UMass fires head football coach Molnar; search underway for successor

Last modified: Friday, January 03, 2014
AMHERST — After a season of struggles on the field and controversy off it, the University of Massachusetts fired head football coach Charley Molnar Thursday.

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said he and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy made the decision to dismiss Molnar earlier, but chose to wait until after Christmas. While the Minutemen won two games and lost 22 during Molnar’s tenure, McCutcheon said wins and losses weren’t the primary reason for changing directions.

“This was based on our evaluation of the perception of the program and are we presenting ourselves in a positive enough light that people can get behind the program and get excited about the program?” McCutcheon said. “At the end of that evaluation we didn’t feel we were. We need to get to a point where we feel like everyone is pulling in the right direction about what we’re doing.”

Subbaswamy released a statement supporting the firing:

“I fully support the decision regarding the head coaching position in football. Our program must foster a positive environment in which our student-athletes thrive both athletically and academically. Furthermore, it is critical that in addition to ensuring on-field success our next coach earns the support of alumni, faculty, students and fans. I am confident that UMass football will continue to improve and will excel at the FBS level.”

Multiple phone calls and texts to Molnar were not returned Thursday. But he did send out the following tweet: “No coach, staff, or team worked harder to build a championship program than we did. Disappointed in the results but proud of the foundation!”

A national search for Molnar’s replacement is already underway. Unlike previous coaching hires, which have been conducted entirely by UMass athletic department staff, McCutcheon said the school will employ Florida-based Carr Sports Associates as a search firm to consult on the hiring process that he expected to go quickly.

“We’re looking at a fairly short time frame,” said McCutcheon, who said he’s already receiving considerable interest from prospective candidates. “Hiring the Carr associates is going to help us quite a bit. They’ve been involved with a lot of searches, including some this year, and are on top of the candidate pool that will be out there.”

McCutcheon said UMass was looking for someone to not only lead the program in practice and games, but to be the face of it in the community.

“The ability to be the face of the program and engage those various constituency groups that are out there in a positive way, that’s an important characteristic of what we’d be looking for in the next coach,” McCutcheon said. “We need somebody who is the complete package — somebody that can be the face of the program, that knows the X’s and O’s, someone who can motivate players, who can recruit.”

McCutcheon said UMass’ infancy as an FBS program magnified the importance of making the right hire.

“It’s very important for us, more so than, say, Texas. That machine is going to roll. We’re making a transition and trying to build a bigger and stronger fan base,” he said. “We’re making progress and we don’t want to put the progress we made at risk, and we want to make it even more positive and build it even further.”

Molnar will receive approximately $836,000 for the remaining three years of his initial five-year contract.

“Our intent is to cover the buyout from external sources,” said McCutcheon, who said the athletic department hadn’t received any donations that were contingent on Molnar being dismissed.

Molnar had already fired four of his assistant coaches after the end of the season, including both coordinators. McCutcheon said the remaining five assistant coaches will remain employed until the new coach has been hired.

Molnar, who had been the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, was hired in December 2011 to be the architect of UMass’ upgrade to Bowl Subdivision. His energy, confidence and enthusiasm initially made him a popular coach.

The team went 1-11 during the 2012 season, but the Minutemen were expected to struggle during the upgrade and Molnar received little scrutiny for the team’s failure to win more games. The fan base began turning on him early in the 2013 season when the Minutemen lost to Maine, a Championship Subdivision program that UMass had regularly beaten before the upgrade.

In September a petition surfaced from alumni alleging mistreatment of players by Molnar and his staff. Several former players backed up those allegations in a Daily Hampshire Gazette article. On top of that, a video from 2012 winter conditioning also surfaced showing the players boxing and wrestling during conditioning workouts. It sparked further outrage, both from fans and the greater university community.

The controversy on top of his team’s continued struggles left Molnar with little support. Still, in late November, McCutcheon said Molnar would “absolutely” still be UMass’ football coach in 2014. Molnar, expecting to be back, laid out plans for the future in a postseason interview with selected media last week.

McCutcheon said he and Subbaswamy revisited Molnar’s status after the season and came to a different conclusion.

“At that time, I was answering honestly and felt that he would be (returning),” McCutcheon said. “Since then, the chancellor and I have had several conversations with various constituent groups internally and externally to get as good a feel for where we were as a program and where our prospects were for moving forward as positively as possible. Last weekend, we came to the position that we really would be better off making the change.”

At the charge of Subbaswamy, UMass hired the law firm Bond, Shoeneck & King to investigate Molnar and the football program once the conditioning video became public. While three UMass sources said results of that investigation, which is still ongoing, contributed to the decision to dismiss Molnar, McCutcheon said that wasn’t the case.

“The information they provided to the chancellor, there’s nothing in that, that led us to make that decision,” McCutcheon said. “This was solely on our evalution.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage