The Massachusetts Minutemen have struggled mightily since moving up to FBS football two seasons ago, which led to the firing of head coach Charley Molnar on Thursday, December 26th.
Molnar, who previously served as the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2010 and 2011, posted a dismal 2-22 record at UMass, with the wins being a 22-14 victory over Akron last season and a 17-10 win over Miami (OH) on October 12th this season.
It may seem surprising for a team to make a change just two years into a tough transition, but considering the amount of money UMass is losing due to the move, it appears that a move was inevitable. Now the Minutemen turn the page and are in need of a head coach that can build the program into a respectable destination in the Mid-American Conference, a task that will be easier said than done. Here are five coaches that I would pursue if I was in charge at UMass:
Rob Ambrose, Towson HC – The Tigers have gotten better each year under Ambrose’s watch, improving from 2-9 in his first season back in 2009 to 13-2 and an upcoming appearance in the FCS Championship game this season. Towson has a chance to win a championship, so it would not be a very big surprise if Ambrose decides to stay put rather than jump to the FBS with a team fresh off back-to-back 1-11 campaigns; however, he could very well be interested in the opportunity to build a program. Odds are Ambrose waits for a better offer to hit the table, but if you’re the Minutemen, you might as well pick up the phone.
Tom O’Brien, former NC State HC – Currently an assistant at Virginia, O’Brien had a successful sixteen-year run as a head coach at Boston College and NC State, where he recorded a record of 115-80 with one conference title and one ACC Atlantic title. Now sixty-five years old, it is unclear if O’Brien would want to take on the task of building a program basically from scratch, but considering his deep Boston ties, the Minutemen would be extremely lucky to land the likes of O’Brien.
Don Brown, Boston College DC – Brown is no stranger to UMass football, as he compiled a 43-19 record with an appearance in the 2006 Division I Championship Game as the head coach over the course of five seasons before leaving to take the Maryland defensive coordinator position in 2009. The Eagles had a good season and are going bowling for the first time since 2010, and although the talk was more about running back Andre Williams, the play of the BC defense may land Brown back on the Minutemen’s radar.
Joe Cullen, Browns DL Coach – Cullen has the ties to the Minutemen program that certainly help any candidate, playing nose guard at UMass from 1986 to 1989 (three-time All-Yankee Conference selection and was the Minutemen’s team MVP his senior season) and spending two seasons following his graduation as an assistant coach. While Cullen’s history with Massachusetts looks good, his off-the field issues are harder to sell; in 2006 he was arrested for a DUI, then arrested the same year after driving through a Wendy’s drive-thru naked. His image may not be exactly squeaky-clean, but if Cullen shows UMass he has a blueprint to build the program, his past judgment errors can certainly be overlooked.
Mike Haywood, former Miami (OH) HC – Haywood has been mentioned for a few jobs since his ouster at Pitt shortly after he was hired in 2010, including the Eastern Michigan job this season. While his domestic violence incident in December of 2010 certainly turned off the majority of athletic directors, Haywood’s head coaching record speaks for itself: in his second season at Miami (OH) the Redhawks went 9-4 and won the MAC Championship. It would take a certain level of desperation for Haywood to land a head coaching job again at the FBS level, but considering the way the Minutemen have played the last two years, it appears as if this could be a perfect match.