When Maurice Linguist makes his head-coaching debut on Thursday night, it will be the culmination of a remarkable journey that has spanned multiple levels and stops.
But Linguist, 37, insists UB’s season opener against D1-FCS foe Wagner isn’t about him. Rather, it’s about the players who will determine the club’s fate in the wake of Lance Leipold’s departure for the University of Kansas.
“I’ve got to temper any emotions I have, because ultimately it’s about the players,” Linguist said in a press conference at the Murchie Family Fieldhouse Tuesday afternoon. “This game is definitely not about me, my job is giving them what they need to put them in a position to win.”
For Linguist, the season opener represents a significant challenge, even if his team is playing an opponent from a lesser division. Hired just 117 days before the Bulls’ season opener, Linguist was forced to make the jump from co-defensive coordinator at Michigan — where he never coached a game — to the face of UB’s football program rather quickly.
Now, he’s tasked with the challenge of making in-game decisions for the Bulls. As the head coach, Linguist will have the final say on every key situation throughout the course of a game.
Linguist listed decisions like whether to punt or go for it on fourth and short, how aggressive to be in the red zone and how to manage the clock in the two-minute offense as keys to situational football.
“There’s hundreds of decisions that are involved with getting a final outcome of a game,” Linguist said. “Just focusing on the task at hand, [I’m] definitely excited to be in the position and all those things that come along with it, but you’ve got to temper it and you’ve got to focus on really the small details of what you have to do to get to where you want to go to.”
Linguist won’t just have to adjust to on-the-fly decision-making. He’ll also have to get his team mentally and physically prepared for its Week 1 matchup against the Seahawks.
And it’s not just Wagner. Next Saturday, the Bulls will travel to Lincoln to take on a Power 5 foe, the University of Nebraska. The following week, UB will host top-25 Coastal Carolina at UB Stadium. Adjusting to opponents on a weekly basis will require impressive preparation.
“We still have a big picture of principle and philosophy and how we approach games and how we play the game and what we do,” Linguist said. “We’re gonna be true to who we are on offense, defense and special teams and then what you’re doing throughout the week is you are making the little adjustments to your opponent.”
Linguist says he’ll let games play out “organically” when making in-game substitutions and personnel decisions. He hopes he’ll have the opportunity to test his squad’s depth and give younger players the opportunity to play in the Bulls’ season opener.
“We feel like we definitely have some younger bodies in there that are very capable and able. A lot of guys just need reps, things come through ‘time on task’ (a learning method) and repetition, and we’re just gonna continue to feed that to them and get them in a place that we feel comfortable to get them on the field,” Linguist said.
Despite the talks of depth and giving young players opportunity, Linguist made it very clear that UB isn’t taking any opponent for granted.
Linguist insisted the Bulls are focused on Wagner and shut down all questions of distraction with a Sept. 11 contest against Nebraska looming.
“We are laser-focused on what’s in front of us,” Linguist said. “If it’s 12:20 right now we’re looking at class right now, that’s our next task at hand. We have to stay in the moment, we have a long-term vision but we have to remain focused on the now, and definitely have all the respect in the world for our first opponent [Wagner] and what we have to do to get ourselves prepared to go out there and play our best.”
UB’s season opener will also feature the return of fans to UB Stadium, something Linguist cites as a huge positive heading into Thursday’s game.
“I think everybody plays a little bit better when you have your loved ones and people supporting you out there,” Linguist said. “If they’re not, you’ve got to be internally driven to make sure you push yourself. We love seeing our fans in the stands and can’t wait to see our student body out there cheering and being loud and rowdy and creating an intimidating atmosphere, so we’re definitely excited to get them all back.”
The Bulls will take on Wagner at UB Stadium on Thursday at 7 p.m. The game will also be broadcast live on ESPN3 and on radio at ESPN 1530.
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.