The Drive to Detroit: Bowling Green's gotta make some changes, what's Akron's next identity?
Mike Jinks was 7-24 when he was finally hooked off stage at Bowling Green. Scot Loeffler's still only at six wins. What gives?
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! The Drive to Detroit is a series where I look around the Mid-American Conference’s football landscape and see what it’ll take for these teams to make it to the championship stage (read more here). Half of the MAC East is still fighting for their shot at going to Detroit while the other three are really focusing about their futures. Let’s focus on the bottom-half of this league’s lesser division.
Bowling Green’s a program that knows it can find its way back to the MAC title game, but only if it learns how to stop hiring bad head coaches. Akron’s making its future plans right now after Tom Arth’s firing, but what institutional desires (if any) does Akron have for football team?
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MAC East: On teams that are out of the championship hunt
Loeffler 6-21 as Falcons coach, how much longer will BGSU hold on?
While Akron chose to be aggressive about being the first MAC job to open up this cycle, Bowling Green (3-7 overall, 1-5 MAC) is letting the Scot Loeffler experiment continue. He probably bought himself some goodwill with a big win in September at Minnesota, and another big win in late October at Buffalo. But this team has downright stank at home: loss to South Alabama by a late collapse + field goal, lost to Akron of all teams by 15, kicked in the gut by EMU with a 31-point loss, and was open-hand slapped across the face by Toledo with a 32-point loss last week. (Note: I choose to ignore the FCS win here.)
What’s the long game here, Bowling Green? This year’s team is a little bit better than last year’s team, but there’s still a very noticeable talent gap between the Falcons and most other MAC teams it faces.
I think BG needed to re-establish some relationships between its football program and the local high schools after Mike Jinks (7-24 record at BG) was hired as a total outsider and had to lean on his Texas roots to build a recruiting class. Since the coaching change, BGSU’s done a decent enough time of getting talented local kids onto its roster and, more importantly, on the playing field. But even more importantly than fielding more Ohio-bred kids is winning games, and BG is 6-21 under Loeffler.
Note: Mike Jinks was fired in the middle of the 2018 season, but I’m still keeping all of the team’s stats in here. Jinks coached 31 of the team’s 36 games over the three seasons.
Hiring Loeffler was another way of chasing the Urban Meyer ghost. Meyer, when coaching at Florida in the 2000’s, hired Loeffler to help Tim Tebow fix his throwing mechanics. Loeffler’s claim to fame is being able to coach Michigan quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Chad Henne, and Tebow. As GA at Michigan, Loeffler sort of coached John Navarre and Brian Griese. A nice list of A-listers to win over the hearts of some Michiganders, sure, but these guys are still so far in the past I remember reading about them in newspapers. All of those guys are between 36-48 years old now and there really hasn’t been anybody else younger than that that can say that they’ve greatly improved at their QB skills because of Loeffler’s assistance. The most recently-coached college QB to come close to those other guys is Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech, who is now 30 and only made it to the NFL because he changed positions.
Urban Meyer probably didn’t have to pick up the phone and talk to anybody in Bowling Green, and I’m 100% positive he does not care about what happens to this school’s football program — good or bad. But I’m sure Loeffler’s attempt at chasing Michigan’s culture through his work at BG has more to do with Bowling Green’s attempt at chasing any version of success that it used to have, even if that means stooping as low as caring about Meyer’s connection to other coaches. Shooting for guys from the Meyer tree is never, ever a safe bet.
BG’s task while trying to find a replacement for Jinks was to not screw it up again. Jinks was hired because a Google search result said that Texas Tech’s offense put up points and he was the team’s running backs coach. After one of the laziest coaching hires of all time, BG followed things up by making another lazy coaching hire. Since it won three MAC East titles from 2013-2015, BG has since won only 13 games over the last ~six years.
BG’s got to make a change at the head coaching level because the productivity simply isn’t up to snuff. But before we can even get there, I’ve got to ask: has the school’s Board of Trustees learned anything over the past six years? Does the BG BoT honestly want more football knowledge to make a better football hire? If we peek our heads out of the ground for just a moment and look at what other programs are doing: Is anybody else having success by plucking coaches from the various top-ranked-offense trees? Is anybody else having a fun time with their coaches from the Urban Meyer tree? (Note: Luke Fickell’s good, but how many Luke Fickells actually exist? Would BG even know how to spot another Luke Fickell out there in the wild?)
It’s still so wild to me. Dave Clawson, now coaching Wake Forest to new heights, previously built BG back up to a title-winner. That wasn’t because Clawson was tangentially-related to someone or something else that was considered to be good football, but because Clawson’s actually a damn good football coach and knows what he’s doing. Texas Tech had a good offense, and Mike Jinks made sense for Texas Tech’s offense to be good at that time. Chad Henne was a good college quarterback, and Scot Loeffler had a hand on coaching him at the time. I really think Bowling Green needs to hire a new football coach this offseason, but not before Bowling Green comes to an institutional understanding that you can’t simply drag and drop what makes/made football good from anywhere in America to Bowling Green, Ohio and expect things to work out in a timely fashion.
What does Akron want out of its next coach?
The Zips wasted no time in getting Tom Arth out the door before he could finish up his third season coaching Akron. As Akron’s head coach, Arth was 3-24 overall. Nobody expected a championship-level product out of the program so quickly, but, more problematically, there’s been no noticeable improvement made on this roster. Even though Arth’s position, quarterback, is doing pretty well this year (team is second in MAC QB rating, 147.98), he’s not winning [the northeast corner of] Ohio the way he needs to on the recruiting trail, and most importantly, he only won three games.
Akron (2-8, 1-5 MAC) is an impossible place to win at, but only because we’ve never seen Akron be a winner. The next coach needs to keep doing things that Arth couldn’t. He’ll need to establish an Ohio-proud culture in his locker room that turns into in-state and in-league wins on the field. A visionary’s element is as important as anything other trait to look for in Akron’s interviewing process, but what style of football does Akron want to be?
Kent State’s doing the Flash Fast brand to some sort of success just across the street. The speedy offense works for that program, and they’re recruiting for other skinny guys to fill up its rosters in the future. Even the offensive linemen Kent State goes after know that they’re doing a ton of cardio work to see the field. Should Sean Lewis leave Kent State at some point for any other job, his successor will have a deep roster of skinny, fast guys.
If I’m Akron, I want my next coach to counter that by being the team rostered by big, fat guys. Be the team that gets three tight ends and a fullback all on the field at once. Be the team that only needs seven or eight receivers on the roster, and have more scholarship positions available to be stronger and deeper in the trenches. We’ve seen a lot of teams get to call themselves advanced for running up-tempo, spread offenses and shoot for 40+ yard bombs instead of 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Akron might be able to find some success if its next coach knows how to put a good spread offense in InfoCision, but will it end up being the best long-term solution, roster-wise, for the Zips? Could an identity of strength over speed a difference maker that could help Akron in the short and long terms? I feel like, at some point, looking for the next most over-looked lineman walking around metro Cleveland to develop through Akron might make more sense than going down to Florida and trying to find the next most over-looked receiver down in Miami Dade county.
Buffalo’s exactly where it needs to be
Buffalo’s (4-6, 2-4 MAC) in a very predictable place. September was fun and exciting, but the incredibly late coaching hire of Maurice Linguist meant there was a pretty low probability that the team, which faced a late run of players hit the transfer portal when Lance Leipold took the Kansas coaching job, would win this division in 2021.
Still, there was enough talent and veteran experience left over on the roster to make Linguist’s first year at Buffalo a respectable one. The Bulls are currently 4-6 overall with two wins in league play. Depth was going to be an issue with this team going into the year, and the Bulls are starting to look like it’s out of gas; the team just got outscored 101-62 by BG and Miami over its last two games.
Take these last two games in stride, Buffalo. You’re home to (probably the eventual MAC champion) Northern Illinois on Wednesday, and at Ball State next week to close out the year. Maybe this means you’ll close out with a four-game losing streak, but I’ve seen enough to be excited for what Buffalo could be in the future. And that excitement might skyrocket if Buffalo can pull off two upset wins over these last two games to be bowl eligible.
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