Opinion: Giving Dan Enos another year to prove himself may be wise

Central Michigan football program could benefit from continuity at head coach in 2013.

Memories of better days came flooding back last Saturday afternoon at Kelly/Shorts Stadium and not just because Central Michigan alums Dan LeFevour and Nick Bellore were in attendance. CMU held a nine-point lead headed into the fourth quarter against rival Western Michigan, and looked to be in a position to win back-to-back games for the first time this year.

Senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff was having arguably his best game of the season and sophomore receiver Titus Davis was having the best game of his career. The Chippewas were looking much better than a team that has just nine total wins over the last three years; appearing confident and in control.

The offense was firing on all cylinders as Radcliff was in rhythm and junior halfback Zurlon Tipton continued where he left off against Akron just a week prior, quietly surpassing the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season. But Central’s Achilles’ heel reared its ugly head yet again, when the Chippewas’ defense allowed 28 fourth quarter points. The fourth quarter collapse handed the team its sixth loss of the season and pushed head coach Dan Enos‘ career record to 9-24.

But this game wasn’t about poor coaching, Enos put his team in a position to win. This loss was about a lack of talent and poor execution on defense.

Enos has stockpiled some impressive talent on the offensive side of the ball but the defense sports some serious holes and until they are addressed, the Chippewas will continue to struggle. In addition, unless Central wins its final three contests, the team will have failed to become bowl eligible for the third consecutive year. Even if the Chippewas somehow run the table and finish 6-6, the voices calling for Enos’ job will grow louder as the season draws to a close. The question will soon become whether it’s time for yet another regime change or if the team’s marginal progress will be enough to save Enos’ job.

Prior to the last two weeks, I would have undoubtedly sided with those who believe Enos has worn out his welcome in Mount Pleasant. But lately I’ve found myself conflicted about whether letting Enos go would be the best thing for CMU’s football program. The last three years have not been pretty and maybe the university shouldn’t have brought in a coach who wished to rid the program of a record-breaking spread attack in favor of a more traditional pro-style offense.

With that said, three years later the transition is complete on that side of the ball, and the offense is producing more than enough points to give the team a chance to win on a weekly basis. A change now could very well set this program back even further, as hard as that may be to believe. Enos finally has some players on offense to make a run at a MAC title, it’s just a matter of assembling enough talent on defense to avoid wasting more 30-plus point showings in 2013 and beyond.

Enos was handed a team with high expectations but without almost any of the players that helped Central establish them. In his first season, Enos led a team with just 13 seniors and 19 first-time starters. He is in the middle of rebuilding this team in his own image from the ground up, as the cupboards were left barren, at least in terms of what he was looking for. But after two consecutive 3-9 seasons and a 3-6 showing thus far in 2012, people are becoming impatient.

Fans often point to former Chippewa head coaches Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (Cincinnati) as proof that coaches can win in Mount Pleasant, as they were both partially responsible for the most successful stretch in program history. But their success did not happen overnight and Kelly, the architect of what became a MAC juggernaut, was just 19-16 in his three seasons at Central, winning just 10 games in his first two years.

It wasn’t until Kelly’s third year that the team experienced the type of success fans have come to expect, when Central finished with a 9-4 record in 2006. Jones then benefited from the talent Kelly had begun to assemble and the Chippewas went onto become a Top 25 team and a perennial MAC title contender.

Whether Enos can come close to replicating that type of success next year or in the years that may or may not follow, remains to be seen. But after deconstructing and building this team according to his vision, the last three years will be nothing more than a waste of time if he’s not allowed to finish what he started. If his team cannot only be competitive but win a game or two down the stretch, Enos might just get that chance.