Kent State found a coach and quarterback to lift football to success
The Kent State University football team is on the verge of its third straight winning season, something they haven't done since the 1972-1974 seasons under head coach Don James.
The team is 6-5 (5-2 in the Mid-American Conference). They play Miami of Ohio on Saturday for the MAC East title and a berth in the MAC championship game.
Terry Pluto says head coach Sean Lewis has been the key to the turnaround. He was hired in 2017 at 31-years-old, making him the youngest FBS coach. He has a 13-6 record in the MAC over the last three seasons.
Lewis and Crum
When Lewis was introduced as Kent State's new coach, he promised a high-tempo offense with an emphasis on no huddle.
"That is exactly the opposite way that I would play at Kent in the MAC. You're going to get destroyed," Pluto said. "You need a good quarterback to run that and you need pretty good fast athletes."
But Lewis found that quarterback in Dustin Crum. "He's is perfect for this system," Pluto said.
Crum is a Grafton native and a senior at Kent State. Through 11 games this season, he has more than 2,400 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. He's completed 64% of his passes.
His stats were similar in 2019, when he led Kent State to their first bowl win against Utah State in the Frisco Bowl.
"The last three years [Lewis] has put Kent football on the map."Terry Pluto
Navigating an automatic 0-3
Schools in the Mid-American Conference schedule a few "big money" games each season against powerhouse opponents like Ohio State and Alabama. For example, this season Kent State traveled to play Texas A&M. The Record Courier reports KSU's payout was $1.2 million. They lost 41-10.
Pluto says these money games pretty much guarantee three losses for schools like Kent State each season, which makes their current 6-5 record all the more impressive.
Earlier this year, Kent State gave Lewis a contract extension through 2025.
He'll likely be getting some offers from bigger programs trying to lure him away during the offseason. But Pluto says that usually doesn't work out.
He cites Darrell Hazel. After leading Kent State to an 11-3 record in 2012, Hazel took a job coaching at Purdue. He went 9-33 during his three-and-a-half-year tenure there. He ended up landing on his feet as a wide receivers coach for the Minnesota Vikings, where he's been since 2017.
"I would suggest that if people come after coach Lewis, he be very careful where he goes, because you have something good going in Kent," Pluto said.
Overall, Pluto says Kent State's turnaround has been remarkable.
"The cool thing is I never thought we'd be talking about coaches leaving Kent for other schools [and] going to bowl games. They've done it with a fun style. That's something that engages the fans."