It never is too early to start talking about the dreaded coaching hot seat. It’s a right of passage with the coming of the football season as tried and true as the sound of the marching band, the pop of the pads, and the guttural heave of too much beer in the tailgate lots into trash receptacles/shrubs/open sun roofs on the way to the stadium.
For most, college football is a fun way to spend the weekend and it’s easy to get lost in the fact that for twelve men, this is their chosen profession with all the expectations and requirements of any other position. Some excel, some do not, and this is the ranking of who has the hottest seat in the Mid-American Conference, in order from coolest to hottest. Off we go...
12. Frank Solich, Ohio University Bobcats
The Dean of the Mid-American Conference, Solich enters his 13th season with a 147-86 overall record and a 89-67 record at Ohio (59-37 MAC). That’s an impressive record, but throw in his four divisional titles in the past and this year’s presumptive favorite for the East division and Solich isn’t going anywhere until he decides to.
11. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan Eagles
At first glance, Creighton’s EMU record of 11-27 (5-19 MAC) isn’t enough to warrant the second safest spot on the rankings. But his appearance proves it’s more than just record. The culture at EMU has changed dramatically under his leadership and the Eagles went to their first bowl in decades last season. It’s hard to see Creighton being at EMU long, given the significant accomplishment improving that program is, but it won’t be because they asked him to leave.
10. Tim Lester, Western Michigan Broncos
Tim Lester’s winning percentage as a head coach? .000. That’s Bulto Blutarsky levels of zero-point-zero GPA. It’s also because he’s only coached one game in the head man’s seat, losing a heartbreaker to the USC Trojans. It was an outstanding effort and Broncos fans are all aboard the Lester train in the wake of PJ Fleck’s departure. Safe for now, but given the talent on the roster and the expectations from prior success in Kalamzaoo, the leash is shorter for Lester than most first-year coaches.
9. John Bonamego, Central Michigan Chippewas
Program alums are usually safe until the bitter bloody end. For Bonamego, he’s 14-13 (9-7 MAC) as he enters his third year. CMU fans will likely expect the Chips to begin to be serious and consistent contenders for the MAC in the next few years, but for now, it’s smooth sailing for this former Chip at the head of his alma mater after two-for-two bowl trips in his reign. Plus, he beat Oklahoma State!
8. Chuck Martin, Miami-Ohio Redhawks
Chuck Martin’s career record, a staggering 85-34 has been actually hampered by his first three years in Oxford. Going 11-27 (8-23 MAC) is considerably sub-optimal, but his 2016 was a turnaround of epic proportions, leading the RedHawks to a bowl despite an 0-6 start. Martin would be considerably higher on this list if last season didn’t turn out so positive.
7. Jason Candle, Toledo Rockets
Candle finds himself benefitting from outstanding players and a consistent Toledo approach over recent history to get to his career 11-4 mark. In some respects, the jury is still out on Candle, but his movement up or down this list will be contingent on this year with lofty expectations and the next few years as his own players begin to populate the roster instead of holdovers from former regimes.
6. Mike Neu, Ball State Cardinals
Mike Neu’s first year in Muncie didn’t go well at 4-8 (1-7 MAC) and though his 2017 is off to a losing start against the Illinois Fighting Illini, he’s still got the luxury of the downward trend of the program before he arrived. Throw in the fact that he’s an alum and one of the most beloved football players from his time in college and it’s hard to see a scenario where Neu isn’t back next year, barring the bottom completely falling out of the program.
5. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green Falcons
Jinks (4-9 1-7 MAC) got off to a rough start in his first year as a head coach in 2016, getting absolutely decimated by the Ohio State Buckeyes by 67 points. They bounced back for a 1-point win over an FCS squad and then dropped seven straight. Not ideal. It’s easy to forget that they won three straight to end the year and looked good doing so. 2017 is off to a rough start also, with the Falcons losing to the Michigan State Spartans in a contest that many expected to be closer than the 35-10 outcome. With games upcoming against Northwestern and Middle Tennessee State, there are opportunities to move down this list with wins.
4. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois Huskies
If you asked the NIU fans (especially after Saturday’s loss to the Boston College Eagles, it’s time to fire Carey today. Thankfully fans are not responsible for making hiring decisions or termination notices, otherwise he would have already been let go several times by the most vocal of the bunch. His record his solid 36-20 (26-6 MAC) but if you dive a little deeper you notice that over the last several years as his players began to dominate the roster, the Huskies got a little bit worse each season. This is a critical year to win back the fanbase for Carey and he’s got work to do against a strong MAC West division.
3. Lance Leipold, Buffalo Bulls
I feel for Lance Leipold. And not just because he’s coaching the program in the northeastern most location of a middle American sort of league. As the Bulls head coach, he’s 7-18 (4-12 MAC) but his overall record of 116-24 with six Division III titles is impressive. It really comes down to whether or not Bulls fans believe that past performance (at a much lower level) is indicative of future success. The season-opener against the Minnesota Golden Gophers was a great first step to get heat off the seat in Buffalo.
2. Terry Bowden, Akron Zips
Hey look, it’s the same situation as Lance Leipold, where you’re counting on past successes to somehow translate to future successes. Unfortunately for Bowden, 24-38 (15-25 MAC) in his 6th year seems to be the new trend regardless of his 164-100-2 career mark. Akron is positioned in a rich recruiting area with great facilities and Bowden has a name and a history that is easy to sell that helps the Zips recruit well. It’s what happens when they get there that somehow doesn’t translate to the field. Bowden and the Zips need a big year, otherwise it might be time to explore other options.
1. Paul Haynes, Kent State Golden Flashes
For Paul Haynes, this could be the year that he either makes or breaks his position at Kent State. 12-35 overall (8-23 MAC) is not acceptable for a program like Kent State, four years removed from a perfect MAC record and a GoDaddy Bowl appearance. It’s unfortunate that Haynes is dealing with medical issues that required him to step down from the program to start this season, but for now, his perch a the top spot of the hot seat rankings will remain until some wins occur to pull him off.
I’d think the top three need to be at least moderately concerned, with Carey and Jinks slightly worried. Outside of the top 5, it’s hard to see a situation where a coach is removed at the end of the year. Odds for a mid-season removal are low as we stand now, but expect the unexpected in the Mid-American Conference.