Friday, January 03, 2014
In August of 2012, there was a chance meeting in the owner’s box at Gillette Stadium between legendary former University of Massachusetts basketball coach John Calipari, a guest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and brand new Minuteman football coach Charley Molnar, who was at the Patriots game promoting that UMass would play their games at the stadium.
Cameras caught the two men talking and Minuteman fans loved it. UMass followers like to compare everyone hopefully to Calipari. Mark Whipple, Travis Ford and Derek Kellogg have all, at one time or another, been tied to the current Kentucky coach.
But Molnar’s combination of slick hair, fierce optimism and affection for speaking to a crowd had already made them daydream that Molnar could do for football what Calipari did for men’s basketball. Seeing them together only reinforced it.
Molnar’s stock was never higher than that night. Less than two years later he’s gone, fired Thursday after struggles on the field and controversy off of it.
Nationally this will look like a coach being fired for struggling to win football games and Molnar did, going 2-22. Opposing coaches privately mocked his team’s play calls and offensive organization. His clock management and timeout calls were criticized by everyone from television analysts to fans sitting in the back rows of Gillette’s oft-empty lower bowl.
But athletic director John McCutcheon said Thursday that the move was made not because of wins and losses. McCutcheon always preached patience, warning that the early road in the Bowl Subdivision would be bumpy.
All Molnar really had to do to not get fired after two years was be a good face for the program and show a little progress.
But he alienated people from the beginning. Even before casual fans turned on him, former players felt like he’d belittled any of their previous accomplishments in Division I-AA. His current players bristled in postgame press conferences when he’d talk about having I-AA players and not enough depth or talent to win yet, with no public personal accountability.
During a 2012 postseason interview, Molnar was asked what he learned in his first season being a head coach. Given that the Minutemen had been 1-11 and it was his first time in charge, there figured to be lots of acceptable answers.
“I learned that I need to do a better job of making sure everyone understands exactly how I want things done,” Molnar said.
No lessons learned himself. Everyone else needed to be better. The answer was a window into the perceived arrogance and need to micromanage that played a large role in the unraveling of Molnar’s once promising tenure.
Things got worse in 2013.
The loss to former Championship Subdivision rival Maine was followed by an alumni petition asking Molnar to stop mistreating players and a video showing the players engaging in “conditioning” activities that included boxing and wrestling.
His goodwill was gone.
As the team sputtered down the stretch losing home games to winless Western Michigan and Akron, the only team it had beaten last year, the question became not whether Molnar would eventually get things turned around, but whether UMass would be willing to pony up the necessary cash ($836,000) to fire him.
In the end, they decided it was too costly to keep him.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage