BOWLING GREEN — Dino Babers sounded more like a pastry chef than a football coach when he talked to the Bowling Green State University football team for the first time.
“When I was talking to the team, I said, ‘I want to win. Winning is important,’ ” said Babers, who was introduced as the 18th coach in program history Thursday. “We’re not going to be making drastic changes around here.
“But if you let us bake the cake a little bit different — let us turn the oven down and keep it in there a little longer — it will still be a cake, and it will taste a lot different.”
Babers comes to Bowling Green from Eastern Illinois, where he whipped up a 19-7 record in two seasons. He replaces Dave Clawson, who this past season led the Falcons to a 10-3 mark, the school’s first Mid-American Conference title since 1992, and a bid in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl before taking the head coaching position at Wake Forest.
BG athletic director Chris Kingston said Babers received a five-year contract with a $400,000 base salary, along with incentives based on academic and on-field goals. Kingston said the contract also has a sliding scale of buyouts should Babers leave before the contract ends.
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Kingston, who served as the point person on the coaching search, said Babers wasn’t the only coach he interviewed.
“But he was my No. 1 [choice],” Kingston said. “We didn’t know one another, but all during the season I would get excited when I would see him, see his team, and see what they were achieving.
“I researched his background, and I researched how he would fit with Bowling Green.”
This year Eastern Illinois was 12-2 overall and ranked No. 2 in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Panthers advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, using a high-powered offense that led all FCS schools in total offense (589.5 yards per game) and scoring offense (48.2 points per game).
Babers certainly has the attention of the returning players in BG’s offense. When freshman receiver Ronnie Moore asked his new coach was, “What offense do you run?” he was pleased by the response.
“He said, ‘Do you know the Baylor offense? That’s your offense,’ ” Moore said. “That’s fine with me, because I fit right into that offense: Bubble screens, throw the ball a lot. …
“It will be pretty exciting for me. Catching 80 or 100 passes? That’s fine for me.”
As for the defense, junior safety Ryland Ward said the new coach showed respect for a BG group that ranked fifth among BCS schools in points allowed (14.8 points) and eighth national in yards allowed (308.7 yards).
“I got the sense that we’re going to work with what we have,” Ward said. “We’re going to see what works best.
“We have some good leaders on our team, and I think we’ll be able to adjust to a new coach — and hopefully get to a higher level.”
Babers will not be coach the Falcons for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Interim coach Adam Scheier and the rest of the BG staff will lead the team in its bowl practices starting today, although Babers is expected to be at Ford Field for the game.
The Falcons will lose defensive coordinator Mike Elko and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero, both of whom will join Clawson at Wake Forest. Babers said he would meet with the remaining staff Thursday afternoon and hoped to have a staff in place soon.
“You really need to go slow with that, because it’s something that is going to be with you for a long time,” he said. “It’s like a marriage: You want to take your time to get the right one.
“I’m going to do my due diligence, call people, and do a lot of contact work on people before I decide on the final staff.”
Babers said he also looks forward to talking to the players who have made verbal commitments to sign with Bowling Green in February.
“I haven’t had a chance to call them yet, but once I get a legal opportunity I will make contact with them,” he said. “I will let them know we are honoring all of our commitments [made] before this.
“We can’t wait for them to come here and attend school here in the fall.”
Thursday’s introductions at the Stroh Center generated renewed excitement from the fan base as Babers talked about continuing the success of this past season.
“Some people who stay away from a job like this — I embrace it,” he said. “Winning is what we need to do. If we don’t win, I understand what’s going to happen. I’m a big boy.
“Taking a football team like this, that has a great base and a great foundation, and trying to put a little icing on the cake to make it taste different, I’m excited about that opportunity.”