WKU football gets new offensive coordinator, LendingTree Bowl bound

Athletic Director Todd Stewart and football head coach Tyson Helton stand on the sideline at practice, Aug. 17, 2020

WKU Athletics announced on Dec. 13 that the football program will play in the twenty-second LendingTree Bowl on Dec. 26 at 2:30 p.m. against Georgia State University in Mobile, Alabama. 

Monday It was also announced that the Hilltoppers would have a new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Zach Kittley joining the program. Kittley coached Kansas City Chief Patrick Mahomes during the quarterbacks three seasons at Texas Tech.

Most recently, Kittley has been at Houston Baptist University where the veteran coach was nothing but impressive this season. In four games, Kittley’s players produced 459.5 passing yards per game and 88.5 rushing yards per game.

“I’m excited for Zach and his family to get this opportunity at Western Kentucky,” Mahomes told WKU Athletics. “He’s a talented young coach who certainly made an impact on my career while we were together at Texas Tech. I appreciate the time he invested in me on and off the field, and I know he will do the same for the student-athletes at WKU. I’m looking forward to watching him continue his coaching career and wish him the best of luck.”

Current offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis’ future now rests in the balance with the signing of Kittley. Ellis will still be calling the shots on offense for WKU’s bowl game, but if he wishes to remain with the Hilltoppers it’s going to have to be with a new position.

Ellis spent two seasons as WKU’s offensive coordinator, in which his offenses ranked at No. 10 and No. 13 in the scoring department for Conference USA. The Hilltoppers averaged just 20.7 points per game in those two years.

Athletic Director Todd Stewart and head coach Tyson Helton addressed the news of the bowl game Monday morning. WKU finished the regular season (5-6) on a three game winning streak prior to the bowl game that will be played next Saturday. 

“For the 2020 team this was truly earned,” Stewart said. “It recognizes the successes this team had, but also the dedication and the discipline and the sacrifices and the resilience they had to have on a daily basis since returning to campus in June.” 

There will be 66 teams that are slated to play in 33 bowl games this season, WKU will be one of them after finishing (4-3) in Conference USA play in 2020. 

“It’s pretty special to say that you got all 11 football games,” Helton said. “To have had the challenging schedule and to be able to sit here today and say we’re playing in the postseason and going to the LendingTree Bowl and have the opportunity to send our guys off right that’s pretty special.”

Helton did have one update on personnel as far as the bowl game goes following players entering the transfer portal on the tail end of the season. 

“Kevaris Thomas has decided to move on just based on the timing of the bowl and in his opportunities,” Helton said. “When I sit here as the head football coach I have to say hey If I want what’s best for the student-athlete that’s just a part of it.” 

As far as players not returning to the Hilltopper football program Helton said it is very fluid as far as that news when it comes out. 

When asking Todd Stewart about the budget shortfalls this year the athletic director said that there was no update on that at this time, but did state the current status of where the department sits.  

“All of our staff has taken a salary reduction, and we’ll continue to take that salary reduction,” Stewart said. “I know that the university was able to change course but we’re going to need to keep doing what we’re doing right now to get through the spring sports.” 

The Hilltoppers finished the 2020 regular season 5-6 on a three-game winning streak. In the final two games, the offense scored 30 or more points. 

Georgia State finished the season 5-4 on a two-game winning streak after having three of their first four games canceled. 

The Panthers are a familiar foe to WKU, as the Hilltoppers fell to Georgia State 27-17 in the 2017 Cure Bowl. At the time, WKU alumni Mike White was stationed at the quarterback position, who threw for two touchdowns and 351-yards in the Hilltoppers losing effort. 

Both programs also played in bowl games last season. 

WKU faced off against Western Michigan in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl in Dallas, Texas. The Hilltoppers won 23-20 thanks to a game-winning 52-yard field goal from kicker Cory Munson. 

The Panthers played in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson against Wyoming Cowboys. Georgia State lost 38-17 after allowing Wyoming to have a dominant first-half performance.

Football beat reporter Matthew Hargrove can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewHargrov1

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.