Following one of the most successful seasons in program history, UB football is at a crossroads.
With seven Bulls entering the transfer portal in the six days since former head coach Lance Leipold left for the University of Kansas, UB finds itself in a bit of a personnel bind. Not only that, but Leipold may bring as many as seven assistants with him to Kansas, giving UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt an added sense of urgency to land a new head coach.
If UB loses seven assistant coaches to KU, the school will have just three remaining on its staff. While cornerbacks coach Jeff Burrow and defensive tackles coach George Ricumstrict have extensive coaching experience, it seems unlikely either one would get tapped for the head coaching job.
Running backs coach Issac Reed is a promising young assistant who has contributed to Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks’ record-breaking success, but he is just two years removed from his stint as a graduate assistant.
With no obvious head coaching candidates on the Bulls’ current staff, Alnutt will likely have to look externally to find Leipold’s replacement.
In a video conference with local media Friday, Alnutt told reporters he plans to hire a new head coach before finals week ends on May 15.
But it may not take UB that long; a new head coach could be hired as early as Friday, according to UB Bull Run.
From in-conference foes to Power Five stars, here are eight possible head coaching candidates to replace Leipold at UB:
Brian Polian, special teams coordinator, Notre Dame
If the last name Polian sounds familiar, that’s because the family has deep Buffalo ties.
Brian Polian, son of former Buffalo Bills general manager and Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, has been coaching at the collegiate level for over 24 years.
On top of assistant coaching positions at Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas A&M and UCF, the Buffalo native was UB’s special teams coordinator and running backs coach from 2001 to 2003.
Polian also served as the head coach of Nevada from 2013 to 2016, where he notched a 23-27 record in four seasons.
Polian, a respected assistant with strong Buffalo ties, could get his second chance as a head coach at UB.
Vince Kehres, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach, Toledo
Fitting the Leipold mold, Kehres was a successful Division III head coach who took his talents to the Mid-American Conference in 2020.
Kehres finished with a 95-6 career record and two Division III Championships in eight seasons at Mount Union. His time with the Purple Raiders is reminiscent of Leipold’s stint at Wisconsin-Whitewater (where he went 109-6 in eight seasons).
Before leading the Purple Raiders, Kehres served as Mount Union’s defensive coordinator under his father and then-head coach Larry Kehres, where he coached the nation’s best Division III defense three times.
In his first season as the Rockets’ defensive coordinator in 2020, Kehres’ defense gave up 362.2 yards per game — second in the MAC behind only UB.
Kehres’ Division III accolades and impressive performance in one season with Toledo may be enough to land him the UB job.
Brent Pry, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach, Penn State
Before starting his coaching career, Pry was a defensive back at UB during the early ‘90s. After suffering a career-ending injury in 1991, he returned to the Bulls as a coaching assistant the following year.
After his stint at UB, Pry made a name for himself in the south, where he was an assistant at Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt over a span of 18 years.
He made the move to Happy Valley in 2014, working as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2016.
In 2017, Pry’s defense finished the regular season seventh in the nation in scoring defense, at just 16.5 points allowed per game.
The defense saw similar success in 2018 and 2019, as the Nittany Lions led the country with 3.62 sacks per game in 2018 and allowed just 16 points per game in 2019, good for eighth in the country.
Over the past five seasons, Penn State’s defense ranks third in the nation in quarterback hurries (876), fourth in total pressures generated (1305) and fifth in sacks (195).
A strong defensive mind with a playing and coaching past at UB, Pry is a strong candidate to take over UB’s program.
Curt Cignetti, head coach, James Madison
With an 88-28 record as a college football head coach, Cignetti has brought a winning pedigree to every program he has led.
After serving as an assistant coach at Alabama, NC State, Pittsburgh and Temple, Cignetti secured the head coaching gig at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2011. He finished with a 53-17 record at IUP and notched three NCAA playoff appearances and two Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championships.
In 2016, Cignetti became the head coach of FCS Elon. During his time as coach of the Phoenix, he took a team that had six-straight losing seasons and led them to an 8-4 record in 2017.
Since becoming the head coach of James Madison in 2019, Cignetti has amassed a 21-2 record with the Dukes, including an undefeated 7-0 record during the 2020-21 campaign.
JMU is looking to avenge last season’s National Championship Game loss when it takes on Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals Saturday.
A master recruiter, Cignetti was a member of Nick Saban’s first coaching staff at Alabama. In 2008, he hauled in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class — a class that included future NFL Pro Bowlers Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Dont’a Hightower and Marcell Dareus. Cignetti is also credited with recruiting future Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson while at NC State.
With an accomplished coaching and recruiting background, Cignetti could make the jump from the FCS to the FBS by becoming the head coach at UB.
Andrew Sowder, offensive coordinator, Kent State
One of the younger candidates on this list, 32-year-old Sowder coaches for an in-conference foe and has made his mark in the MAC.
Implementing a high-octane spread offense at Kent, Sowder immediately improved the Golden Flashes’ offense in his first year as a play-caller in 2018. Kent State’s offense saw an 11.2 points per game increase and a 108.4 yards per game jump from the previous season.
Sowder’s offense saw similar results during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
2019 saw the emergence of quarterback Dustin Crum, who threw for 2,625 yards and 20 touchdowns while ranking 11th in the country in passing efficiency.
The Golden Flashes led the nation with 606.5 yards and 49.8 points per game in just four contests in the shortened 2020 season.
Prior to his run at Kent, Sowder served as offensive coordinator/tight ends coach for San José State, offensive quality control coach for Texas, wide receivers coach for both Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois and running backs coach for West Texas A&M.
With 35-year-old Kent State head coach Sean Lewis viewed as the next young star in coaching, Sowder could get the opportunity to run the show himself with the Bulls.
Nunzio Campanile, tight ends coach, Rutgers
A New Jersey native who has coached exclusively in the Garden State, Campanile has all the skills required of a collegiate head coach.
Campanile was interim head coach/offensive coordinator at Rutgers for eight games in 2019. He also coached at the high school level for Bergen Catholic (NJ), going 60-28 in eight seasons, including a state championship in 2017.
Prior to that, Campanile was the offensive coordinator of New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep from 2000 to 2009, where he won six state championships in 10 seasons with the Ironmen.
Now in his fourth season on the Rutgers coaching staff, Campanile is a qualified candidate with deep recruiting ties to some of New Jersey’s best high schools.
Tom Matukewicz, head coach, Southeast Missouri State
With strong ties to Alnutt and the MAC, Matukewicz could reunite with the athletic director who hired him at Southeast Missouri State.
After three seasons as linebackers coach at Northern Illinois (which included a Humanitarian Bowl win as interim head coach) and two seasons as Toledo’s defensive coordinator, Matukewicz was hired by Alnutt in 2013 to be the Redhawks’ head coach, a position he has held ever since.
Alnutt became UB’s athletic director following his time at SEMO, meaning a reunion could potentially be in the works in the Queen City.
Matukewicz has a 34-38 record at Southeast Missouri State, including an Ohio Valley Conference Championship in 2019.
Matukewicz is an under-the-radar candidate to take over the Bulls’ football program.
Jeff Thorne, head coach, North Central College (Naperville, IL)
Another potential candidate with Division III roots, Thorne has led North Central to a 52-9 record and a 2019 Division III National Championship in five seasons with the Cardinals.
Thorne joined North Central’s staff as an offensive coordinator prior to the 2002 season and has been a part of 11 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Championships with the Cardinals, three of which came during his tenure as head coach.
A two-time All-Gateway Conference quarterback for Eastern Illinois in the early ‘90s, Thorne has produced two Division III national leaders in passing efficiency as offensive coordinator.
Considering UB’s history with Leipold coming to the MAC straight from the Division III level, perhaps Thorne can get a shot to coach the Bulls.
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.