan University, earning a sports management degree in 1999, and he played wide receiver for Central from 1994-1998. Azzanni should be considered a serious dark horse candidate if AD Dave Heeke comes knocking, and his track record proves why.
After a brief stay at Valparaiso in 2000 as a WR coach, he went back to #MACtion, first from 2001-2006 as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green, where he was promoted to wide receivers coach in 2003. From 2007-2009, Azzanni was the assistant head coach/WR coach under the Butch Jones regime that brought CMU to national attention. In 2010, Urban Meyer pegged Azzanni as the passing game coordinator/WR coach for Florida, where he coached Tim Tebow to some of his career best numbers, including a 482 yard passing performance against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. Next, Azzanni was the offensive coordinator of the Western Kentucky team that produced some of the nation's leaders in receptions and rushing yards, including Jack Rainey (2nd in rushing yards in 2011) and Jack Doyle (5th in TE receptions in 2011). In 2012, he coached the Wisconsin wide receivers, helping shape Jared Abbrederis into a first-team B1G slot player as the Badgers won a B1G Championship. In 2013 and 2014, Azzanni developed many of the Tennessee receivers as WR coach, including all-SEC freshman Marquez North.
Azzanni has shown that he has found success at many levels of college football, and he has been mentored by Urban Meyer, Butch Jones, and Gary Anderson in his previous stops. CMU fans would only have to point to their rivals in Kalamazoo to show that a virtual unknown candidate can attain success quickly. The only question will be whether or not Azzanni learned anything from his previous coaches, and whether or not he has the same gumption as PJ Fleck.
Ferris State HC Tony Annese
A very popular name in the state of Michigan, Tony Annese has led the Ferris State Bulldogs from afterthought to perennial contender in only three years at the helm. Annese is known for his work in turning around downtrodden schools, taking the Grand Rapids Community College Raiders from a 7-11 record to a perfect undefeated record in two years, culminating in a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II National Championship in 2009 and 2011, with the 2011 Raiders averaging 500 yards and 50 points per game. Most of his work has been at the prep school level, where he culminated a 195-41 record in 22 seasons, including a campaign with the Muskegon Big Reds that saw an undefeated record, state title, and a #4 ranking in the country. Annese finished with three state championships and the two NJCAA national championships. After a 7-4 year in 2012, 2013 saw a 8-3 record, and last season saw Annese and the Bulldogs go 11-0 in the regular season, a GLIAC titles, and a first-round bye in their playoff region before an upset loss to Ohio Dominican. Annese is a hall-of-famer in the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, and has the blessing of former Michigan Wolverine Lloyd Carr.
Along with the success stories, however, are reports that Annese was suspended for striking players during a game. Rumors have been swirling for a while that he could go to Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, or Western Michigan, but it seems as if Annese is fine where he is for now. The one knock against him is that junior college and high school is a different game from FBS football, and CMU fans may not be patient enough for Annese to learn on the job.
Fmr. Michigan HC Brady Hoke
Here is perhaps the most interesting name on the list. Hoke was known as a mid-major fix-'em-upper at Ball State (his alma mater) and San Diego State before his much-maligned stint at Michigan, which saw vastly declining performance on the field, solid (but not great) recruiting, and Concussion-Gate. One thing to consider with Hoke is that the University of Michigan has already bought out his contract to the sum of $3,000,000. We've already written an article about Hoke as a candidate.
Fmr. EMU HC Ron English
Ron English recently found his way into the news again, in the form of a Detroit News profile where he showed a renewed focus and talked about how he wants the opportunity to coach again. English is certainly a great defensive mind, having been an assistant coach and secondary or defensive coordinator at four institutions, including San Diego State (1996-1997), Arizona State (1998-2002), Michigan (2003-2007), and Louisville (2008). His record at Eastern, however, left a lot to be desired. English went 11-46, with 6 of those wins coming in an outlier season in 2011. His tenure in Ypsilanti had a lot of bad press, where he was considered among the worst head coaches in college football, with his time ending in a homophobic tirade against his players that got him fired, effective immediately.
English has been away for two years now, and it will be interesting to see if he is seriously considered for any job, whether he comes in as a coordinator or otherwise.
Fmr. UAB HC Bill Clark
Now it's time to consider a true outsider in the chase that perhaps not a lot of people are considering: the former coach of the now-defunct UAB Blazers, Bill Clark. Clark was known for famously fighting the Alabama Board of Regents and coaching his Blazers squad to a bowl-eligible season despite everything collapsing around them, even winning the Conference-USA Coach of the Year Award in 2014. Clark is famous for his passion and being able to connect with his players, who rallied around him in the second half of the season.
Clark has had a meteoric rise in the FBS. As recently as 2007, Clark was coaching at the high school level, where he led the Prattville (AL) Lions to a #2 ranking in USA Today's high school poll, compiling an impressive 107-11 record in his time there. IN 2008, he was hired by South Alabama to be the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator and rocked the job on defense, leading a turn around that would see USA become the best FCS Independent in NCAA history, as well as one of the best teams in the Sun Belt upon entering FBS status. Clark acepted a job with Jacksonville State in 2013, where he led the Gamecocks to their first ever victories in the FCS playoffs, ranking #10 in the final FCS polls, while shattering 49 school records, 13 Ohio Valley Conference records, and three NCAA records in his only season. Clark was in his first season at UAB, and he proved that he could run a tight ship in the heart of SEC football with zero funding, making him a potential get for any mid-major school looking for a coach or a P5 school looking for a DC.
The one knock against him is that he does not have a lot of experience being a head coach, or being in college for that matter. However, his fire and passion is something that CMU greatly needs in order to fire up (pun intended) the fanbase into believing in the team again.
We'd like to hear what you think about the coaching search. Post below in the comments!