Seven years ago, Dino Babers didn't think he would ever be a head coach. Back then, Babers was Baylor's wide receivers coach. He was 47 years old and had just interviewed unsuccessfully again for a head-coaching gig, this time at New Mexico State. It was the third time Babers had been passed over an FBS opening after previous interviews at Nevada and San Diego State.
"I finally said, 'OK, I'm going to be the best damn assistant I can be and this is not in the cards for me,'" Babers tells The Inside Read.
But there was another opportunity awaiting Babers. Only it was three years later at Eastern Illinois, an FCS school that had won four games in the previous two seasons. Babers wasn't sure if he should accept the position with the salary being half what he was making at Baylor. So he asked his boss, Bears coach Art Briles, for advice.
"You can stay here and always have a job or you can go off on your own," Briles told Babers. "But if you stay, you're going to always wonder whether you can do it or not. If you're successful, then you'll have an opportunity to get more jobs. If you're not successful, you can always come back to the Big 12 and be a wide receivers coach. It's whether you want to bet on yourself or not."
Babers went all in. And now as Bowling Green's coach has parlayed his success into becoming one of this season's hottest names for head-coaching jobs. Backed by fast-paced, high-flying offense that busts scoreboards, he has more Big Ten wins this season (two) than any other team in that conference so far.
The cerebral Babers has Bowling Green off to a 3-2 start entering Saturday's game against UMass. Besides winning at Maryland and Purdue, his team's only losses are to Tennessee and undefeated Memphis.
The 54-year-old Babers appears to be the latest Bowling Green coach headed for greater prominence following Urban Meyer (Utah, Florida, Ohio State) and Dave Clawson (Wake Forest).
"I had to roll the dice," Babers tells The Inside Read of leaving Baylor. "It was a leap of faith."
As impressive as this season has been for Babers, his debut at Bowling Green last year might have been even better. After inheriting a pro-style offense and losing current star starting quarterback Matt Johnson to a season-ending injury in his team's first game, Babers still led the Falcons to the MAC East title and the Camellia Bowl to finish with an 8-6 record.
"That," Babers says, "really might of have been our best coaching job."
But it's hard for Babers to top his revival of Eastern Illinois. During his two seasons there, he had a 19-7 record and both years made the FCS playoffs behind star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is now Tom Brady's backup in New England.
Babers felt moved by his Christian faith to accept the job at Eastern Illinois before he spoke with Briles about it, but a pearl of wisdom from that conversation also resonated with Babers. "The only jobs I've ever gotten," Briles told Babers, "have been the ones nobody else wanted."
Babers credits Briles for influencing his offense, which is similar to Baylor's except that Babers' features more snaps under center. That's one of the more traditional concepts he installed so his attack can better operate with the rain and cold that often come with playing in the MAC.
And unlike many offensive coaches, Babers calls his plays mainly from memory, not the play-sheet in his back pocket. "You have to watch the game," Babers says. "If you're using a sheet, you're just calling it from down and distance. So on third-and-2, you want to call this play because when you watched the tape, this is what the defense did. What we do is we remember what they did in that situation and we watch the game, which gives us a better opportunity to adjust to things like personnel changes faster because we're actually seeing what's going on."
That also makes it more difficult for opponents to identify Babers' offensive tendencies in advance. "The night before the game," Babers says with a laugh, "I don't want the defensive coordinator to be able to sleep."
And while Babers didn't discuss it with The Inside Read, perhaps his finest moment this season occurred on the way back from Bowling Green's 28-22 victory at Buffalo last Saturday. That's when he and assistant athletic trainer Chelsea Lowe pulled an injured driver from her burning car after she swerved in front of the team bus and crashed into a divider outside Cleveland. Babers then returned to the woman's car and retrieved her personal items before it was completely engulfed by flames.
Instead of talking about his heroism, he prefers to discuss how he's going to find "beasts" for the remaining six scholarships in Bowling Green's current recruiting class. These days, the coaches who were hired over Babers for the FBS jobs he failed to get are no longer in major college football and none have ever been FBS head coaches again.
And while Babers' name is sure to come up often in the coming weeks for head-coaching jobs, he insists he enjoys the close-knit community of Bowling Green, Ohio (population 31,802). He's such a regular at the nearby Starbucks that baristas start to make his favorite drink, a Venti skinny hazelnut latte with soy, once he walks in the door.
"We've got a Bob Evans and a Starbucks, are you kidding me?" Babers says. "And don't forget about the Chipotle. That's big-time."
Babers is headed for a bigger job, probably sooner than later. It will likely be a gamble, but he'll be ready to bet on himself again.
Middle Tennessee State QB Brent Stockstill at home playing for dad
Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Stockstill was driving his son, Brent, home two years ago after his final high school baseball game and beaming with pride. "This is the coach in me talking, not your dad, but you're everything a coach wants to coach from leadership, toughness and competitiveness, all that stuff," the elder Stockstill recalls telling son. "You're really going to do good up there at Cincinnati."
Brent had signed to play football with the Bearcats a few months earlier and would soon be leaving for summer workouts. Brent got quiet before turning to face his father.
"Dad," Brent said, "all I ever wanted to do was play for you."
The words stunned Rick. The summer before Brent's senior year, they had agreed that it would probably be best for Brent to forge his own path. "It hit me like a ton bricks," Rick tells the Inside Read.
Brent's decision to play for his father has been just as surprising as his impressive play this season. He has emerged as one of the FBS' best young quarterbacks by completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,507 yards with 13 touchdown and just two interceptions.
The 6-foot, 192-pound redshirt freshman leads all first-year players in passing yards and is ninth nationally. Although Middle Tennessee is off to a 2-3 start this season entering Saturday's game at Western Kentucky, the Blue Raiders' defeats are to Alabama, Illinois and Vanderbilt. The latter two came by a combined six points.
"He's very, very competitive and a tough joker," Rick Stockstill says of his son. "He's making some really, really good throws. He's playing really well."
Brent Stockstill was allowed to play for his 57-year-old father only after he was released from scholarship by Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville. But before Rick called to make that request, he and his son had another heart-to-heart.
"You can win the Heisman, you can win every game and there's going to be a certain group that think the only reason you play is because of me," Rick recalls telling his son.
This time, Brent's response wasn't surprising. "I can handle it," he told his father.
Brent Stockstill grayshirted in 2013 to further rehabilitate an ACL injury he suffered his senior year at Siegel High in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and then redshirted last season. Like his father, Brent wants to be a coach after he's done playing. That makes Rick proud because his son has seen all the work he put in as an assistant at Clemson, East Carolina and South Carolina before finally being hired to his current position 10 years ago.
The elder Stockstill has a 59-58 record with the Blue Raiders with a Sun Belt title and four bowl appearances. This is his program's third season in Conference USA. He knows just how much his son sacrificed to play for him.
"He could have played in a lot bigger conference at a place with a lot better facilities and all that kind of stuff," Rick Stockstill says. "It makes me feel good. Hopefully that means I'm doing things the right way."
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