Lance Taylor has been busy this offseason.
Head coaches have more and more on their plates as December becomes more critical to college football programs at every level. Recruiting classes need to be finalized and locked down, the transfer portal opens and the coaching carousel fires up.
Western’s head coach wasn’t on the move this season, but as soon as the first head coach is fired for the season, assistant coaches are always looking for their next opportunity. Both Western Michigan coordinators found jobs they believe are better for them and their careers and Taylor needed to find replacements after one season in Kalamazoo.
The Broncos went 4-8 in a season of adjustments. The roster significantly turned over in the time from Tim Lester being fired and Lance Taylor being hired and the new staff needed to find out what they had in the early part of the season. Jalen Buckley immediately popped, but the quarterback position wasn’t settled until mid-October.
The defense had coaching stability but lost three starting linebackers and two All-MAC defensive linemen. Defensive regression was easy to see on the horizon for the Broncos but Lou Esposito was kept in the defensive coordinator role to help retain the roster. Plus the defense was the best unit on the team in 2022.
Former UMass head coach in at Offensive Coordinator
Billy Cosh spent five years at the FCS level, three of them as an offensive coordinator, leading pass-first offenses at VMI and Richmond. After one season calling a much more balanced offense at Western Michigan, Cosh is headed back to the FCS level after being named the head coach at Stony Brook on December 13th. The Seawolves went 0-10 previously, giving Cosh an opportunity top imprint his name on the program.
Finding his replacement took nearly a month, but on January 11th, Western Michigan announced Walt Bell will be the offensive coordinator starting in 2024. Most recently, Bell was the offensive coordinator at Indiana and became available on October 1st when head coach Tom Allen decided that the offense needed a new direction.
Bell brings experience from a long career in FBS football. He was the head coach at UMass, maybe the hardest job in FBS, and was let go after a 1-8 start in 2021. A 1-11 2019 record and an 0-4 Covid season didn’t do him any favors. Before leading a G5 independent, his career had taken him from being a graduate assistant at Louisiana to the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida State.
He was hired three times as the first offensive coordinator by a head coach at a new university. Blake Anderson hired him at Arkansas State, two years later DJ Durkin hired him at Maryland and Willie Taggart brought him to Florida State for a season in 2018. All three times he was part of the original staff. The Arkansas State offenses were the best by SP+ numbers but each stop was short.
Being fired from Indiana isn’t a great indicator of success, but brown and gold tinted glasses could spin that as a last act of Tom Allen at Indiana. However, being at the top of the list to be let go in an attempt to save Allen’s job isn’t ideal.
If we take the names off of the coach and the school, one is a coach who has been fired after three seasons as a head coach after climbing the offensive coordinator ranks in the Power Five. His next Power Five offensive coordinator job only lasted a year and a half. The university is a G5 program in a conference largely regarded as one of the bottom two in FBS football.
Lance Taylor must see Bell as a coach who has taken on some really hard jobs and been dealt a series of difficult situations, despite being a good coach. There’s no reason it can’t work but it’s not an obvious home run.
A Saban assistant takes the defensive coordinator job
Lou Esposito was on the Western Michigan staff for seven seasons, under two head coaches. He was the defensive line coach in 2017 and was promoted mid-season in 2018 to defensive coordinator. He held that job until he took the defensive coordinator position at Memphis on January 10th.
He helped stabilize the program after Tim Lester was fired in 2022 and his retention for 2023 kept Marshawn Kneeland and other players in the program. Esposito was heavily involved in recruiting and helped the staff land the second-ranked class in the MAC according to 247Sports and On3.
Lance Taylor and Esposito had a heated moment on the sideline during the Central Michigan game that was dismissed as an intense moment between two intense people that may have looked differently than it was.
No matter how their relationship changed over the year, Robert Bala is the new defensive coordinator from Alabama. Bala was the linebackers coach for the Tide in 2023 and will be counted amongst the last members of the “Saban School of Wayward Coaches.”
Bala joined the Alabama coaching staff after a season as an analyst at Liberty. Hugh Freeze took the head coaching job at Auburn before the 2023 season and didn’t bring Bala with him. Bala comes to Kalamazoo after a loss to Michigan in the Rose Bowl ended the Crimson Tide’s season. Not many of the coaches and coordinators in the MAC have College Football Playoff experience.
It will be his second time in the coordinator role for a D-I school in his career; Bala was previously the defensive coordinator at Southern Utah for the 2021 spring season and the fall season. Southern Utah went 2-15 over those two seasons, their last in the Big Sky Conference.
His career is definitely on the rise. He graduated from Southern Utah in 2008 and immediately got into coaching. His journey started at the junior college level at two colleges, then an NAIA program, then an FCS position job that turned into being the coordinator, to a Group of Five analyst and then to Alabama as the linebackers coach.
He’s been all over as a football coach and has seen a lot of football. Some good and some bad. I think there is value in experiencing success and failure across different levels of football. His connections from Alabama might benefit the Broncos' new recruiting approach in the south. Taking a chance on youth in this coaching position isn’t a bad thing for the Broncos, but for all his faults, Lou Esposito’s shoes might be difficult to fill.
Other football staff changes
So far three more coaches have left Western Michigan and one new hire has been made. Running back coach Anthony Davis is joining Billy Cosh at Stony Brook as the offensive coordinator, safeties coach Tim Cooper accepted the defensive coordinator position at Gardner-Webb and tight ends coach Eric Evans has been let go.
On the administrative side, Gaizka Crowley accepted the general manager position at Arizona. He held the same title for the Broncos.
The vacant linebackers coach role has been filled by Scott Power, most recently at Louisiana Tech as their defensive coordinator. Tech seemed to like his ability to recruit but ultimately moved on after a disappointing 2023 campaign.