Kent State needs a new head coach after Sean Lewis agreed to become offensive coordinator for Colorado’s Deion Sanders, people familiar with the situation said the athlete.
It’s been an eventful few days for Lewis, who was a finalist for the Cincinnati job going to Scott Satterfield. Lewis leaves Kent State with a 24-31 record in five years.
Don’t be fooled by the recording. It was the most successful run for the Golden Flashes since the 1970s. Lewis averaged a .500 record or better in MAC play in each of the past four seasons. Lewis has been burdened with the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country as the program contests multiple buy games against top Power 5 programs each year to raise funds. Kent State played for $5.2 million in Washington, Oklahoma and Georgia this year.
How good is the job in the state of Kent? What names could come into the mix? Here are some factors to consider.
This is a very difficult place to win
Lewis was Kent State’s best coach in years and still had an overall under.500 record. In the past 61 years since 1962, the program has won just 11 seasons (two under Lewis). It has one conference championship (1972) and two division championships (one under Lewis). It has made four bowl games (two under Lewis), and Lewis led the only bowl win in school history in 2019.
The only other breakaway season in recent years has been Darrell Hazell’s 11-1 start in 2012, followed by a MAC championship game loss and a bowl loss. Hazell became Purdue’s head coach the next season.
The school says it plans to restrict playing so many one-sided money games. That affects a coach’s record and makes it difficult for a coach to capitalize on Kent State’s success to land a Power 5 job. Many believed Lewis was destined for a Power 5 head coaching job. Now he becomes P5 assistant instead.
Kent State is looking to continue its offensive success
ESPN reports that the school plans to continue its wide-open style of offense, which makes sense given the relative success and roster recruited for that offense. Kent State led the 2020 MAC in points per game and finished second in 2021. This year he dropped to fifth place.
Lewis came out of the Dino Babers coaching tree with the old Baylor-style offense. That doesn’t mean airing it out. The Golden Flashes led the MAC with more than 200 rushing yards per game this season. They also led the league in 2021 and finished runners-up in 2020. It’s all about fast pace and extended wide receiver splits to open up space and attack defenses in a way that suits skill players.
How much will it pay?
Lewis’ salary that season was just $530,000, one of the lowest in the Football Bowl subdivision. His buyout, owed to the school, is $750,000. His new contract, signed last year, saw more money allocated to the football budget. This included $50,000 for each of the first two $1 million guaranteed money games and $100,000 for a third. The contract also included a clause to try to purchase a mobile video tower at a cost of no more than $75,000.
The facilities aren’t that great. The campus has a field house that can be used as an indoor practice field but is shared with other sports. A training center was opened in 2016.
It’s ultimately no surprise that Lewis left for an assistant job. Resources in the Power 5 continue to separate themselves from the low Group of 5 schools. We’ve seen it before. Dan Enos left Central Michigan to become Arkansas offensive coordinator. Pete Lembo left Ball State for a job as an assistant in Maryland. Others have left to become NFL assistants. The money to be a Power 5 coordinator is higher than that of a lowly FBS head coach, and it could also improve a coach’s chances of getting a job as a Power 5 head coach.
So what names could come into the mix?
Ohio State Running Backs Coach Tony Alford was one of the best in the country at his position and developed running backs like Ezekiel Elliott, JK Dobbins, TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and more. Alford, who is from Akron, has been in the state of Ohio since 2015 and previously trained in Notre Dame and Louisville, among other places.
Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Tressel He’s expected to join Luke Fickell in Wisconsin, but he could be an intriguing name here. Tressel spent the years 2007 to 2020 in the state of Michigan, between two stays in Cincinnati. He knows the Midwest and was coached in the college football playoffs in Cincinnati and the Rose Bowl in Michigan State. He also coached alongside former Kent State head coach Paul Haynes at MSU after Haynes was fired.
Lenoir Rhyne head coach Mike Jacobs is 61-15 over seven seasons at Notre Dame College (Ohio) and Lenoir-Rhyne, both Division II schools. Two of his former Notre Dame College players were on the 2022 Kent State roster.
An internal option could be offensive coordinator Andrew Soder. He worked with Lewis at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green before following him to Kent State in 2018. He was with Lewis from the start at Kent State and helped develop this offense that is among the MAC’s best and he would continue what the team is currently doing.
Toledo defensive coordinator Vince Kehres went 95-6 as Mount Union head coach from 2013-19 and won two Division III national titles, and he’s been in the mix for MAC head coaching jobs before. At Toledo, Kehres has produced top-three defenses in the MAC in all three seasons, and the Rockets won the MAC this year.
When that job last opened, Kent State hired a former MAC assistant who followed a coach to a Power 5 job. Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki would fit this profile. Kotelnicki was part of two championship teams in Buffalo’s MAC East Division and helped Kansas reach its first bowl this season since 2008. The Wisconsin native was also Lance Leipold’s offensive coordinator at Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Jayhawks run a fun and explosive offense that ranks fifth in yards per game.
This story will be updated.
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