Examining Three New MAC Coaches
By Jon Coffey
The Mid-American Conference might not make national headlines like the Big Ten or the SEC.
While it has had its share of former players see success in the NFL, the MAC is often overlooked when it comes to talent.
But when it comes to coaching, few other conferences have a pedigree to match that of the MAC. Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and Ara Parseghian are staples in any discussion of great collegiate football coaches, and all passed through the conference early in their coaching careers.
And then there are the contemporaries like Urban Meyer, who began his head coaching career at Bowling Green in 2001, and Brian Kelly, who started his FBS career in 2004 at Central Michigan. Even the face of the SEC himself, Nick Saban, made his debut in the MAC at Toledo in 1990.
This year three more coaches join these prestigious ranks hoping to one day put their name on par with the others listed above.
Paul Haynes takes over at Kent State after Darrell Hazell resigned his post to become the head coach at Purdue. Haynes moves back to the state of Ohio after one season as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas. He coached for two years at his alma mater, Kent State, (1999-2000) and then spent six years with Ohio State (2005-11) before joining the Razorbacks’ coaching staff.
Rod Carey slides into the role of head coach from offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois. Carey doesn’t come in with quite the same credentials as his predecessor Dave Doeren, who was a coordinator at Wisconsin before taking the role of Huskies head coach. But Doeren moved on to a new head coaching gig with North Carolina State. Carey inherits the system and a standout QB, Jordan Lynch, who helped the team win the MAC championship in 2012.
P.J. Fleck begins his career as a head coach with Western Michigan and will be the youngest head coach (32 years old) in the nation this season. Fleck comes to the Broncos after coaching wide receivers under Greg Schiano for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fleck is the only one of this trio who never served as a coordinator before strapping on the headset as a head coach.
With three new but familiar head coaches in the MAC, the natural progression of this discussion becomes which of these men is coming into the best situation and who will see the most success in the conference.
Former MAC coach and current Football.com contributor Bill Lund provides his opinion on the new team leaders, what they have to look forward to, and what, exactly, they are getting themselves into:
Paul Haynes, Kent State
“The cupboard wasn't bare for Haynes, who takes over the MAC East Division champ in 2012. With the return of Roosevelt Nix on defense and playmaker Dri Archer on offense the Golden Flash will stay in the MAC title race. Haynes has experience in the fertile recruiting grounds of Ohio and has worked in both the Big Ten and SEC. Haynes has the pedigree to continue the work that Darrell Hazel started when he turned around a dormant program.”
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
“Each previous transition for NIU — from Joe Novak to Jerry Kill to Dave Doeren — has gone smoothly. With Jordan Lynch, the conference player of the year, returning, as well as the whole offensive line, the pieces are in place for Carey to continue the success for the Huskies. In addition, both coordinators return (Carey was the offensive coordinator in 2012) and help maintain the consistency the Huskies seem to always have in the face of transition.”
PJ. Fleck, Western Michigan
“Western has always been a solid program that has produced NFL-caliber players like Greg Jennings. They were a contender for the MAC title and bowl bids under former coach Bill Cubit. But Fleck has quickly brought in a surge of energy that the program lacked under Cubit. Because the Broncos have talent, Fleck's enthusiasm and creativity may help boost the championship prospects for Western.”
“In the highly competitive MAC, teams are always in a state of flux. Coaches are coming or going. Carey at NIU has the best situation with the best QB in the league leading the way. Haynes has some of the best players on either side of the ball returning to help un-seat the Huskies. Fleck may not win the MAC in his first year, but he should help the Broncos get into the bowl hunt.”