Ohio's Frank Solich takes the top spot in the MAC coach rankings
The MAC has experienced a great deal of turnover in its head coaching ranks in recent years, but there’s no question which coach ranks No. 1 going into the 2019 season. Ohio’s Frank Solich is the MAC’s unquestioned No. 1 coach, followed by Buffalo’s Lance Leipold and Toledo’s Jason Candle. The league has four new coaches this season and only three (Solich, Chuck Martin and Chris Creighton) have been at their current job for five or more years.
Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
How did we compile the rankings for MAC coaches? For starters, it’s an impossible task. However, we tried to weigh every possible factor into this ranking. This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky.
Every team has a different variety or built-in resources available, and hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. Those factors, along with career biography/resume, success in developing talent and landing prospects on the recruiting trail factored into the ranking. Additionally, how well programs value staff (is the head coach better as a CEO or hands-on approach) and the facilities or program resources matter into forming an outlook of how coaches have performed at different stops throughout their career.
Again, wins and the career biography to this point are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here are the results for the MAC:
Ranking MAC's College Football Coaches for 2019
12. Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green
Bowling Green isn’t far removed from winning a MAC title (2015), but this program won only nine games in three years under former coach Mike Jinks. Loeffler is a native of Ohio and has worked as an assistant since 2000 at a variety of programs and in the NFL. Loeffler served as offensive coordinator at Temple (2011), Auburn (2012), Virginia Tech (2013-15) and Boston College (2016-18) before landing the head-coaching job at Bowling Green. Loeffler’s offenses at Boston College did not finish higher than sixth in the ACC in scoring in each of his three seasons. Additionally, Loeffler has no previous experience as a head coach.
11. Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois
Rod Carey’s departure to Temple prompted Northern Illinois to turn to a familiar face as the program’s head coach. Hammock was a prolific running back for the Huskies from 1999-02 but his career was cut short by a heart condition. After landing a job as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 2003-04, Hammock returned to DeKalb to coach running backs under Joe Novak for two years (2005-06). He joined Minnesota’s staff as an assistant from 2007-10 and returned to Madison for a three-year run (2011-13) as the Badgers’ running back coach. Hammock has spent the last five years in the NFL as an assistant with the Ravens. This will be Hammock’s first opportunity to be a head coach, but he certainly knows what it takes to win at Northern Illinois and is the perfect fit to replace Carey.
10. Tom Arth, Akron
Akron is a tough job, but this is also a program with potential in a state with plenty of high school talent. The Zips went to two bowl trips under former coach Terry Bowden, and the administration hopes Arth can take this program to another level. The former NFL quarterback and Ohio native played his college ball at John Carroll and got into coaching at that program in 2010. Arth was promoted to head coach for the Blue Streaks in 2013 and went 40-8 over four years. He left to take over at Chattanooga prior to the 2017 campaign. After a 3-8 mark in his first season, Arth’s team jumped to 6-5 the following year. With his connections to the state and youth (38 years old), Arth should infuse some energy into the program this fall.
9. Mike Neu, Ball State
The 2019 season is a critical one for Neu. Ball State is 10-26 under Neu’s direction and has yet to record a winning record. However, the Cardinals won three games in league play (4-8 overall) last season. The three-win mark in MAC contests was the program’s highest during Neu’s tenure. The former Ball State quarterback has an experienced team returning this fall and on-field progress in 2019 would help Neu escape the hot seat.
8. Sean Lewis, Kent State
For the second year in a row, Lewis ranks as the youngest coach at the FBS level. The 33-year-old Wisconsin graduate was a promising hire for Kent State prior to the 2018 season, and the Golden Flashes showed signs of progress last fall. While the final record was only 2-10, Kent State was more competitive than it was the previous year, and the offense improved its scoring average by 11 points from 2017. Look for the Golden Flashes to take another step forward in 2019.
7. Tim Lester, Western Michigan
Injuries to starting quarterback Jon Wassink have hindered Western Michigan in back-to-back years, but Lester is still 13-12 since returning to his alma mater prior to the 2017 season. The former Bronco quarterback guided the program to a 7-6 finish, a trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and a tie for second place in the MAC West last season. With 17 returning starters in place for 2019, Lester has a chance to push Western Michigan into MAC title contention. He also went 40-23 during stints as a head coach at Saint Joseph’s (2004) and Elmhurst (2008-12).
Related: MAC 2019 All-Conference Team
6. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
Martin inherited a program that won only eight games in the three years prior to his arrival and has accumulated a 22-39 record since 2014. After a 5-19 start to Martin’s tenure, the RedHawks have showed improvement over the last three seasons. During that span, Miami is 17-20 overall and has won 16 of its last 24 MAC contests. Martin guided the program to one bowl trip after a 6-6 record season mark in 2016. Prior to taking over in Oxford, Martin guided Grand Valley State to a 74-7 record and two Division II titles from 2004-09.
5. Jim McElwain, Central Michigan
McElwain’s last stint as a head coach (Florida) ended his dismissal during the 2017 season. While his tenure in Gainesville ended in surprising fashion, McElwain is a proven winner at the FBS level and is a good hire for a Central Michigan program looking to rebound after a 1-11 season last fall. The Montana native went 22-16 at Colorado State from 2012-14 and led Florida to back-to-back SEC East titles from 2015-16. He also worked in the NFL for a season with the Raiders, coached under Nick Saban at Alabama as the offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and has other stops on his resume from Louisville, Michigan State and Fresno State.
4. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan is one of the toughest FBS jobs, but Creighton is quietly building a consistent winner in Ypsilanti. The Eagles went 3-21 over his first two years but have won at least five contests in each of the last three seasons. Additionally, Eastern Michigan posted seven wins and went to bowl games during the 2016 and ’18 campaigns. Just how impressive is Creighton’s tenure? Consider this: The Eagles have only three postseason bids in program history and two of those have come under Creighton’s watch.
3. Jason Candle, Toledo
Candle was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State. The Rockets haven’t missed a beat under Candle’s watch, as the program is 27-13 over the last three years. Toledo posted a 9-4 mark in Candle’s debut (2016) and won 11 games and a MAC title the following year. The Rockets finished 7-6 last fall but were just a couple of plays away from nine wins. Candle is regarded for his offensive acumen, and Toledo has ranked first or second in the MAC in scoring in each of the last three years.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2019
2. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Leipold guided Buffalo to new heights in 2018. The Bulls posted double-digit victories (10) for the first time, claimed the MAC East title and earned the third bowl trip in program history. Several key players from last year’s team have to be replaced, but Leipold is a proven winner and should keep Buffalo in contention for a winning record in 2019. The Bulls are 23-27 under Leipold’s watch and are 16-10 after a 7-17 start to his tenure. Prior to taking over at Buffalo, Leipold went 109-6 with six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater.
1. Frank Solich, Ohio
Solich is the nation’s oldest coach (75) and also holds the title of the longest-tenured Group of 5 coach. However, he’s showing no signs of slowing down entering the 2019 campaign. Instead, Solich has a good opportunity to add to his trophy case in Athens, as Ohio is Athlon’s pick to win the MAC this season. Under Solich’s watch, the Bobcats are 106-75 since 2005. Additionally, the program has won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons and has played in nine bowl games over the last 10 years. Ohio has not had a losing record since 2008. Counting his six-year run at Nebraska (1998-03), Solich is 164-94 overall as a head coach.
(Top photo courtesy of OhioBobcats.com)
WANT MORE? Listen to our podcast below.
Podcast: Coaching Conversations - Part 2