First: The Background.
It's not very often a team with a 3-4 record, even an inflated 3-4 record, fires their coach mid season. It's even more rare that it happens the season after that team finished 8-4 and goes to just their second bowl game in team history.
But that is what just happened on Monday when New York State University at Buffalo Director of Athletics Danny White fired fifth year coach Jeff Quinn. Quinn was hired by White's predecessor back in December of 2009 after Turner Gill took a job as the head coach at Kansas.
When Warde Manuel, who is now the Athletic Director at UConn, hired Quinn the Bulls had just broken out of their near decade-long slumber. They tied for first place in the MAC East in 2007 and then won the division and conference in 2008, downing the twelfth ranked and undefeated Ball State Cardinals to win the conference title in Detroit.
Despite going just 9-27 in the first three seasons with Gill's successor, Danny White extended Quinn's contract through the end of the 2017 season. An 8-4 record and trip to the Potato Bowl the following year seemed to justify that extension and tamped down some of the criticism that White received at the time of the extension.
After last season UB lost 5th overall pick Khalil Mack and six other Bulls who ended up in NFL camps. People were expecting a bit of a fall off but with a schedule as weak as any in football the expectation was UB's returning players could manage a winning season.
Losses to Army and EMU may have eliminated the hopes of that second winning season so Quinn was let go and his offensive coordinator, Alex Wood, takes over the team for the balance of the season.
Second: The Reaction.
Matt has put together a fantastic piece detailing the various "camps" people fall into. I'm not going to go into detail here because I have little to add to his breakdown. It should suffice to say that people with an interest in UB Football fall all over the spectrum.
Some say, "Why did this take so long?" They believe Quinn's performance from 2010-2013 meant no extension should have been signed, or even that Quinn should have been fired after year three. Several players in this group spoke to the Spectrum, most notably Alex Neutz, who clearly did not like Quinn and revealed that he nearly transferred out of Buffalo.
Others think to fire a coach after a winning season with a bowl game was a reactionary move by White. They hold that a team who lost their leadership and the bulk of their talent is ok at 3-4 and Quinn should have been able to finish out the season.
Finally there is a group which says "why bother?" They posit that UB's position is fixed no matter who is coaching, and the UB should either move up to the B1G (as if that is something White could snap his fingers to accomplish) or they should move down to FCS (because our middling time in I-AA was somehow less maddening than the MAC).
Third: The Timing.
It's a bit weird to see a coach fired mid season but its certainly not rare. Two coaches were fired last season the week after losing to UB. It happens from time to time and each time a coach gets the ax mid season people typically say "why so soon?" or "why so long?"
There has been a lot of negative press from outlets like the Buffalo News. As a result people are saying this decision is a PR disaster. Of course it's not like the News was going to be kind and gentle with UB if the Bulls limped into a 5-7 year with Quinn at the helm.
As I recently told a few fans I was chatting with: White might as well take all his medicine now. If the drive by media is going to excoriate you for losing games now and then after the season when you fire a coach why not just fire the coach now.
I see little benefit in keeping Quinn around and I understand giving him the first half of this season after a decent year in 2013.
UB has a bye next week which means the remaining coaching staff can focus on reorganizing, connecting with players, and perhaps reaching out to UB's 10 verbal commitments. It also gives the Bulls a a chance to get an early start on finding their next coach, especially if that "Next Bull In" happens to be a coach who is not working for someone else this season.
Fourth: Why The Extension?
This is another popular question people are asking. Why the heck did we give Quinn an extension in 2012?
Lets start with the fact that the team won three of their last four games after Alex Zordich was hurt and Joe Licata took over. It looked like UB was finally ready to reemerge from the MAC's basement and Quinn had just one year left on his contract.
Then we can consider the "extension" had a buyout structured to be most painful only if Quinn was fired after 2013. White was betting that 2013 would be a good year, and all things considered last season was a success.. Quinn's buyout dropped each year after from 250K to 175K to 100K.
Finally there is the fact that Jeff Quinn, for all his failings as a head coach, has a long and accomplished career as an Offensive Line coach and an Offensive coordinator. It's a fair bet Quinn is snapped up by someone soon to fill one of those roles. If he lands in a P5 conference his salary might completely negate UB's buyout.
In the end it was a bet by White. If Quinn had another great season this year he might get hired on elsewhere and the department would reap a windfall as the coach would buy out his contract. If Quinn did not make it he would hopefully land an OC job and the team would have to pay a very small sum to be done with the contract.
The only way White comes out behind from the extension is if Quinn decides to go fishing for the next year or so.
Fifth: The Future.
Buffalo has some serious structural problems. As in the structure of our facilities is sub par, even for the MAC. Danny White has a 60 million dollar plan that if completed would put UB on equal or better footing than our conference mates but until we get there it's an uphill battle to attract top tier talent. UB has to claw and fight for the good recruits we bring in.
So as much as I want to say White should go out and find an up and coming coach to take over the program I lean more towards big name splash. Be it a young but known position coach (Let's call that the P.J. Fleck Path) or a coach who has been out for a year or two and wants to unretire (Let's call that the Frank Solich Path).
If we go down the Solich Road, White has a chance to name a successor mid season. That would be kind of neat and definitely close the chapter on Quinn, the contract, and the extension.
Whatever White does in regards to the hire he has earned a little trust from the fanbase. While everyone focuses on White's moves with the revenue sports the fact of the matter is that he has replaced more than a half dozen coaches at UB. In nearly every case there was a marked and quick improvement in our conference standing.
The exceptions are men's soccer, where Stu Riddle is building a young team up, and wrestling, where John Stutzman took over a struggling program. Both Riddle and Stutzman have "show me" years coming up in 2015 or 2016 but each seems to be moving in the right direction.
Sixth: In the here and now.
There is a reason that I am more into college sports than professional sports. That reason is the kids playing the game. While Jeff Quinn is gone I was never watching the Buffalo Quinns, I was watching the UB Bulls! The team has not changed and right now the game we watch is their life. It's how they go to school, what they love and work for.
The student athletes deserve better than to see a single fan quit on this team. The Bulls will take on Central Michigan in two weeks, so let's start of the post-Quinn era with a bang!