Maurice Linguist can’t point to the exact moment he realized the UB football head coaching job was his for the taking.
But in the wake of Lance Leipold’s departure for the University of Kansas in late April, Linguist quickly understood that things were meant to be.
The 37-year-old Michigan co-defensive coordinator met with UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt multiple times during the interview process and felt a growing sense of trust with not only Alnutt, but also the Bulls program.
“It was almost like a rising tide or like a tide coming in, all the momentum was going in that direction,” Linguist told The Spectrum in an interview last week. “At no point did I ever say no, the process continued to be like, ‘Yeah, this is right, I know this is right.’”
That tide reached its crest when Linguist agreed to become UB’s 26th head football coach on May 7.
Linguist’s hire is a homecoming of sorts, as the Dallas native coached UB’s defensive backs from 2012 -13 and helped UB reach the 2013 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against San Diego State.
Linguist’s return to the Queen City gave him ample reason to reminisce about his first stint at UB, when he coached a roster composed of big names like linebacker Khalil Mack, running back Branden Oliver and current Bulls offensive analyst and former quarterback Joe Licata.
“It was a great mix of emotion because I have so many great memories from being here back in 2012 and ‘13,” Linguist said. “I have such great memories with those guys, and coming back, it’s like you relive some of those memories.”
While it was a jovial return for the eager first-time head coach, Linguist couldn’t reflect for too long.
Hired just 118 days before UB’s season opener against Wagner on Sept. 2, Linguist was faced with the daunting tasks of assembling a staff, solidifying future recruiting classes, evaluating his current roster and attempting to convince the 14 Bulls who entered the transfer portal following Leipold’s departure to return to Buffalo.
Linguist was successful in hiring a staff; new coordinators Shane Montgomery, Joe Cauthen and Chris White have all coached at the Division I-FBS level. He has also snagged the 95th-ranked recruiting class for 2022, UB’s top national ranking since the 2006 season.
But he was less successful on the transfer front, losing a half-dozen players — including first-team All-MAC center Mike Novitsky and third-team All-MAC defensive tackle Eddie Wilson — to Kansas and another couple of players to other major programs.
“We’re truly looking to do something that’s really never been done in the history of major college sports,” Linguist said. “Just because of the timing of things. There’s nothing that can all be done at once, but you have to really be efficient with your time and hire the right people. People that you trust and people that you feel like can go out there and get the job done at a high level. Everybody’s got to collectively do their part.”
With an almost entirely new coaching staff and just 18 days to go before their season opener against Wagner at UB Stadium, the Bulls find themselves in uncharted territory for a team in late August.
After arguably the greatest season in program history, one that saw UB finish with a 6-1 record, notch a Camellia Bowl win and make the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time ever, the Bulls are now in a transition period.
“There’s definitely a sense of urgency. This is a situation that isn’t very common because it’s much later than the normal hiring season, but we’re gonna take that and roll with it,” senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease said. “They [the coaching staff] put together a great plan for us to learn a new system, to learn the new culture, to build relationships and bonds and just get to know each other, whether it was our coaches or any other new players that we’ve gotten.”
While most teams have a strong understanding of their personnel and depth chart, Linguist and his staff say they are in full evaluation mode.
The current staff is looking to install a new system, but before they can do that, they need to see how the players will fit and what adjustments must be made.
“There’s probably a little bit more of a new implementation of offense, defense and special teams, but we’re certainly not unaware of the successes that have been in place already,” Linguist said. “The difference for us is that we still have to evaluate our roster in terms of what they can do on the football field. Watching film is one thing, in-person evaluation is another. We’re going to definitely put the guys in a position where we feel like it’s going to utilize their strengths and hide their weaknesses.”
Linguist, who is regarded as an expert communicator and one of the best recruiters in the country, has made a positive first impression on many of his players. As UB begins its second full week of preseason practices, Linguist’s identity and leadership skills have become evident.
With an emphasis on building relationships and strong communication, Linguist is a voice that is young enough to relate to his players yet wise enough to connect with the oldest member on the staff, the players interviewed by The Spectrum said.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Vantrease said. “He listens to us, he understands where we are because he’s been there himself. These last three months we built such a great, close-knit bond between everybody in the program: players, coaches, support staff, everybody.”
“He loves his players, his work ethic is out of this world,” senior running back Kevin Marks, who himself withdrew from the transfer portal in January, said. “He wants the best for his players and he loves competition. He loves to compete, day in, day out, he wants to elevate this program and I’m all for it.”
Linguist emphasizes communication because he believes it bleeds through a program. He says communication builds trust, and trust is what brings a unit together.
“I think it all goes back to relationships, because relationships give you an opportunity to build trust, and trust is a powerful word,” Linguist said. “And when you have it and people can trust you, you have an opportunity to connect with them. And when you connect and get a group of men connected in the right way, you become really hard to beat, because a connected team is always a dangerous team. So we believe in the power of relationships, we communicate with our players daily.”
Through his on and off-the-field ideologies, Linguist believes he can implement a culture that has an impact not just the present, but the future.
“We make sure our coaching staff is communicating daily and our culture and environment are built on trust, relationships and respect,” Linguist said. “I think as a coach or player every day you are fighting for the trust, the respect, the hearts and the minds of the locker room and each other. I think when you have those things and you’re able to capture it, something special can happen that's really greater than one season or one game. You can build a foundation to really have ripple effects on your program for years to come.”
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.