Where do we go from here?
Bye weeks make a good time for reflection. Unfortunately, here in Ypsi, that reflection can sometimes be uncomfortable.
With Heather Lyke in her first year as an athletic director, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen, but here are my thoughts.
Step 1: Fire Ron English.
Before the season, I predicted that Ron English would need at least six wins to earn a contract extension. If I had to guess, I’d say he’ll be fired about the time the team reaches 7 losses, which will probably happen between 10/26 and 11/9. The timing of such a firing is tricky. On the one hand, you have the Foley dictum: what must be done eventually should be done immediately.1 This argues for an early announcement — perhaps if the Eagles fail to pick up a win in New York. The advantage of this is that EMU could get a head start on the coaching search, giving them a chance to go after their top target(s) before most other schools are officially in the market.2
On the other hand, the arguments for waiting are much the same as the arguments ten months ago for English to come back for a fifth year. Let’s face it, coaching EMU football is not exactly a plum job. To have a chance at attracting a halfway competent coach in the future, the administration has to make it clear that they’ll give the head coach every opportunity to succeed. Also: money. EMU will be paying English through the end of the year one way or anther; if you believe the season is lost, they might as well make him work for the pay.
Step 2: Finish the season.
Assuming that Ron English’s firing is announced before the end of the season — and I think it will be — the next question is who serves as head coach through the end of the season. I see two viable possibilities for EMU here.
One option would be to announce his firing mid-season, but make it effective at the end of the season. One argument for this is the aforementioned cost; EMU will be paying English through the end of the year either way, and one line of reasoning holds that the school might as well make him work for the money. It does seem to me that this would be awkward, but schools make it work more often than you might think, and it’s what EMU did on the last go-round.
The other option schools usually employ in a case like this is to have one of the coordinators serve as interim head coach through the end of the season. Should Lyke decide to go this route, she’s got an easy pick in Stan Parrish. Not that Parrish particularly excelled as either interim coach or subsequently as head coach at Ball State, but I suspect that he knows what needs to be done well enough to keep things from falling apart…any worse than they already are.
Step 3: Hire a new head coach.
I’m sure there are some people who will take this opportunity to suggest that EMU should drop the football program to a lower level (FCS, Division II, or Division III), or cut the sport entirely. I’m reasonably confident that’s not going to happen right now for several reasons. Aside from a few schools that the NCAA has grandfathered in, schools are limited to one Division, so dropping football to Division II or III would require dropping all EMU’s other varsity sports to the same lower division. That’s a decision that would almost certainly need to come from the Board of Regents, and it’s not a decision that would happen quickly. Going to FCS is a little simpler, except that it would still mean finding a new conference — for all sports, based on current MAC rules. Just over a week ago, Heather Lyke expressed a commitment to fielding teams that will “compete at the highest level possible in the Mid-American Conference.” Staying in the MAC means keeping football at the FBS level.
So assuming, then, that the program continues, and continues in the Football Bowl Subdivision, in the MAC, the question then becomes what the criteria should be for the next head coach. And that’s where we’ll pick up when we continue…
- This quote is attributed to Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, regarding his decision to fire Ron Zook seven games into Zook’s third season. [↩]
- In 2004, Florida and Notre Dame were both interested in Urban Meyer. By canning Zook, the Gators got a month-and-a-half head start on wooing Meyer. Result: Florida won two national championships, while the Fighting Irish wound up with Charlie Weiss, fired five seasons later with one of the worst records of any Notre Dame coach in history. [↩]