Sunday, December 20, 2009

Crossing your fingers

The University at Buffalo has hired a new football coach.

Good luck, Jeff Quinn. Bulls Nation is counting on you.

The reaction around town to the departure of former Bulls' coach Turner Gill has been quite remarkable. Sometimes you hear bitterness about someone leaving Buffalo at a better opportunity. This time it's almost as if a favorite son has left the area, and no one has nothing but good wishes for his success. "And come back to see us soon, Turner."

Gill did a remarkable job at UB. His hiring was a surprise several years ago, mostly because he had a lack of experience as either a head coach or coordinator. Gill moved into what was considered the worst job in America at the time, and built up the talent level to the point where UB won a conference championship and made it to a bowl game.

Still, the team was well ahead of the fan base. Attendance, at least in terms of actually bodies in the seats, rarely hits five figures. But at least some enthusiasm had been generated, which may have lead to more ticket sales, more alumni contributions, etc.

With Gill off to Kansas, the UB athletic department needed to get the successor right. Have you ever seen a conference that had a better example of the haves and have-nots than the Mid-American Conference?

The good teams can be decent. Ball State last season was ranked in the top 25 until losing to UB in the conference championship game.

But when the MAC teams are bad, they have been really bad. Plenty of sources rank the teams in college football, and the bad MAC teams usually are somewhere between 100 and 120. That's out of 120. Look out below.

The dramatic differences are a bit unusual, but such problems are pretty typical of the mid-majors. You really do need a good coach. When one leaves and you don't have one, it's look out below. In basketball, Canisius has had trouble replacing such coaches as John Beilein and Nick Macarchuk. Where would Niagara be without Joe Mihalich, who has done a great job year after year keeping the Purple Eagles near the top of the MAAC?

You never know where the next great coach is coming from. Quinn helped to run one of the nation's best offenses at Cincinnati, but he's never been a head coach. If he's good, he'll have a nice run at UB ... and then move on to a place with better facilities and a bigger contract. If he's not so good, the Bulls move almost to the point where Gill started.

No pressure, Jeff. So win that Sugar Bowl game against Florida, and then get to work here.

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