Examining the MACtion: UMass Moving On From Charlie Molnar Is Admitting A Mistake

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a new part of Hustle Belt. We will take some time every week or two in order to take a good long look at a certain topic or event. We began with looking at EMU football's coaching change. Now we will move on to the same peek into a similar transition at UMass.

So as you may have heard, several MAC football programs spent the past few weeks starting and/or finishing a head coaching search. For some schools, like Bowling Green, it was a matter of the coach heading somewhere "more prestigious" (Dave Clawson to Wake Forest) and returning the favor to an FCS school (Dino Babers from Eastern Illinois). For others like Miami, Eastern Michigan, and UMass, it was more of a need to move on from something that just wasn't working. So what happened up in Amherst?

You might be inclined to think that it had something to do with that weird training video that was released earlier this fall, but let's remove it from the equation, because while it was several things - odd and amateurish come to mind - it could not be and very likely was not the reason that Molnar got canned.

Let me discuss this particular item for a minute. Having spent last winter, as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, listening to every local moron drag management through the fire for making the players go through "NAVY Seal" training, I know where this is coming from. Those were people who heard the name, made connections in their brain, and turned it into something much more than it really was.

The same is true here. First of all, that training video is evidence of nothing but horseplay, and it quite clearly took place across multiple practices edited together. You can see in the video that perhaps not everyone, but large numbers of the players, are not just participating but enjoying doing so. That's not exactly damning evidence.

Yes, some petition signatures were rather damning, but some were also pretty damn vague:

"I'm Umass football allumni. The direction the program is headed is a joke. The entire coaching staff should be fired"

Well that doesn't tell us anything about anything. Look again at what former QB Brandon Hill said (emphasis mine):

"I think it was to see who was tougher and to get us going and pump us up a little bit," Hill said. "You’re not going to say no. Kids wanted to do it. The nature of football is kind of like wrestling and kind of like boxing. It’s not like it was forced upon us... I don’t think I should have been doing it, but I’m not going to say no to something the head coach wants you to do, especially with a new coach... You want to try to impress him and you’re going to do anything you can to play."

There you have it. The players, at least some percentage, wanted to do it, they weren't forced to do it, and Hill participated because he wanted to impress his coach even though he thought maybe he shouldn't - which makes it his poor decision, not Molnar's.

Even if the video was anything more substantial than a bunch of kids acting stupid at practice—I disagree and don't think boxing and wrestling have a damn thing to do with football—it wasn't what got Molnar fired. He got a vote of confidence a month before his firing and well after the video surfaced. If UMass was going to fire him for that, there was plenty of time to do so.

The statement about his release mentions academics, and the three things that happened in the month between his vote of confidence and firing were:

  • lost to Ohio
  • lost three transfers
  • final grades came out.

I don't know the exact details yet and can't until the summer when APR numbers get released, but I'm willing to bet that last point is what changed their mind. The team APR was 922 last year (NCAA average of 949) which was the worst in the MAC, and if that didn't improve substantially that provides another stone in the lame duck coach bucket. It's hard to help your students out academically when you have so many other things to worry about, and a low APR can mean many bad things these days.

Realistically, all the points I made with regard to Eastern Michigan—needing a coach who understands all of the ins and outs of a college football program because he has held the position elsewhere before—apply doubly to UMass. This is a school which has just transitioned to FBS, and because of that is even further down the resources food chain.

In that case you need a coach who has been a head coach before and can guide your school through the transition, not a coach who has to figure out both the coaching thing and the transition thing along with you. It should come as no surprise that you win only two games in two seasons (and the two teams you beat were the only teams in the conference worse than you) when you've having to learn that much on the job.

It's unfortunate that Sean McDonnell turned down the opportunity, but with the latest news that Mark Whipple will be Molnar's replacement, UMass will take a big step in the right direction. They're bringing in someone with not just head coach experience, but also experience with this program (and at levels above and beyond), which can be a big boost to the program's overall aspirations.

I personally will be rooting for Whipple, just because getting the UMass job gets him out of his current job with the perennial sinking ship that is the Cleveland Browns.

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