Football coaches can explain away almost anything.
UMass coach Charley Molnar faces a huge game this week/Andy Heller for the Maroon Musket
Lose to a lower-division team? “They have a lot of veteran leadership.”
Get shutout at home? “We're still trying to find our rhythm, and we're about to break through.”
Crushed on the road by a perennial giant? “They're a well-oiled machine, and that's what we want to be.”
The list goes on, and the quotes change from circumstance to circumstance.
However, there is one situation so specific – so uncomfortably narrow – that there is no acceptable excuse upon losing. That perfect-storm fact pattern faces UMass and head football coach Charley Molnar this weekend:
You're playing a team that is your equal, and they just fired their head coach and replaced him with a guy with absolutely zero head-coaching experience.
For a head coach, this is not simply a must-win game. This is a should-win, a can't-lose, a career-defining situation that can turn up the fire under an ever-warming seat. Losing in this scenario is almost criminal in the coaching world, and there are no quotes that can happily color the damning articles that will read like cold obituaries.
This game is squarely on Charley's shoulders.
Miami (OH) is bad, really bad. The Redhawks switch between the spread and the option, and don't run either particularly well. They don't have a running back, and their receiving corps is not nearly as potent as it once was. The defense is passable, but it eventually caves as the Redhawk offense goes three-and-out again and again.
All of this took place under Don Treadwell, a coach with tons of experience at the highest level of college football. The powers that be couldn't take the losing anymore and handed him a pink slip. They replaced him with Mike Bath, a fan favorite whose highest rank was offensive coordinator for Ashland University, a Division II school.
Miami didn't go out and give him any support. Bath is the head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. That's like being a store manager one day, and then CEO and CFO the next.
Meanwhile, on the other sideline, UMass has a bunch of wily old veterans.
“Experience” - that's been the buzz word when discussing UMass' coaching staff. It gets talked about like some sort of commodity that can be traded, straight-up, for results. All the main coaches have been to bowl games, coached up legends and tasted victory.
Now they get to gang up on a new kid, a guy who was tearing up in his introductory press conference and seemed overwhelmed with the whole thing. When asked what his plans were for the program, he spoke like a man that hadn't even read the Cliff Notes, yet.
“We will put a product on the field that everyone is going to be proud of. These young men are going to fly around the football field. They're going to be passionate,” Bath said. “They don't have a choice. I'm not going to guarantee wins or losses.”
Miami gave up on the season, and it didn't want to keep Treadwell around for one more week. Why? Well, it's really hard to fire a coach after a win, and UMass was one of the very few winnable games on the Redhawks' schedule.
Treadwell's departure also altered the stakes. Instead of a tossup game for the Minutemen, Miami represents something far greater. Molnar must out-coach someone, win at home and show that a fully functioning UMass is better than a Redhawks team without it's general.
There is no other option, and a loss is inexcusable.
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