Western Michigan announced Monday morning that they were making a leadership change in the Bronco football program, relieving Tim Lester of head coaching duties after six seasons.
“Coach Lester is a cherished WMU alumnus who has been a part of some of the most successful football seasons in our history, both as a student-athlete and as a coach,” Western Michigan athletic director Dan Bartholomae said via press release. ”He has represented Bronco Nation with integrity and with class, and he will always be welcomed in Kalamazoo and in our campus community. I am thankful for our year working together and will be rooting him on in his future successes.”
Tim Lester, a former QB for the Broncos, accepted the job after PJ Fleck led the program to a 13-1 season and left for Minnesota following the team’s magical 2016 Cotton Bowl run.
Lester came to WMU from Purdue, where he was quarterbacks coach for the 2016 season after three years at Syracuse in various positions, including offensive coordinator from 2013-2015. His previous head coaching experience came in Division III, finishing 23-19 (with 10 wins and a conference title vacated) at Elmhurst from 2008-2012.
Lester was 37-32 over six seasons as WMU’s head man, with three bowl appearances and one bowl win. Under his leadership, the Broncos never appeared in the MAC Championship Game, which may have been the biggest missing piece to his resume.
“It has been an honor for me and my family to represent Western Michigan University and be a member of the Kalamazoo Area Community. I am also grateful for the dedicated group of loyal supporters that have been consistently behind our program,” Lester said via press release. “Most importantly, I am proud of the resolve shown by our players and staff. To each and every one of them that gave their all for this program in the last 6 years, I love you and will support you in every possible way.”
The lack of progress against MAC opponents is the biggest problem he faced, with the 2022 season was seemingly the tipping point, as the 5-7 end-of-season record (4-4 in conference play) was his first losing effort.
Evaluating MAC head coaches by their overall record can be a little misleading with games that are meant to be paychecks in the non-conference schedule. His record in the MAC is 26-20, but even that hides the shape of his tenure.
Lester was able to recruit well and keep the Broncos talent in the top end of the MAC, with several prospects even graduating into becoming NFL Draft picks or free agents, but WMU was ultimately unable to win the MAC West, finishing second in the West over three consecutive years (2018-2020), with late-season collapses and untimely losses a recurring theme.
2021 was a particularly frustrating year, finishing tied-fourth in the MAC West division at a 7-5 overall end-of-league play record due to head-to-head losses to Ball State, Toledo, CMU and EMU.
Lester had been the highest-paid coaches in the MAC over his entire tenure, earning $600k per year with a base salary of $225k, and had recently signed a contract extension back in January 2022 after an 8-5 season which saw them win in the Quick Lane Bowl against Nevada.
The new contract was a slight down-tick in base salary, as Lester voluntarily took a 25 percent paycut as part of broader university-wide paycuts, per Tony Paul of the Detroit News.
Lester is owed $500k as part of the negotiated buyout, per Patrick Nothaft of MLive.
Bartholomae was hired as WMU athletic director in January 2022 from Oregon State, and likely wants to put his stamp on Bronco football. The search has already began, with WMU hiring Glen Sugiyama of DHR Global to help lead the process.
A press conference regarding the program’s future will be convened at 3 p.m. Eastern time, per WWMT-TV’s Andy Pepper.
This is considered a developing story and will be updated as such.