Ron English’s magic number
The EMU football team returned to campus over the weekend, and Ron English led their first official fall practice this afternoon. Per NCAA rules, the first three practices are helmets only, with the team adding shoulder pads for the fourth practice, full pads for the fifth practice, and then being able to run two-a-days. With the team starting their fall practices to get ready for the games, it’s time for us to get ready too. We’re going to start that today by tackling the elephant in the room.
As I’m sure you are well aware, this year marks the end of head coach Ron English’s five-year contract at EMU. Specifically, his contract runs through December 31, 2013. As such, there’s been a lot of fan discussion around one seemingly simple question: how many wins does Ron English need to get an extension?
Fortunately for us, we have several excellent points of comparison, in the form of the Eagles’ three prior coaches. Rick Rasnick and Jeff Genyk were each fired during their fifth seasons — Genyk was allowed to coach through the end of the year, while Rasnick was replaced by Tony Lombardi as interim coach for the last game — and Jeff Woodruff was canned during his fourth season, which Al Lavan finished. So when we ask the question, “how many wins does Ron English need?”, it makes sense to use these three coaches as the starting point for discussion.
Here you see cumulative win totals by Jeff Genyk, Jeff Woodruff, and Rick Rasnick, through the dates they were fired, plus English’s total through the end of 2012. Genyk added one win after he was fired, while Woodruff’s final team won two games under Lavan, but because those were after the firing was announced, they are not included on this chart. To put it another way, the result of four full years under Ron English has been the same as four full years of Jeff Woodruff’s teams, and Woodruff didn’t get a fifth year. If nothing else, this should make it clear just how much pressure English will be under to deliver wins this fall.
The raw win totals don’t tell the whole picture, however, because the number of games per season have varied, though always either 11 or 12 during the period in question. To account for this, rather than look at win totals, lets look at the cumulative win percentage. As with the previous chart, this only includes wins prior to the announcement of each coach’s firing. Again, the takeaway here is that, year for year, English has underperformed all three of his predecessors (although very close, English’s Year 3 and Year 4 cumulative win percentages were still slighly below Woodruff’s). It bears repeating: the result of four full years under Ron English has been
the same as worse than four full years of Jeff Woodruff’s teams, and Woodruff didn’t get a fifth year.
But the fifth year question is in the past. Ron English does have a fifth year, and the question now is what he needs to do to earn a sixth year — if that’s even possible.
Since we’ve got all this data already handy, I think a good starting point is to consider how many wins English needs to deliver to match Rasnick’s and Genyk’s win totals and winning percentages. No charts needed here, just a few numbers. English currently has 10 career wins. Genyk had 15 when he was fired before the last game of the season, meaning the best he could have done was 16 (and that’s what he did). Just to match the win total that got Genyk fired, English needs to win six games this year, and that’s also the number needed to slightly beat Genyk’s win percentage. Rasnick had 20 wins when he was fired before the last game of the season, meaning the best he could have done was 21. Just to match the number that got Rasnick fired, English needs to win 11 games this year, while to match the winning percentage that got Rasnick fired, English would need to deliver 13 wins (out of either 13 or 14 games).
Now that you’ve read that, go look at the first chart again for a moment. Considering that English’s teams have only managed 10 wins through four seasons, do you really think 11 to 13 wins is realistic this fall? I hope not, and that means that we’ve agreed that English will not be able to match Rasnick’s performance — and remember again, Rasnick was fired before the end of his fifth year. But let’s be honest, an 11+ win season is so far from anything EMU has put together in decades that even coming close to it would surely earn an extension (or at least an extension offer — the coach that gets EMU over 10 wins will get offers from bigger programs), career totals be damned.
In reality, I think Jeff Genyk’s numbers probably set the floor for an extension. If English can get the team to 6-6 this year, that would make two .500 years in the last three — remember, in Ypsilanti, that’s amazing progress — and unlike 2011, it would mean bowl-eligibility, though still perhaps not a bowl trip. We’ll come back to the question of how likely six wins is later, when we take a closer look at the schedule, but for now, I think that’s the magic number for Ron English.