Welcome back to our series profiling potential replacements for Geoff Collins.
Georgia Tech is still likely weeks away from hiring an Athletic Director, which will then kick off the coach hiring process in earnest. However, we are providing this series on candidates now because that’s the way the coaching cycle works. This is going to be a massively important hire for Georgia Tech, and we would like to help get good analysis about potential candidates out there sooner than later.
By producing this series, we aim to provide numerical context and analysis of Tech’s many options. We hope that this series provides reference for the numerous spirited discussions that are sure to occur over the coming weeks. In these profiles, we will focus on the candidate’s career in terms of Success Rate, the candidates’ history coaching the QB position, the schemes employed, and contract/money considerations. We’ll also include a Reasons to Hire/Risks section to add context that may not be reflected in the numbers. We hope you find these profiles useful and entertaining.
Today, we dive into the candidacy of Sean Lewis, an offensive genius in the modern era of college football.
TE at Wisconsin 2006-2007
2012–2013 Eastern Illinois (IWR/TE)
- 2012 Record: 7-5 (Ohio Valley Conf. Champs/FCS Playoff Berth)
- 2013 Record: 12-2 (Ohio Valley Conf. Champs/FCS Quarterfinals)
Lewis joined Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois as a position coach, and followed him all the way to Syracuse before being hired as the HC for Kent State. Eastern Illinois was a huge rebuilding success for Dino Babers and his staff, taking a bottom-feeder program and making the FCS playoffs both years on campus.
2014 Bowling Green (WR)
- 2014 Record: 8-6 (MAC Runner-Up)
Babers, Lewis, and the rest of the staff immediately saw success at Bowling Green as well, though they inherited a great situation from Dave Clawson, the gold standard of program building. This year was actually a step down from Clawson’s final season, but improvements were coming.
2015 Bowling Green (co-OC/QB)
- 2015 Record: 10-4 (MAC Champs)
Bowling Green Offensive Success Rate +
Lewis was promoted to co-OC/QB coach following the 2014 season, and led an impressive offense. 116 Offensive SR+ is excellent. He inherited an already above-average offense and elevated it to new heights. The Bowling Green offense average 6.7 yards per play vs 5.5 the previous year. It was only a one year sample, but it was impressive. QB Matt Johnson was stellar, passing for almost 5000 yards at a 8.7 yard/att clip. This offense scored over 60 points twice in conference play and came close to doing it 3 times with a 59-10 drubbing of Akron. This complete and total offensive domination dragged a subpar defense to a MAC Championship.
2016–2017 Syracuse (co-OC/QB)
- 2016 Record: 4-8
- 2017 Record: 4-8
Syracuse Offensive Success Rate +
Lewis hit the first major struggle of his career at Syracuse. While he did improve the offense overall, the offenses he fielded were still subpar. This is Lewis’s only experience coaching in the Power-5, and it is a small sample. This stop is one of 2 pieces of success rate data that point to the risks of hiring Lewis.
2018–present Kent State HC
- 2018 Record: 2-10
- 2019 Record: 7-6
- 2020 Record: 3-1 (COVID Shortened)
- 2021 Record: 7-7 (MAC Runner-Up)
Kent State Offensive Success Rate +
Kent State Defensive Success Rate -
NOTE: Remember lower is better for “-” Normalized Stats
Kent State Net Success Rate +
Lewis was hired by Kent State prior to the 2018 season, and his performance there so far perfectly illustrates some of the reasons to hire him, as well as some of the largest risks in doing so. The Kent State tenure can only be described as a program building success. Lewis inherited a team that was absolutely awful and turned it into a respectable team. The record, and even many of the stats, don’t reflect a team that is better than average so far, but some of that is schedule. Kent State scheduling is brutal, and they manage to play multiple top-10 programs seemingly every year. This year 3 of their first 4 games were against Washington, Oklahoma, and uga. They’ve actually held up well, considering the caliber of competition.
Since Lewis was hired, the turnaround on offense has been spectacular. Kent State went from one of the worst offenses in all of FBS to one of the best by success rate in a short amount of time. That’s despite the schedule. The big area of concern is defense. Lewis has never been a defensive coach, and his defenses at Kent State have been downright bad. Many Tech fans were frustrated similarly by Paul Johnson, who was an offensive savant but always fielded subpar defenses (although much better than those in the Collins era). While many Tech fans, these authors included, would gladly go back to the successes and failures of the CPJ era compared to these last few years, we are trying to find the optimal hire through this series, and not simply a better hire.
To put this level of improvement in context, let’s see how Lewis’s net impact stands in the industry. Part of the inspiration for this series came from a dataset over a 20 year period of 370 coaches we built that compares the three year performance before a head coach’s arrival to the performance during his tenure. We can use that data to calculate several different net impact metrics. His Kent State tenure looks even better from this perspective.
Out of 370 coaches, he ranks:
- 15th in net impact on PPA
- 32nd in net impact on success rate
- 41st in net impact on passing success rate
- 47th in ESPN FPI
- 98th in net impact on run stuff rate
These are elite numbers across the board. Lewis has fundamentally improved the level of football being played in Kent.
Next we take a look at the QBs coached by our candidates. Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and failure to field a quality player at the position has derailed many coaching careers over the years. Even coaches from defensive backgrounds must have trusted staff members to develop a QB. For this section, we’ll take a look at the primary QB under each coach when the coach was either a QB coach, Offensive Coordinator, or Head Coach at the FBS level.
To analyze QB results, well analyze PPA/Pass Attempt, Passer Rating, PFF TEAM Passing Grade, and PFF QB INDIVIDUAL overall offense grade(Includes running). These data points are meant to be taken together, painting a multi-faceted picture of QB performance.
|Team||Year||Coach Role||Primary QB||PPA/Att||Passer Rating||PFF Team Pass Grade||PFF Individual Off Grade|
|Bowling Green||2015||Co-OC/QB||Matt Johnson||0.441||164.2||91.2||91.4|
|Kent State||2018||HC||Woody Barrett||0.019||113.8||57.2||62|
|Kent State||2019||HC||Dustin Crum||0.302||159.6||90.1||90.4|
|Kent State||2020||HC||Dustin Crum||0.628||192.7||80.4||85.1|
|Kent State||2021||HC||Dustin Crum||0.246||148.9||84.3||91.4|
Lewis has 2 major QB development success stories in his young career, with Matt Johnson at Bowling Green and Dustin Crum at Kent State. While none of his QBs have been drafted, Lewis has produced strong college QBs. Crum is especially impressive, putting up ludicrous PPA/Att numbers in a small sample in 2020 and gaining an elite grade from PFF in 2021. Crum was the MAC Player of the Year in 2021. So far in 2022, Collin Schlee has been solid, despite playing three excellent P5 teams already. Kent State’s passing offense has been about average in raw EPA/play, which is actually quite impressive given the level of competition faced.
There are 3 main “coaching attributes” we are talking about across this series. These attributes serve as “inputs” to coaching performance, while “outputs” include W/L Record and Play-by-Play data. These attributes are:
- Recruiting - How well a coach brings in talent
- Development - How well a coach develops that talent
- Deployment - How well a coach deploys talent (Scheme/Playcalling)
Lewis is known as a strong QB developer and deployer(Sensing a theme yet?). He developed Matt Johnson and Dustin Crum into stellar college players, and put up absolutely absurd numbers at Bowling Green. Kent State with Crum at QB was similarly impressive.
Lewis has adapted the offense under him over the years, modifying his tactics based on the skill set of the QB running the show. At Bowling Green and Syracuse, Lewis ran a balanced offense that passed a bit more than it ran. That changed at Kent State, which has become more run heavy as his tenure has progressed. This meshed with Dustin Crum, who was a big, powerful runner at the QB position.
The Kent State offense under Lewis has operated under a simple thesis: Spread the defense horizontally, then hit the thin box with option runs and RPO. When the defense draws inside, the offense then looks to hit screens and deep shots. They have run this offense to great success using multiple packages. They operate both a 10 personnel set and an 11 personnel set with an H-back TE. They also ran a 2-QB formation that might have gotten a bit too cute.
Kent State runs successfully utilizing a lot of “pull and pin” blocking, and they like to go fast. Very fast. In previous years, the Golden Flashes averaged 75 plays a game despite a run heavy offense, which shows how quickly they operate. This isn’t surprising for a coach from the Babers tree.
Sean Lewis made only $510,000 in 2021 in the first year of a new deal that runs through 2025. His buyout was $800,000 through January of 2022, and is now zero.
Reasons to Hire
Lewis has built up the Kent State program from perennial FBS cellar-dweller to MAC contender. It’s extremely difficult to win at Kent State. Resources are limited. There seem to be multiple top 10 teams on the schedule each year because of the limited resources in the athletic department and the need to schedule big guarantee games. Before Lewis arrived in 2018, the program hadn’t had a winning season since 2012.
Lewis currently has no buyout. Georgia Tech is heavily in debt and is now paying Geoff Collins a lot of money to not coach. Lewis has the potential to be a very cheap hire. This alone is not a reason to hire someone, but it has to be weighed with other factors when you have the financial constraints of Georgia Tech.
Lewis has fielded impressive offenses at Kent State and Bowling Green, with excellent QB play at both stops. Lewis has improved every offense he’s ever touched, even if those Syracuse offenses were not good overall.
Sean Lewis is very young and doesn’t have a ton of experience. This also means he may have a hard time pulling together a staff when he doesn’t have a large network of coaches who have worked with him in the past.
At Syracuse, Lewis did improve on what he inherited but still couldn’t break through to above average offense. This is one stop across his career, but it is also his only foray into the Power 5. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it does increase risk associated with the hire.
In a similar vein to Chadwell and Grayson McCall, much of Lewis’s success at Kent State has been thanks to the play of QB Dustin Crum. Unlike Chadwell, Lewis doesn’t have a history of building programs prior to his current stop to mitigate our understanding of this risk. With Crum graduated, 2022 is a key year for Lewis and vital to monitor closely for those in decision making positions.
Under Lewis, Kent State’s defenses have been bad, and that is dragging down the impact of the stellar offenses that the Golden Flashes have fielded. Kent State won two games in 2021 in which they gave up 47(!!!) points. Some of that is the fast pace of the offense causing more drives, but it’s still not good, and the play-by-play data backs that up.
Lewis is more of a Midwest guy, and as such won’t have the built-in connections in the southeast that help recruiting. These connections can always be made through hiring assistants and hard work, but it’s worth nothing that they don’t currently exist and that he’d have to establish them.
Sean Lewis is an interesting up-and-comer who has begun to build a reputation as a program builder at a young age. His turnaround of the Kent State program has been impressive, though he doesn’t have the enduring track record of other coaches who we have profiled as part of this series. This imparts risk, and it would be prudent to wait for more data before any Power-5 school hires him. For the authors, Lewis is a bit down the list compared to others who have been profiled. That said, if Tech struggles to attract its top targets or runs into financial issues during the search, Lewis would be worth a call.