Kent State head football coach Sean Lewis shocked the college football world on Monday evening, as ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported the five-year leader of the Golden Flashes accepted an offer to be the offensive coordinator at the University of Colorado.
Lewis is the first reported hire at the FBS level for Deion Sanders, who accepted the head coaching job at Colorado earlier this week after three seasons at the SWAC’s Jackson State University.
If confirmed, Lewis will finish his Kent State career with a record of 24-31 over five seasons, with a MAC East division title and MAC Championship Game appearance in 2021. The Flashes were a projected to finish second in the division in 2022, but had a difficult, injury-ridden campaign which resulted in a 5-7 finish.
Lewis, a former tight end at Wisconsin, came to Kent State from Syracuse, where he was offensive coordinator under Dino Babers, a practitioner of run-based, up-tempo spread offense. Lewis and Babers’ relationship dates back to 2012, when Lewis joined Babers’ staff at Eastern Illinois as a receivers coach.
Lewis worked his way up the assistant ladder quickly, taking over as co-OC at BGSU in 2016 before taking on the same job at Syracuse in 2017.
Kent State would hire Lewis after firing then-head coach Paul Haynes in 2018.
Lewis’ hybrid spread offense took a few years to take hold, but once it did, KSU became one of the most prolific offensive units in the league and in the country. Under Lewis, the Flashes had 14 placements on all-MAC teams in his five seasons, with four players named to the first-team all-MAC offense and six players overall in 2022, including wide receiver Dante Cephas and running back Marquez Cooper.
Lewis had been the center of some coaching carousel rumors over the last few days, and was considered a finalist for the Cincinnati head coaching vacancy before Scott Satterfield’s hiring was announced earlier today.
The Flashes had unique challenges prior to Lewis’ arrival, and even while Lewis was in Kent. KSU is usually amongst the top teams in strength of schedule due to the “money game” philosophy, something Lewis remarked upon in a 2019 interview with Hustle Belt. The KSU program had an all-time record of 300-474-28 prior to his arrival, with one season above five wins in the decade prior (the 11-3 season in 2012), and had never won a bowl game in their program’s history.
Under his leadership, Lewis led the Flashes to the program’s first-ever bowl game victory in the 2019 Frisco Bowl against Utah State, and would later earn KSU’s first MAC East division title and MAC title game appearance since 2012. Kent State finished under .500 in win percentage just once after the 2018 season.
KSU also finished 1-1 in two bowl appearances under Lewis, with all MAC teams except Buffalo and Ball State in 2020 ineligible for the postseason. (KSU had finished 3-1 that season.)
Per Thamel, Kent State is expected to take the buyout money and re-invest it in the program. The buyout is reported to be $750,000. The search for a replacement is expected to begin immediately.