clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Which MAC coaches should be on the hot seat in 2020?

No new coaches were hired into the MAC this offseason, meaning 2020 could be ripe for palace intrigue.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

FBS schools throughout this month are having their students return to campus for voluntary workouts and as far as we know, it looks like we will have college football this season. Whether fans can be in attendance is a question the NCAA and universities must answer.

Even if we can’t go see some #MACtion in person, we can still watch the excitement from our couches. Since we are running on the assumption that college football wil return, I thought it would be interesting to see which coaches in the MAC should be worried about their future at the head of their program.

I decided this based on a number of factors including recent success, experience, recruiting and awards. Cold seat signifies the coaches are pretty secure. Warm Seats signify the Coaches are mostly safe. Hot seats signify the coaches should be a bit worried. Burning up seats signify coaches need to win now!

(PS: This ranking is not an indicator of who will get fired, but who in my opinion should be getting fired or close to.)

Also this is my first article, so go easy on me.


Freezing Cold Seat

Chuck Martin (Miami)

Chuck Martin shouldn’t be worried at all about his future after signing a contract extension until 2025 this offseason.

These past two years he has led the Redhawks to .500 or above record, going 6-6 in 2018 and 8-6 in their 2019 championship campaign, beating a favored 8-4 Central Michigan squad to take home the title. Even in 2018, The Redhawks finished 2nd in the MAC East

The Redhawks will have 17 returning starters from last year’s team, including MAC Freshman of the Year Brett Gabbert. Also he has the 4th recruiting class in the MAC for 2020, not to mention the 2nd in the MAC for 2021 according to 247 sports. This is to say he will not only be able to win in the future but also has the ability to win right now.

The one real knock to Chuck Martin is that he hasn’t given them a bowl win yet, with an 0-2 postseason record.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Central Michigan
Chuck Martin looks forward to his future with Miami Ohio as he knows his job is safe
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Jim McElwain (Central Michigan)

Similar to Chuck Martin, Jim McElwain has a lot of job security.

McElwain led the Chippewas to a MAC Championship appearance in his first season at the helm. The feat is even more impressive considering the year before CMU went 1-11 on the season.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, McElwain received the MAC Coach of the Year Award as a result.

On the recruiting side, Central Michigan is a surprising 8th in the MAC this upcoming year and 6th in 2021 in terms of conference composite recruiting rankings, according to 247 sports. This surprises me as McElwain is a veteran coach, who has experience at Florida and Colorado State. One would think he would be able to have a better recruiting class than he has considering that experience.

That said, McElwain’s head coaching spot will be just fine as long as he continues the winning he had last season.

NCAA Football: New Mexico Bowl-Central Michigan vs San Diego State
Jim McElwain looks cool and collected as he know he has job security with CMU
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cold Seat

Jason Candle (Toledo)

Jason Candle has the winning formula and that’s why he also has a safe spot.

He is in his 4th full season as head coach of the rockets, and has done an impressive job. The 2017 MAC Coach of the Year is 34-19 after taking over for Matt Campbell, and has led the Rockets to a .500 or above season in all four seasons he’s been around.

His recruiting ability in the MAC is flat out dominant. According to 247Sports, Toledo has the #1 recruiting class for 2019, 2020, and 2021. Their 2021 class ranks 38th in the country, putting them amongst some of the better Power Five programs.

There are 13 returning starters for the rockets, meaning Toledo will be in a good place to once again contend in the MAC West this season.

His hot seat ranking is cold. If I was a Toledo fan I would be more worried about him leaving for a higher caliber program.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami
The Toledo Rockets Nation have got Jason Candle’s back and as a result he is safe.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Leipold (Buffalo)

Lance has turned around the Buffalo program, giving him a nice, cold seat.

His record is 31-32, which is below .500. However, he has made some major strides in the recent years after adapting to the FBS from ye. 2018 was the year the Bulls arrived on the MAC East scene, winning the division and finishing with an impressive 10-4 record, including a bowl win. This past season, the Bulls managed a respectable 8-5 record, even despite uncertainty at the quarterback position.

This was not a big year in recruiting for the University of Buffalo. They placed dead last in the MAC for 2020. What makes up for this year’s lack of recruiting? Well, the face they hae so many returning players to start. But also, their 2021 class ranks 4th in the MAC. Even for 2019 they were 7th, so 2020 seems to be an outlier.

There are big expectations for this year’s squad, with 17 returning starters for the Bulls, including their superstar running back Jaret Patterson, who had over 1700 rushing yards last season.

With a recent contract extension in hand, we’ll likely be seeing Leipold in Buffalo for a good while, lest a different opportunity present itself.

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Rutgers
2018 not only gave The Buffalo Bulls a Bowl Victory but also gave Lance Leipold a freezing seat moving forward.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Lukewarm Seats

Tim Lester (Western Michigan)

Tim Lester is all about average and that’s why his seat is a bit warmer than the rest in the “cold” category.

In three years at the helm, Lester has been decidedly adequate, with a 20-18 career record. His teams have finished 6-6 or 7-5 since he took over for PJ Fleck after the latter’s departure for Minnesota.

It’s surprising, considering Lester’s consistent recruiting success.

This year, he landed the MAC’s third-ranked recruiting class, and the 2021 class is currently ranked fifth. To prove its not some fluke, last year’s recruiting class, Tim Lester managed the third-highest MAC recruiting class.

Tim Lester seat’s a bit warmer because I want to see him do better in the MAC.

Filling in for PJ Fleck is a big ask, it took Lester three years to finish second in the MAC West, with two straight fourth-place finishes in 2017 and 2018 to get there with a lot of Fleck’s old players. For one of the highest-paid coaches in the MAC, those results aren’t nearly good enough by most normal measures. Clearly, the university sees something in Lester though, as he signed an extension back in 2018 which would allow him to stay on until 2023. This keeps him relatively safe for the moment.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan
Two straight bowl games has Tim Lester feeling quite comfy.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Lewis (Kent State University)

2019 saw Sean Lewis greatly improve his job security, with a miracle run in the MAC East and the program’s first bowl game appearance since the 1970’s.

After a 2-10 rookie campaign in 2018, the FLASH Fast model turned dividends, as the Golden Flashes finished the 2019 season with a 7-6 record, including a bowl win in the Frisco Bowl. Considering there are coaches on this list who don’t have a bowl win under their belt, it’s an extremely impressive job by the former Syracuse assistant.

Lewis has done a nice job recruiting at a notoriously tough program to sell, ranking fourth in 2019 and sixth in 2020 amongst MAC peers. He was also an excellent evaluator of transfer talent, bringing aboard Qwuantrezz Knight and Woody Barrett in back-to-back years.

A big reason why I think the Flashes will do well this season is the return of their starting quarterback Dustin Crum, who will bring in that senior leadership that will help the Flashes win some games. Crum was one of the most efficient quarterbacks at the FBS level in 2019, with Pro Football Focus naming Crum its first-team all-MAC QB, thanks in part to his FBS-leading 12 passes over 40+ yards and near-perfect performance in the Frisco Bowl.

Sean Lewis is at the warmer seat tier because we haven’t truly seen enough of him coaching. Giving him a year or two will truly allow Kent State fans to see if 2019 was for real or if it was a fluke.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Wisconsin
Sean Lewis’ 2019 turnaround has Sean Lewis in a nice position moving forward.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Solich (Ohio)

Let me start off by saying Frank Solich has done an incredible job.

Solich has been coaching at Ohio over the past 15 years, and has turned what was once an afterthought in the MAC into a consistent contender, with an amazing record of 113-81, including a bowl record of 5-6. His Ohio team was just over a minute away from pulling off one of the most stunning upsets in MAC history in the 2016 MAC Championship Game vs. PJ Fleck’s nationally-ranked Western Michigan squad, which would have ended a decades-long titleless streak.

To say Solich has been a saving grace would be to vastly underestimate his impact in Athens.

What lands him here is the fact that we simply don’t know how much longer Frank The Tank has left in him. His current deal is set to expire in Dec. 2021, meaning he’ll be nearing 77 by the time it ends. If they choose to extend him and prove they want him long-term then that would place him in the cool tier, but until that happens and with the current situation he is placed in the warmer tier.

Should Solich come back around to continue to build upon the legacy, he’ll have to pick up the slack in the recruiting game. In 2019, Solich landed a respectable 5th spot in the MAC. However the next two years were a bit of a downturn. This year, Frank Solich got the 11th recruiting class in the MAC. The current 2021 class is the 10th-best in the conference, so they’ve got work to do on the trails once they open back up.

NCAA Football: Idaho Potato Bowl-Ohio vs Nevada
Frank Solich’s current contract has me worried about his future.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Warm Seats

Thomas Hammock (NIU)

Thomas Hammock did a decent job in his first season, especially considering he was transitioning from an NFL position coach to being an FBS head coach.

Hammock went 5-7 in his first season, which isn’t bad when you consider his experience level. Even finishing 5-7, enduring an uncertain quarterback situation and getting decimated by injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies were gamey, knocking a handful of MAC teams out of title contention.

Recruiting wise, Hammock has more or less kept pace with his predecessors, with a fifth-place class in 2020, and currently holding down the third-best spot in 2021.

Hammock is in the hot seat tier because even though he had a relatively good season, we need more seasons to judge from and for Hammock he needs to keep winning in order to improve his spot.

The expectations are always high in DeKalb, and the fanbase might not be okay with 5-7/6-6-/7-5 ball for very long. With only one year under his belt he shouldn’t be fired, but he should certainly be aware of the standings.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt
Thomas Hammock deserves some more time before we make a judgement call.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Scot Loeffler (Bowling Green)

Scot Loeffler has room for improvement going into his second season, but he came into the job knowing it would be a rebuild.

Bowling Green finished 3-9 on the season in 2019, finishing penultimate in the MAC East, ahead of fellow newcomer Tom Arth. Scot Loeffler is under contract until 2023, so we’ve got time to see how he develops this program.

Loeffler recently wrapped up a great recruiting class, coming in second in the MAC for 2020. Thus far in 2021, its a bit of a drop, but there’s still plenty of time to improve from seventh.

I have Scot Loeffler in the hot seat tier because he hasn’t proven himself yet. Loeffler, a veteran coordinator and recruiter, is in his first job as the head man, and will have to adjust accordingly. Three wins in the first season isn’t a bad start, but the results in Years 2 and 3 will be much more important.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Notre Dame
Scot’s 3-9 record has me a bit concerned, but I’m willing to give him more time.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Arth- Head Coach at Akron

Tom Arth’s first year wasn’t the best, and thats an understatement. The Zips finished an incredible 0-12, finishing dead last in the MAC East and confirming their place as one of the worst teams in the country.

Fellow newcomer Scot Loeffler managed to win three games at Bowling Green with a similar talent level, It was not the most welcome of beginnings for Arth, to say the least.

Recruiting doesn’t get much better for the Zips. Arth, who was previouly coaching at Chattanooga, has a lot to do to catch up to the FBS life, as his 2020 class finished 10th in the MAC, and his 2021 class is currently ranked last.

Tom Arth is placed in the Warm Tier. We do need to give Tom Arth some time, but he needs to win some games to be able to regain some trust from the Akron faithful. Even the worst of schools should be able to get one or two wins in a season. They should have their best chance at a win in the first two weeks of the season, with games against FCS Youngstown State and fellow bottomfeeder New Mexico State (1-11 in 2019.)

NCAA Football: Akron at Illinois
Tom Arth’s 0-12 record doesn’t strike any confidence in me, however I want to see what he does given a few more years under his belt.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Blazin’ Hot Seat

Chris Creighton (Eastern Michigan)

The argument can be made that Chris Creighton deserves to be on the hot seat when you look at his record.

Creighton has done a good job of being just okay. I give him a lot of credit for going from 1 win back in 2015, and then the following year had an impressive turnaround, grabbing 7 wins. Bit since then? The program has plateaued, with five wins in 2017, seven wins in 2018 and six wins in 2019. He has had six seasons in Ypsilanti, and EMU still hasn’t tasted a bowl win or an 8+ win season.

While Creighton has brought the program to great glory in non-conference play, it’s really in MAC play where the disparity shines most.

Creighton has finished above fourth in the MAC West exactly once: in 2018, when the Eagles finished second in the division—along with two other teams. 2019 was especially a major step back for the Eagles, as they ended up finishing tied for last in the division with a paltry 3-5 conference record.

What this tells me is Creighton in 3 of the 4 years since the rebuilding years hasn’t performed well. How can a coach who engineered such a quick rurnaround in this first couple seasons not take a team to the next level? EMU fans should be expecting to compete for MAC championships for a coach who has been in place for six years. Creighton has been in that position exactly once.

One can’t point to recruiting in the argument, either. Creighton’s classes have finished 10th, 7th and 11th in the MACover the last three years.

Creighton, in my opinion, is on the hot seat quite simply because he hasn’t delivered. He has had more than enough time and hasn’t delivered.

All this said, Eastern Michigan could dominate this season and prove me wrong... and I hope they do. Based on the past history of the program and the university’s current budgeting problems, I don’t have a lot of optimsm in Chris Creighton being the guy to elevate this program. The only reason Creighton isn’t the number one on the list is because Creighton has at least bowl appearances, which is a standard he’s at the very least helped to establish.

NCAA Football: Camellia Bowl-Eastern Michigan vs Georgia Southern
Chris Creighton does provide bowl games to EMU however, in my opinion with six years under his belt I expect more than an average season and see him obtain eight or nine wins in a season. Average doesn’t cut it for me.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Neu (Ball State)

Mike Neu might have recently signed an extention until 2023, but if it were up to me, 2020 would be his ultimate make-or-break season.

HIs first season delivered a 4-8 record, fairly decent considering the resignation of Pete Lembo and the transition period. 2017 saw a pretty bad regression, with a 2-10 record. 2019 was a exttremely unlucky season, filled with njuries, so a 4-8 season was a fair bit of magic. This past season, however, may have been his worst performance, as Ball State gave up several chances to make noise in the division, squandering a 3-3 start to the season (with two MAC West wins) and missing out on a bowl game thanks to a 2-4 slide to end the year.

Simply put, Neu hasn’t delivered in his time at Ball State. The athletic director feels a bit differently, Neu an extension this past season for two seasons.

The reason for the extension is likely Neu’s ability to produce cometitive teams from a talent standpoint.

The 2020 Cardinals have a lot of returning starters, including Drew Plitt, a senior quarterback and Caleb Huntley, who rushed for over 1200 yards last season, not to mention players on the defensive side who led the Cardinals to a MAC-high 15 interceptions in shutdown defensive backs AJ Uzodinma and Antonio Phillips.

The performance of his team currently is a positive mark of his ability to develop recruits. Over the last several seasons, Neu and crew have finished in the bottom third of the MAC in recruiting class rankings (11th in 2019, 9th in 2020, 8th in 2021), and yet have some of the better position players in the conference.

I have a number of reasons why Mike Neu is placed in the blazin’ hot seat, but the major one is that Ball State is not left as the last MAC team to have never won a bowl game.

In four seasons under Neu, Ball State has only sniffed the postseason once, and that was last season.

Whenever you look at first-time coaches, the third and fourth seasons are the most important ones, as they normally show whether or not said coach has created a palpable improvement. For Neu, his third season was a tourtured one, while the fourth season was nothing to write home about either. Overall, Neu holds a 15-33 overall record (8-24 MAC.)

I don’t understand based on those performances how Neu got extended after this past season. This past season, Mike Neu had the Cardinals in several games they could’ve won, but didn’t get it done, with their games against Indiana, CMU and FAU standing out the most.

I think a big reason for why Neu hasn’t been fired up to this point is because I don’t think there is a candidate worth pursuing up to this point that would be interested in the position.

2020 absolutely has to be a bowl or bust year for Neu, because Ball State has given him plenty of time to deliver one.

NCAA Football: Ball State at North Carolina State
Mike Neu’s is on thin ice in Muncie as he has failed to deliver the Cardinal faithful a bowl appearance in his four seasons as head coach.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports