A 'big-time' program demands 'big-time' results

Buffalo fires Jeff Quinn after four-plus seasons

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The Spectrum

I had planned on publishing a column very similar to this for Wednesday’s issue of The Spectrum. Only one detail changed Monday evening: UB Athletics, specifically Athletic Director Danny White, fired head football coach Jeff Quinn.

My original column ended “The only question that remains now is when does seven coaching changes become eight.”

Well, we have our answer.

A guy like Danny White doesn’t accomplish all he has without a plan or a specific goal.

When he played basketball as a child, he planned on playing Division-I. Once he made Division-I for Towson University he had larger goals, more big-time (get used to hearing this phrase) aspirations. He went on to play for Notre Dame.

But he wasn’t content with just being another student-athlete. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2002 and earned master’s degree at Ohio University. He went on to work in multiple Athletic Departments such as Ohio, Northern Illinois and Mississippi and even served as an assistant basketball coach at Ohio.

On May 8, 2012, he became the Athletic Director at the State University of New York at Buffalo – or UB. At age 32, White was the youngest athletic director in the FBS.

A little more than 15 months later – 478 days to be exact – White sent out his first tweet with #NYBI, meaning New York Bulls Initiative. He planned to emphasis UB as the “flagship” university in the SUNY system – beginning with the athletics program.

He certainly got his share of grief about it from some locals, journalists and students on campus. But you know what? He backed up what he said. Buffalo Athletics received million-dollar donations, the football team sold its most tickets in program history and the Bulls even signed a deal with ESPN Radio.

I have to admit, these things sound big time to me.

White began making changes among UB coaches. There’s been, or at least before Monday evening, seven coaching changes in White’s two and a half years at UB, and none of them left voluntarily. Some more controversial than others, but in the end, all justified by the idea of creating “big-time” athletics. White didn’t see these as big-time coaches. And if a coach wasn’t fitting his goal, he would let them go. That sounds fair to me.

Or at least this is what I thought before Saturday.

After the Bulls’ embarrassing 37-27 loss at Eastern Michigan, White – who I’m sure was in attendance – should have gone down to the team locker room and fired him Saturday.

If White is letting soccer coaches go for 6-9-1 records after winning 12 games two seasons before and volleyball coaches for 18-12 records after winning the first 12 games of the season, I think a Quinn’s 20-35 record over a four-plus season warrants asking the coach to “bring his playbook” to next meeting – football speak for when you know your time is up.

I don’t want to second-guess the contract extension. Plenty of other people have and ‘hindsight’s 20/20, right?’ And to be honest, the extension made some sense at the time. The Bulls were “improving.” (I put this in quotes because Buffalo had two wins in Quinn’s first year and four in his third.)

Arguably their most talented group of players ever was returning and introducing a new system with a new head coach and expecting to win is very difficult – but don’t tell this to Eastern Michigan first-year head coach Chris Creighton. Buffalo went on to win eight games and play in a bowl game. Could the team have done better? Sure. But it was still a successful 2013 no matter how you measure it.

But this isn’t about 2010, 11, 12 or 13. This is about 2014 – the first real “all-Quinn” team, meaning most players were recruited by the current coaching staff.

And what fans are seeing is far from the “big-time” experience we were promised in 2012.

“Big-time” programs aren’t afraid to make changes. “Big-time” programs don’t accept mediocrity. “Big-time” programs certainly don’t lose on the road when they are two-touchdown favorites.

White’s #NYBI campaign lost credibility with each passing hour that Quinn remained head coach following the Eastern Michigan game. Football is by far the biggest sport in the college landscape. It generates the most money, is the highest attended and gets the most national coverage.

I credit White for acting swiftly in firing Quinn.

A mid-season coaching change all but ends your football season; it’s not like basketball or baseball where a new coach can “ride the ship.” But still, it sends a statement to your players and fans: All are accountable.

It seems he learned from his 2012 mistake: Letting a coach he was already set to fire continue coaching. According to a story in The Buffalo News, White told Witherspoon he decided in December that he was going to fire the head coach after the season ended in March – just two months into the five-month season.

Despite White telling The Buffalo News, “I do not [have any one in mind as head coach.] We’re going to launch a national search and want to interview as many people as possible. We’re going to take the time to make sure we get the right leader for the next chapter,” the Athletic Director introduced Bobby Hurley as head coach less than two weeks later.

Hurley is former Duke national champion who White has connections to through his father Kevin White – the current Duke Athletic Director. This was a move that screamed big-time.

Even though it was White’s first year at UB, it was Witherspoon’s 14th season. Witherspoon had previous years to deliver a championship, but never ultimately did. Quinn’s had his chances as well.

Why would the two be treated differently?

Saturday was only one game, but it sums up Quinn’s tenure here at UB. The Bulls came out in blue and white jerseys, showing off the glitz and glamour. The Eagles, dressed in grey, on their grey field they call “The factory” came out ready to work.

Whenever the Bulls were on the field, darkness was closing in. And the darkness found those on the sideline as well.

This was a big-time loss. White continues to want to “Build America’s next big-time college athletics brand” at the “flagship university of New York.” You can call yourself whatever you want, but all that matters are the results on the field, hardwood, diamond or even parking lot if that’s where you want to hold your games.

There are many words you can use to describe Danny White, but one word I always thought described him was ‘fair.’ He lays out exactly what he expects from people, and if you don’t do your job, you will be replaced.

I thought for a few days that I would no longer think this way, but he’s reminded me what sports are: A results-based industry.

The donations won’t disappear without Quinn. The fans aren’t showing up to see Quinn, they want to see their hometown quarterback Joe Licata and hometown All-MAC safety Adam Redden perform.

They want to support Buffalo, believe it or not.

And just like Witherspoon, Quinn is a class-act type of person. From the interactions I’ve had with him, he appears to be a genuinely good person. He’s had no problems doing the radio shows, speaking at pep rallies and doing all that White asks him.

He’s done everything, but win football games.

White’s job is to make the tough decisions. Quinn had become a liability and the biggest thing holding the Bulls back from achieving “big-time” status.

Let what seems to be Danny White’s most common part of his job ensure: A national search.

email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com