Mike Jinks’s college coaching career is moving as fast as the offenses he coaches.
The 43-year-old head of the Bowling Green football team just finished his first spring as a head coach, less than three years after making the jump from high school coaching to Division I. Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury hired Jinks in January 2013 to coach running backs and by January 2015, Jinks had earned a bump to associate head coach.
Less than a year later the lifelong Texan met the media as Bowling Green's new head coach, and he will bring his high-tempo attack to a program that is used to that. In 2015 Texas Tech averaged 83 plays per game, Bowling Green 81.
“The first question I got was, ‘What was your connection to Bowling Green? Who did you know?’” Jinks said. “A lot of people scratching their head, trying to figure it out. I understand that. It was out of nowhere. I didn’t have an agent, I wasn’t actively pursuing head coaching position, definitely not 1,500 miles from Texas.”
You’ve heard of overnight successes after 20 years? That’s Jinks, who wasn’t even considering coaching as a career in 1995, when a group of high school coaches ordered beers from him at the restaurant he worked at. His back and forth with them was football themed, and the next day a high school coach contacted him to interview for a coaching position.
Jinks had been a quarterback in high school and Division II Angelo State, where he earned a degree in kinesiology and math. He tried out for the CFL, and then wasn’t sure what to do. After two years of coaching, he was sure. He and his coaching colleagues turned a sad sack program into a playoff team, and he was hooked.
“Those first two years I thought about doing something else,” said Jinks. “It’s different than when you were playing. You don’t realize the work that goes into it. No clue. When you play it’s just the practices and then you go home, and you lift.
“It wasn’t until we made that first playoff run that I realized how rewarding it can be, that there are things more important than yourself. Watching the joy it brought to the parents, that’s when I knew it was something I could do for the rest of my life.”
Jinks moved around until he scored his first head coaching job in 2005. He moved again a year later, to Steele High, leading it to a 2010 state title and a trip to the title game the year after. In 2012 he head-coached the West team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and left for Texas Tech with a 79-25 record as a high school head coach.
Jinks’s success at the high school level meant a lot to Bowling Green athletic director Chris Kingston, mainly because it happened in Texas. Also important was the endorsements of Kingsbury and Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt. Kingston had started researching head coaching candidates in November 2015 because he knew Dino Babers might leave the Bowling Green head coaching job for another opportunity.
After Bowling Green won its second MAC title in the past three seasons, Babers confirmed he would take the Syracuse job. The next day, Kingston and his staff were in Lubbock to speak with Jinks, and soon after he deal was done.
Kingston said it might seem strange he targeted a Texas Tech assistant who had been in the college ranks for three years, but he said there was a method.
Kingston wanted a man of character, sure, and a leader who understood the importance of academics and could handle himself with the media and boosters. Jinks had to handle recruiting and booster duties as associate head coach, and Kingston liked what he had seen on tape of Jinks conducting practices.
“The media will not know he’s a first-year head coach in his fourth year of Division I football,” Kingston said. “He has the emotional intelligence to reach kids where they’re at perhaps better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Kingston also wanted someone who coached a high tempo offense; the Falcons are used to it, from a physical conditioning standpoint, and there was no sense in changing more than was necessary. When he began scouting replacements for Babers, he began with statistics, and said Texas Tech kept meeting his parameters.
“We’re still going to be up tempo and score a lot of points, but the conditioning to run 82, 83, 84 plays a game has got to be in the ballpark,” said Kingston. “They’re ready for what Mike Jinks brings.”
Kingston has some trivia that bolsters his hiring of Jinks too: there’s a precedent for a coach jumping from high school success to Texas Tech running backs coach for a few years and then a head coaching job in Division I.
A guy by the name of Art Briles, who turned the University of Houston into a winner before taking over at regular national power Baylor. Babers had learned the Baylor offense under Briles before he took the Falcons job in 2013.
Jinks is of course elated. Not only did the job drop in his lap, but he’s inheriting a program that in the past three years has won 28 games and two MAC titles with a familiar offensive philosophy. One of his staff has Florida connections, and Jinks now brings the Texas connections, though he insists that Ohio kids are recruiting priorities.
The Falcons have lost weapons in the skills group, but the offensive line returns. Jinks said 90 snaps a game is realistic in 2016, when they open at Ohio State.
“We’re going to do what the defense allows us to do,” said Jinks. “The biggest deal I can tell you is tempo. (The program’s) hashtag last year was #falconfast. I told the kids this year it’s #falconfaster. That is the great equalizer. We will continue to push the tempo and play with great pace.”
COACHING CHANGES FOR 2016
Pete Lembo (Maryland)
Dino Babers (Syracuse)
Dan McCarney, Mike Canales
Todd Monken (NFL*)
Matt Campbell (Iowa State)
*—Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator
Joe Moorhead (Penn State)
Everett Withers (Texas State)
Matt Viator (Louisiana-Monroe)
Mike Houston (James Madison)
Above and middle: Bowling Green head coach Mike Jinks. (Courtesy BGSU Athletics)