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Tom Arth couldn't turn around Akron football. Who can?

A photo of Tom Arth
University of Akron
Tom Arth was fired last week after posting a 3-24 record in his two-plus seasons at Akron.

The University of Akron has undergone a plethora of changes in recent years. There have been four presidents since 2014 and several athletic directors. And that has meant big changes for its long-struggling football team.

This past week, coach Tom Arth was the latest fallout. He was fired during his third season and a 3-24 record.

The team has had just one winning season since 2006, when they went 8-5 in 2015 and won the Idaho Potato Bowl. Most years the team has struggled to win more than a few games.

Terry Pluto says it's tough for a team to build any momentum when there is constant change.

The team has fired its last five coaches going back to 2003: Arth, Terry Bowden, Rob Ianello, J.D. Brookhart and Lee Owens.

But when Arth was hired in 2019, Pluto said, "If this guy doesn't start to win at Akron, I don't know who's going to do it."

Pluto figured the former Cleveland St. Ignatius player who went on to be Peyton Manning's backup in the NFL and then coach at John Carroll University and Tennessee Chattanooga was the perfect fit.

"If [Arth] wasn't going to get [The University of Akron] to around .500, who is going to do it? And it didn't happen.
Terry Pluto

The process
Pluto says he understands that a new athletic director would want to hire their own coach. President Gary Miller hired Charles Guthrie for that position this year, so Arth likely knew he was on borrowed time.

Still, hiring a coach who can turn around a team is easier said than done, because Pluto says a football team is like "an army" with so many positions to fit together.

"I think a lot of these [athletic directors] come in and find out it's hard," said Pluto. "You have a wonderful stadium, very few fans in it and zero football tradition."

The University of Akron has had its share of budget problems in recent years, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. The school made cuts to its athletic budget last year. On top of that, Akron's annual debt payment for the bonds that financed InfoCision Stadium is around $4 million.

Who would want the job?
As the school begins another search for a head coach, Pluto says there will be some current assistants across the country who will want the opportunity despite its challenges.

He says Arth's base salary was about $400,000 a year, which is attractive. (He'll be owed $637,000 over the next two years.)

Pluto figures interim coach Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. would likely want it.

But one unattractive aspect of the job is that none of the coaches who were fired at Akron went on to any better jobs. "It's not like you got there and say, 'This is a nice stepping stone.'"

Looking ahead
Pluto said the most important thing the university needs is stability. Coaches can only be used as scapegoats for so long, and he says it can't always be their fault.

"There are so many challenges that start from the president on down," said Pluto. "Just saying you can hire a coach and it's fixed is really shortsighted."

Pluto says the school has started to look at ways to infuse its athletics program. In July, it released its Athletics Review Working Group final report.

"They're looking at hiring a couple of fundraisers. They're looking at playing three money games a year." Akron currently plays two such games against powerhouses for a big payout, but next season will play three. They'll face Michigan State, Tennessee and Liberty.

Still, above all, Pluto said along with stability, there's another key: "Nobody wants to hear it because it has been so frustrating, but it is going to take some time."

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Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.
Christian Hinton is a Senior at Kent State University majoring in Broadcast Journalism. Through his time at Kent State University, he's had his own sports radio show on Black Squirrel Radio along with participating in live sports reporting for TV2.