DETROIT — Most first-year coaches in the Mid-American Conference enjoy the benefit of arriving through the door the last guy was just shown.
You are hired to be fired. If Miami (Ohio) is the Cradle of Coaches, then, say, Eastern Michigan or Akron are the Charnel Houses. Think about this: Not one of the Zips’ 25 coaches over the past 120 years has flipped his time in the Rubber City into a big-time college job.
The bar for the new boss elsewhere is often so low a puppy couldn’t limbo under it.
Toledo and Bowling Green are not most places.
At MAC media day here Thursday, Jason Candle and Mike Jinks unofficially began their first season as college head coaches at the same building they hope — and expect — to end it.
If you ask the writers who cover the league, both will be in the mix to return to Ford Field for the MAC title game.
Jinks’ Falcons were picked by the media to win their fourth straight East division title, while Candle’s Rockets were pegged second in the varsity West — behind Western Michigan but ahead of six-time reigning division champion Northern Illinois.
No pressure, guys.
Such is life at two of the league’s steadiest programs, where the standards endure — even as their coaches do not. Three of the past four coaches at both schools left for the head coaching jobs at current power-conference colleges, from Gary Pinkel to Matt Campbell at Toledo and from Urban Meyer to Dino Babers at Bowling Green. (In that same span, a total of seven coaches from the other 10 MAC programs left for Power Five gigs.)
“When you think about the opportunity as a young coach to be a head coach for the first time, you always anticipate it to be at a place where the culture is broken or there's a bunch of change that needs to happen,” said the 36-year-old Candle, who was Campbell’s offensive coordinator. ”Certainly, our staff will put our spin on things and we'll make it our program. But the culture that has been maintained and we’re trying to build on is very good. We’re excited.”
Jinks also embraces inheriting a winner — “Ten out of 10 times,” he said, “you want this opportunity” — but we envy him less.
The expectations for Bowling Green feel like a setup.
Anything less than another division title will be judged a letdown, and that is hardly fair to Jinks.
Call me crazy, but the early love is over the top — a tribute to BG’s success the past three years more than a hard look at the present. Beyond adapting to a new coach, the Falcons must replace 12 starters — including record-setting quarterback Matt Johnson and all of their top playmakers — and face a labor-intensive schedule.
They play three 2015 bowl teams out of conference, then hit the road to meet crossover opponents Toledo and Northern Illinois, and their toughest intradivision rival, Ohio, our pick to win the East.
For Jinks, it is also less than ideal to already be reporting to his second athletic director. That goes for any just-hired coach, and double in this case, where former Falcons AD Chris Kingston almost unilaterally forayed miles into left field to tab a running backs coach from Texas Tech who had never set foot in Ohio.
“If I would have gotten hired and the president would have left in a couple of months, I would be in the same shoes,” new AD Bob Moosbrugger said Thursday.
“You just try to reassure him that we have his back. We're going to support him and, ultimately, we need to support him.”
He added: “Obviously, everybody has to give him a chance and get to know him. Once people get to know him, they really like him. He’s great. He brings great energy. We’re all excited for the season.”
And maybe they have good reason. We will gladly be proven wrong.
Jinks would not have it any other way. He believes strongly in his first team, saying, “We feel like we should be picked to win the East as well.” At the least, he has a good place to start, with a veteran quarterback — James Knapke — working behind the league’s best offensive line. The Falcons return a national-best 140 career starts up front.
But the expectations do him no favors. No matter how much he welcomes them.