The Licata era began with a loss... not the Toledo loss, and not that Licata, Jules Licata started at Quarterback for the 1948 team, and Frank Clair's first outing was a horrific 25-0 loss at Colgate.
Clair became the 13th coach on UB's official record, and the 5th coach to lose his first game as coach without scoring a point. UB Coaches started 5-8 in their first games, and have since gone 4-6-1. Each of the 11 coaches to come after Clair were able to score in their first contest, so Clair holds the dubious distinction of being the last coach to suffer a shutout in their first game as UB head coach.
Clair is one of 9 UB Coaches to win 10 or more games. Those coaches were 5-3-1 in their first game.
Buffalo breezed through four victories outscoring their opponents 127-35, but their next test would be the strongest. Buffalo with a 4-1 record and a 19-4 record since 1946 would travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals who were 3-2 and 16-4-1 since 1946. Louisville expected an easy homecoming win, they received quite the opposite.
10,000 fans watched UB gain 487 yards on route to scoring 48 points in a 48-19 Buffalo win. Up 7-6 early, UB's passing game, led by Licata (3-8 passing for 123 yards and 3 touchdowns) opened up room for the runners, and kept Louisville guessing. A 21-6 lead at the half, turned into a 41-6 rout in the 3rd quarter.
Buffalo returned to their homecoming against the hated Niagara Purple Eagles. Heavily favored, UB seemed content to nurse a 13-6 lead rather than expand on the lead. This backfired when a questionable pass interference call gave Niagara the ball on the 1 with 4 minutes to play. Clair argued that the Niagara receiver interfered with the UB defender who had position on the ball, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Niagara tried to punch it in twice and failed, on the third attempt, they faked the run and tossed a pass into the flat for the tying touchdown.
UB's final attempt to break the tie was intercepted, leading to a last second 47-yard field goal attempt by Niagara, that was no good.
For the second straight year, attendance for the homecoming game declined, 6,400 fan attended compared to 14,000 in 1946. Buffalo would rout Bucknell the following week to end the season 6-1-1. This was even more embarrassing as a the following day, the 5-1 Canisius Golden Griffins faced undefeated St. Bonaventure in front of 32,541 fans at Civic Stadium.
In a time when UB was overshadowed, the win over Louisville provided UB with a signature win and the successful season from Clair showed UB could maintain success.
The graph shows the win percentage in the final two seasons of UB Coaches with 10+ wins and the win percentage of their replacement's first two seasons. Only Jim Hofher was able to improve, while only Clair, Wilson and Urich were able to start their coaching careers over .500. The drop between Gill's final two years (.500) and Quinn's first two years (.208) is the largest drop on the list, which shows how hard it is to transition, and as a result makes what Jim Peele and Frank Clair were able to do even more special.
Frank Clair would get his revenge over Niagara in 1949, his second an final year as UB football coach. Clair would also be the last UB coach to ever defeat Niagara. Niagara would stop playing Football for good after the 1950 season and Canisius would take a 19-year hiatus from football after 1949. The coach of Canisius when they decided to end their football program was former UB Coach Jim Wilson. Wilson was 28-15-4 at Canisius and took Canisius to the 1948 Great Lakes Bowl in Cleveland. Despite the success Clair enjoyed, Wilson was seen as the best coach in Western New York. Clair was let go, and Jim Wilson was rehired as coach of UB.
Clair would move 90 minutes north, to coach the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. In his first year, he delivered a Grey Cup victory to Toronto. Clair would win one more with Toronto and three more Grey Cups with the Ottawa Rough Riders. The Stadium was named after Clair and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
With the move, UB traded a successful 33-year old coach for what some would consider a 54-year old "also-ran." Had UB been more patient, perhaps UB Stadium would be named Frank Clair Stadium, perhaps his Grey Cup Championships would have been National Championships, perhaps Clair would be a legendary coach in the College Football Hall of Fame. Alas, we'll never know, and Clair, like Urich and Gill will forever be in the "what if" category of legendary UB coaches.