The Western Michigan Broncos had a busy offseason.
It kicked off on November 28th, when Western Michigan’s Athletic Director made the decision to move on from Tim Lester. Lester had been the head coach since PJ Fleck left for Minnesota after the 2016 season. The rest of the offseason has been spent dealing with that decision.
Obviously, the first order of business was to find a new head coach, which they did with Lance Taylor. Taylor has been an assistant all over college and professional football, but most recently at Louisville as the offensive coordinator. He was announced as the next head coach at WMU on December 8th, and had immediate work to do. Coaching changes always spur roster turnover; the Broncos were just under two weeks away from the early signing period and a new coaching staff had to be found.
Taylor was able to cover two of those things by retaining most of the defensive staff from the 2022 season. That kept the Bronco's recruiting class intact and meant that Taylor had fewer coaches to replace.
The Broncos took heavy losses in the transfer portal despite retaining some coaches. Depth was already a question for the Broncos and now their top talent went to power five programs. Taylor and the new staff have holes to plug in year one.
New Faces on the Field
Two of the Bronco's offensive stars transferred out of the program and they are massive blows. Running back Sean Tyler and wide receiver Corey Crooms transferred to Minnesota and they combined to get 56 percent of the touches in an offense that was 127th in SP+. Western Michigan fans will know that they were the only parts of the offense that worked.
Tyler ran for more than 1,000 yards and averaged 4.9 per rush with the ability to hit the home run. The final month of the season he became the every-down back and exploded. Crooms was the number one target in a woeful passing attack. WMU spent the middle part of the season searching for a quarterback that could get him the ball reliably and eventually settled on freshman Treyson Bourguet. He was the best option, but the completion percentage was under 50 percent. (Fairly grim, don’t you think?)
Taylor immediately brought in four players from Power Five to FCS schools to replace the production. Former Old Dominion quarterback Hayden Wolff has been added to the mix as an established Group of Five quarterback. Keshawn King is a former four-star recruit and transfers into WMU from Virginia Tech to replace Sean Tyler. In four seasons at Virginia Tech, he ran the ball 182 times and caught 31 passes for 1,243 total yards. He’s coming to Kalamazoo hoping to get a chance to be the top running back.
Two offensive linemen have transferred in as well, both with New York roots. Tedi Kushi was an all-NEC linemen and the Phil Steele NEC Lineman of the Year at Long Island University [FCS] in 2022, while Chad Schuster redshirted in his first and only season at Syracuse before heading to Kalamazoo.
The transfer pieces on offense clearly address needs that the Broncos have from last season. Major question marks still exist on that side of the ball, but the unit was about as bad as it gets last season.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos had their best defensive season under Tim Lester and defensive coordinator Lou Esposito. The defense was the reason the Broncos were in games, holding their opponents to 14.2 points on average in their final five games. It makes their losses in the transfer portal even more painful.
Andre Carter and Braden Fiske were impact starters on the defensive line and have transferred to Indiana and Florida State respectively. Carter just had his best season with 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and Fiske was almost as productive from the interior. Florida State heads into 2023 with lofty expectations, which speaks highly of their evaluation of the former Bronco.
Linebacker Ryan Selig joins Sean Tyler and Corey Crooms in Minnesota and the other two starting linebackers graduated from the 2022 team. The third-best defense by points allowed in the conference loses ten starters from last season. It’s hard to see anything but a hard restart on the horizon for the defense.
Safety Tate Hallock and linebacker Donald Willis transfer in from Big Ten programs to bolster those positions. Both are experienced players that were rotational pieces looking for more full-time roles. They most assuredly found a good place for that.
The coaching will remain the same which could allow some of the new faces to quickly adapt to starting in FBS football. That is certainly a silver lining coming into a difficult 2023 season.
New Faces on the Sideline
Obviously, a new head coach gets to hire his own staff, but Taylor opted to keep the defensive staff after their best season under Tim Lester. Lou Esposito retains his position as defensive coordinator with David Denham and Donald Celiscar staying on as well. Eric Evans stayed on the offensive side of the ball and every other on-field coach changed.
The big addition is Billy Cosh, the offensive coordinator from Richmond [FCS]. He will take the same role at WMU after getting Richmond to be a top-20 offense in offensive SP+. The Richmond offense is not run-first like past WMU squads have been, and there will be an adjustment period— especially if they have trouble finding consistent quarterback play.
Special teams have been poor at best recently for the Broncos and Jeff Popovich is a new face for that position. Offensive line, wide receivers, running backs, and safeties each have new position coaches for 2023. All in all, six on-field coaches changed from ‘22 to ‘23.
Football Scoop ranked the top ten new staffs of 2023 and has Western Michigan at #9. It’s not definitive and is certainly speculation, but it’s never a bad thing to show up on lists like that.
On the administrative side, there have been very few changes.
The continuity on that side is a good thing as the institutional support and organization have not been an issue from the outside looking in. The problems that spurred all of the changes were mainly contained to the performances on Saturdays (and weeknights in November) which is what made it difficult to make the coaching change. So many things went well, but it didn’t translate to gameday.
Western Michigan has an important season coming up and a multitude of fresh faces need to come together to make it work.
This is the first in a series of Western Michigan football previews, with our next piece addressing the offensive skill positions. Please look forward to that!
WMU’s season kicks off Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. Eastern time in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they are set to play FCS squad St. Francis [PA] Red Flash.