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UB COACH HOFHER USES SPEEDY APPROACH TO BUILDING BULLS

The floor was open to questions for Jim Hofher after he finished narrating the brief video of his first recruiting class at UB. The first question was whether the main focus of the talent harvest was speed.

"I wouldn't say it was the main focus," demurred Hofher.

Maybe not focus A, but definitely A1 and maybe A2, A3 and A4.

The Bulls' little show-and-tell session at Fanny's, the first time Hofher got the chance to demonstrate to the media and eventually the public how he and his new staff intend to alter UB football, fairly sizzled with swift backs and receivers flitting through the grainy film.

Craig Cirbus, Hofher's predecessor, also recruited speed in his final class, but not quite in this abundance. There are six running backs in the football Class of 2005, and not a plow horse among them.

Best known to local football followers is Jamestown's Aaron Leeper, the New York State Class AA Player of the Year, who may end up a defensive back with the Bulls.

There is speed, and then there is speed with wiggles. Tim Dance of Cathedral Prep -- the national powerhouse in Erie, Pa. -- returned four kicks for touchdowns during his senior season.

There were times last season when the Bulls weren't sure where their next ball carrier was coming from after a couple of injuries struck. Some of these recruits, including Leeper and Dance, may end up at other positions, but Brian Polian, the new offensive backfield coach, won't be lonesome on the practice field. Ahead of the recruits, he has last season's top three ball carriers returning.

Hofher didn't arrive with a sweep-clean mentality. The players who finished the season for the previous football administration will be relied upon first. Nor are Cirbus' notions all junked. Maurice Bradford, highly regarded when he was recruited last year, had to fine-tune his academic record at SUNY-Morrisville instead. Hofher endorsed Cirbus' view of him and Bradford is on campus now.

Of all the newcomers, the most interesting is the head coach himself.

After being cuffed around by their new colleagues in the Mid-American Conference for two years, the Bulls' future is a subject prone to skepticism around Western New York. Cirbus came to the job with bright promise, too, but after a good start there was an avalanche of defeats and explanations which didn't wash.

There is a certain feeling in the Buffalo area sports community that, judging from Cirbus' experience, nothing will produce winning seasons for UB football.

I think that's far too gloomy an outlook. It won't be easy, but I've known Hofher for years and I think he may be just the man to pull it off.

He comes to UB with a background Cirbus lacked. He's been a head coach at a high-profile school. Yes, Cornell plays in the Ivy League, but the pressures are enormous from an alumni which is every bit as intense about its loyalty for Big Red football as the alums at Big Ten schools.

The faculty infighting and the prickly competition within the athletic department among varsity teams, male and female, are as ruthless as anything at Michigan or Missouri.

Then there is the factor which prepares Hofher for dealing with reality at UB: He has worked within budgets which were far from generous.

He also won, giving Cornell some of the most entertaining and successful teams it enjoyed in 20 years. Like most young coaches, Hofher was ambitious. Yet when the Boston College head coaching job opened up, he couldn't even get an interview. It wasn't his resume. Ivy League coaches almost never are considered for Division I jobs any longer. Hofher's successor at Cornell, Pete Mangurian, rebuffed by downtrodden Rutgers, recently accepted a job as offensive line coach with the Atlanta Falcons.

Hofher has said he'd be happy to settle into the UB job as a lifer, but if he turns the Bulls from doormat to winner, he knows that successful MAC coaches have a history of satisfying their ambitions.

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