BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Western Kentucky knew who it wanted as the Hilltoppers’ next football coach, and Tyson Helton was eager to rejoin the program he knows so very well.
Both hope it makes for a good fit.
The school announced on Tuesday it had hired the former Tennessee offensive coordinator, who returns to the program where he led one of the nation’s top offenses in 2014 and ’15.
Helton, 41, who met with Hilltopper players earlier on Tuesday, said later during a news conference that he was “ecstatic” to be leading the program. WKU enjoyed a highly successful stretch with Helton running the offense under then-coach Jeff Brohm, now at Purdue.
The ‘Toppers went 12-2 and won the Conference USA championship in 2015 with record-breaking quarterback Brandon Doughty and finished No. 24 in the Top 25.
Helton said he expects WKU to reach that same level of success.
“Obviously, we’ve been successful here but it’s about winning championships at the end of the day,” said Helton, who received a four-year contract with an annual base salary of $800,000 plus incentives. “I felt like Western was at a place where we could take it to new heights.
“We had been at a certain level, but the opportunity to take it to a whole other level, get back to a championship mentality, that was special for me.”
A former quarterback at Houston under his father Kim, Helton spent last season with the Volunteers after two years working under his brother, Clay Helton, at USC. He also worked at Cincinnati in 2013 and UAB from 2007-12.
WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said in a release that Helton’s offensive background “fit our mission to find the next great leader” of the program. Helton replaces Mike Sanford, who was fired on Sunday after going 9-16 over two years, including 3-9 this season.
Helton’s job will be restoring the Hilltoppers to their former offensive glory and make them a winning program after stepping back under Sanford. They ranked 103rd nationally in total offense at 363.7 yards per game and lost six in a row before regrouping to win their final two games.
That strong finish wasn’t enough to save Sanford’s job as WKU closed its first losing regular since going 2-10 in 2010 under first-year coach Willie Taggart. Along the way, Stewart began identifying candidates and zeroed in on Helton because of his previous time with the program and the energy he created.
Helton was just as interested in the job, resulting in a quick process to bring him back into the fold.
“He was the number one guy,” Stewart said during the news conference. “The whole process of making a move was made much easier. When you identify somebody as the number one person and it’s validated that they are as equally interested in you, to me there is no reason to prolong it.”
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25