There was always something about Kent State that interested Sean Lewis.
During his time at Bowling Green as a wide receivers coach in 2014 and co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015, Lewis noticed an “energy” as the Falcons pulled into Dix Stadium that resonated with him.
“I felt something that day,” Lewis said. “The tradition just blew me away. I said, ‘Man, this place is a special place.’ I put it in the back of my head and didn’t think very much about it until this year. Things come full circle.”
Lewis completed that circle Thursday when Kent State introduced him as the new head football coach for the Flashes, the 22nd person to hold the position.
Lewis, 31, is the youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a title previously held by 34-year-old Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.
Most recently, Lewis served as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Dino Babers at Syracuse.
“We are thrilled to bring Sean to Kent State," said Joel Nielsen, the director of athletics, in a press release. “Sean brings an innovative style of football to Kent State with an offensive system that is proven in the MAC. We are confident Sean can build broad support and engagement in our program, along with competitive success.”
The hire ends a long search for Nielsen and the athletic department. The position at Kent State was the final head coaching vacancy in the FBS to be filled.
Nielsen assured the press conference attendees Lewis was the only person offered the job.
Lewis branded his play style as “Flash F.A.S.T.,” an acronym standing for fun, accountability, smart and tough. He said this was how he wanted to coach Kent State both on and off the field.
“I believe in society right now, there’s an issue with what a true male is,” Lewis said. “You are measured by how much money is in your bank account, what kind of car is in your driveway, what kind of relationships you have. That could not be further from the truth. We are going to groom young men with integrity, with humility, with a great sense of humor and with a set of tools they can go out into this world with long after football is done.”
Lewis made his plans on the field clear.
“It’s a brand of football I feel very, very strongly about,” he said. “We’re going to play fast. We’re going to go fast. It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun to be a part of.”
This is an about-face from the Kent State teams of the Paul Haynes era.
Last season, Lewis and Syracuse led the nation in plays per game (87.8). Kent State was 110th out of 130 schools in the FBS with just 66.1 plays per game. During Lewis’ first season with the Orange in 2016, the team gained 5,290 yards of total offense, second-most in school history. In his last season with Bowling Green in 2015, the Falcons ranked fourth in the nation in total offense, and quarterback Matt Johnson finished second in the country in passing yards (4,946) and touchdowns (46).
Despite his extensive experience coaching quarterbacks, Lewis said he has not watched any film on Kent State’s current signal-callers and hasn’t made any judgments on players.
“We want to strike in a lot of different ways, whether that be through the air, in the ground, inside, outside,” he said. “We want to attack on all different levels so that we can have a whole lot of success.”
Because Haynes was known as a defensive-minded coach, much of the roster Lewis is inheriting is geared to play slower, more methodical game.
Lewis thinks this will change quickly.
“It’ll happen in a hurry,” he said. “We’re going to do things fast from the time these guys get back on campus. They’ll learn to live our lifestyle. It’s not just a deal where you live it at practice, or you live it on gamedays. It’s something you’re going to do 365 (days a year), 24/7.”
Lewis chose not to mention names he was considering bringing on to his staff, but he looked forward to working with all of them on his first recruiting class.
“When we get the staff assembled, we’ll get here during this dead period, and we’ll bust through a whole bunch of tape to get on the same page so we know what we’re hunting for,” he said. “We’ll hit the ground running when the NCAA allows us to get back out and show them what a beautiful place Kent State is.”
Lewis said he can use his mixture of experience at a mid-major like Bowling Green in the MAC and a Power 5 team like Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference to bring Kent State football back to relevance.
“There are things that we’re going to be able to do here that make it feel big-time, like a Power 5 school,” he said. “With the resources that we have and little things like uniform combinations to the gear that our guys get, we’re going to be able to make this a special and unique experience for our guys.”
Lewis is coming at a time when confidence in Kent State football is at a low point. The Flashes went 2-10 last season, including 1-7 in the MAC. Over Haynes’ five seasons at the helm, the team went 14-45 overall and 9-30 in the conference.
Despite these facts, Lewis had no problem setting some high goals for Kent State fans to look forward to.
“We’re going to own the Wagon Wheel,” he said. “Rivalry games matter, and that school down the road is going to know we’re here. We’re going to win the (MAC) East, and we’re going to win a MAC Championship while we’re here. Last but not least, we will play in a Jan. 1 bowl game when this is all said and done.”
Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Orner is the enterprise producer for KentWired and the executive producer for TV2. Contact him at email@example.com.