Every year, prognosticators that need content to churn out during the offseason take a look at the grand scale of this behemoth that we call College Football and try to rank everything you can think of.
Our friends at Underdog Dynasty have been putting together a great positional ranking for select conferences, while other sister networks have ranked non-conference games and the like.
Two weeks ago, we ranked rivalry trophies, much to some fan base’s chagrin. Today, we rank head football coaches. Here’s our qualifying method:
- State of team last season
- Returning expectations
- Years on job
- Resources available
- Fanbase expectations
Without further ado, here’s our ranking from the bottom up:
12. Paul Haynes, Kent State
I really hate to put Coach Haynes here, as he seems to be a really good guy. But, at some point, the reality has to hit that Haynes’ job is definitely on the hot seat.
Haynes has been able to recruit some really great talent to Kent, especially on the defensive side of the ball and it has shown. Consistently, Kent State is one of the nastier defenses to face in the conference when they aren’t worn to shreds. However, the offense has been one large mess, partly due to injury and attrition but also due to a simple lack of talent. Look no further than second-string running back Nick Holley starting the majority of the season at quarterback.
Kent State was famously left in abysmal condition when Darell Hazell left for Purdue. The teams put in place after their miracle championship run in 2012 paled in comparison to what that team achieved. Haynes had spare parts to make a roster out of, but just hasn’t been able to piece it all together.
It’s his fifth year at the helm and the Flashes have not won more than four games in a season during his tenure. Results have to start coming in sooner rather than later.
11. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
How far Buffalo has fallen since the days of Khalil Mack and Joe Licata.
Lance Leipold was hired away from Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he led the Hawks to multiple championships to try and build a franchise in his image at the FBS level. It was a risky move for Buffalo, who was trying to capture PJ Fleck-esque lightning-in-a-bottle.
That has yet to be the case in this three-year experiment. Buffalo has often looked lost on the football field and Leipold could not stick to one quarterback throughout the season, cycling between Tyree Jackson and Grant Rorhach platoon-style.
There’s no real identity to the Bulls on either side of the ball and there aren’t many playmakers to help, either. There also seems to be some tension internally between fans and this current coaching staff, which does not help matters.
Buffalo has not improved on their record in Leipold’s tenure. He could be out sooner than anticipated.
10. Mike Neu, Ball State
Mike Neu was a rookie last season, so being ranked tenth isn’t necessarily a reflection of some sort of moral ineptitude or a judgement of his coaching fiber on his part. But we had to put him somewhere and Ball State was not very good last season, though they did show some promise for the future.
In Neu’s first season, the Cards were extremely plucky, playing above their fighting weight in many matchups. It’s a shame they had almost no one to play in front of; Ball State was the worst-attended FBS school in the country last season, with just over 4,000 students showing up to watch games.
Although Ball State loses a lot of key contributors on both sides of the ball to either graduation or transfer, James Gilbert and Riley Neal developed by leaps and bounds under Neu’s care.
Neu will need time to implement his coaching system before we can properly gauge his value.
9. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green
Jinks, like the aforementioned Neu, was a rookie to coaching last season and it showed at points.
The Falcons struggled to get rolling early production-wise, especially in the non-conference season, but looked pretty settled in by the time the conference season rolled around. Jinks’ system was also fairly similar to Dino Babers’ preferred Air Raid System, which definitely helped the transition. Defense is still a major question mark, but it showed up last season when it was needed most, a promising sign for a promising coach.
Like Neu, it will probably take at least a season or two before we know for sure if Jinks was just lucky or if there’s potential for growth under his tenure. Bowling Green finished just outside of bowl contention in 2017 and looks to improve that mark going into a wide-open East.
8. Tim Lester, Western Michigan
Tim Lester is the only rookie coach heading into the upcoming MAC football season, so it;s understandable that many would pace him at dead last on this list. But honestly, his resume is really good.
In two head coaching stops in Division III ball, Lester managed two separate turnaround campaigns that resulted in deep playoff runs and he managed to win two Coach of the Year Awards in 2004 and 2012. Lester’s 40-23 record is respectable, considering the state the teams he coached were in at the start.
He’ll be getting a football team with brand-new facilities and a deep roster filled with talent from the Fleck regime, even despite the losses due to graduation. Lester is in prime position to make a good run in his first year at the FBS level.
7. Terry Bowden, Akron
Terry Bowden has been around the coaching world for a hot minute, perhaps most famously at Auburn during its undefeated run in 1993, while the program was on probation from the previous staff’s transgressions.
The younger Bowden coaching brother has helped bring Akron out from decades of mediocrity on the gridiron and turned the Zips into a consistent on-field product. That in itself is worthy of praise, especially considering there are five other in-state programs at the FBS level, not to mention regional and national competition for in-state recruits.
The Zips have gone from a perennial laughing stock to a pesky mid-tier team in the conference, a fact that isn’t lost on a lot of outside observers and lovers of MACtion.
That said, the consistency that has marked Bowden’s tenure has also sort of haunted it. In an East division that has been decidedly weak over the last few seasons, 5-6 wins just won’t be enough to take it.
Akron has also struggled mightily qualifying for postseason play, often fighting for a fifth or sixth win by the end of the season. Akron did get a bowl win in 2015, however, so that’s a positive.
6. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Nothing keeps Coach Bono down.
In a debut season where the Chips weren’t expected to make much noise, CMU instead competed for the MAC West title and qualified for postseason play. The second year went off to a flying start as well, capped by a remarkable, if controversial, win vs. Oklahoma State, though it faded down the stretch. And Coach Bono did all this while fighting cancer. Impressive stuff.
Coach Bono’s roster is also starting to flesh out in his image after getting a bumper crop of his own recruits into the fold. If the team went 6-6 in two regular seasons under Bono with mostly Enos recruits, the sky is the limit for the seasons afterward. Bono also has the full support of the administration and the fanbase, which certainly helps his job security.
The only major thing running against CMU is honestly the division they’re in, which is one of the most competitive in sports. This is Bono’s first head coaching job (and his dream job) so this next year will be crucial for his development. For now, he sits in the middle.
5. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Coach Rod Carey has done things the hard way in his three-plus year tenure.
The Huskies have tasted MAC West division championship success in all but one season under Carey and have smelled the MAC Championship twice, winning once. He’s managed to keep the NIU program afloat despite a litany of injuries that seem to try and sink it every season.
It’s frankly a miracle that NIU has been as successful as they have recently, given the background. Before this season, the Huskies had won the MAC West seven years in a row and saw a sustained run of success that sent two former coaches to big-time Power Five jobs. It’s hard to sustain that sort of success.
All season, fans called for Carey’s head, even despite the circumstances.. At one point, Carey had to trot out a fourth-string quarterback that was formerly a receiver to try and win games. And then had to trot out a fifth-stringer.
By the time Carey took over, much of the talent from the Jordan Lynch-era Huskies was gone. Yet, Carey found ways to get key wins when they needed to when it mattered, allowing the Huskies to survive and advance.
Ask some people and they’ll attribute it to dumb luck. Ask others and they’ll say Carey has done a remarkable job. Its hard to keep such a hyper fanbase satisfied, but Carey gets more flak than he deserves for circumstances out of his control.
4. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Who saw this coming?
Chris Creighton was looked upon as an afterthought when Heather Lyke hired him to replace Ron English, who had been fired in the previous season after a bit of controversy.
His resume wasn’t the most conventional. His first head coaching job was in 1993 as the player-coach of the Limhamns Griffins in Stockholm, Sweden, where he won a championship. He coached at Ottawa University at the NAIA level for three years (leaving as the winningest coach in school history by percentage,) Division III Wabash for six years (where he accrued a 63-15 record) and landed at FCS Drake (leaving with two conference championships in 2011 and 2012) before being hired at EMU.
The first two years were rough, but the fruits of the harvest were plentiful in 2016. The Eagles went 7-5 and qualified for the program’s first bowl game in 29 years, going to the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau.
For a program that drew attention to itself by contemplating dropping to FCS due to financial difficulties, the fact Creighton was able to get the players to grow and develop as they did without the resources many schools have is a feat unto itself.
3. Frank Solich, Ohio
The longest tenured coach in the MAC, Frank Solich is the grizzled veteran that’s seen it all.
Solich brought Big Red into the new millennium in his heyday, competing annually for national intrigue and shots at big money bowls and championships in the hyper-competitive Big 12. And then, he was gone.
Solich landed at Ohio, a program that had a sorry footballing history prior to his arrival. The Bobcats coaching job was largely regarded as a laughingstock, going 95-199-5 since the legendary Bill Hess’ last season in 1977.
Under Solich’s leadership, he’s taken the program to unheralded success. The Bobcats clinched the first division title in program history in 2006, his second season. That year was also the first time the Bobcats went bowling since 1968, the last time the team won the MAC.
The ‘Cats have gone to seven bowl games since that 2006 season and have won the division three times in that same span.
Although his team still hasn’t quite figured out how to clinch the MAC Championship quite yet, they’re always a team to watch for in the East that develop talent at the next level.
2. Jason Candle, Toledo
Jason Candle could have followed Matt Campbell to Iowa State, and he almost did. But The Process had to be trusted and seen to fruition.
He hasn’t done a half-bad job since taking over the program, leading talent-filled rosters with the likes of Logan Woodside and Kareem Hunt to success in a dog-eat-dog MAC West division.
Toledo continues to pull in some of the best talent in the MAC on the recruiting trail and has one of the deepest rosters in the conference, ensuring sustained performance every year. This alone makes the Rockets a favorite almost every year in the MAC West. This year will see Woodside as a potential Heisman candidate after a season that saw him throw for over 4,000 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Candle has shown remarkable poise for a first-time head coach and his influence has been palpable in his team’s loose and precise performances. Some will give him flak for not winning the big games, but just give him time. It’s only his third yer going into this season.
1. Chuck Martin, Miami
We’ve reached the end and there can only be one man standing.
That man is former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.
Martin inherited a mess of a program that was reeling from the Don Treadwell experiment, which saw the RedHawks abandon its offensive plan for the triple-option midseason.
The rebuilding project was slow; Andrew Hendrix was brought over as a transfer QB to help install the offense faster. While Miami proved a pesky win for most teams on the gridiron, Miami was knocking it out of the park in recruiting, building a deep roster that built from the line out, resulting in one of the most physical teams in the conference on both sides of the ball.
2016 proved to be an unexpected breakout season for the RedHawks and for martin as a coach. Facing an 0-6 start to the season, Martin was considered a coach under the hot seat and had literally no room for error. Miami then went on a tear in the heart of the MAC schedule and won its next six games in a row to not only get to 6-6, but to also compete for the MAC East division title.
The ‘Hawks qualified for the St. Petersburg Bowl against a 5-7 Mississippi State and took the Bulldogs down to the wire, leading at halftime and forcing Miss State to have to pick off a Billy Bahl pass in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to prevent the game from going into overtime.
2016 could be a blip for the RedHawks. Or, as I think it could be, a warning signal for the rest of the MAC. Not just any coach can take a winless team and have them compete for big stakes.
Martin did just that.
Did we get it right? Let us know in the comments section!
Editor’s note: EMU’s record fixed to their correct record on the season, and Auburn’s 1993 national championship has been taken away, as only the National Champions Foundation awards it to them that season.