If Turner Gill leaves for his alma mater after this season, University at Buffalo football survives.
If the man who brought Gill to UB also departs in the near future then the program has a problem.
The recourse: Extend the contract of Athletics Director Warde Manuel with hopes of heading off temptation.
There's no overstating Manuel's role in lugging UB out of football oblivion. He arrived from Michigan with a reputation as a sharp administrator and accomplished fund-raiser and he's delivered as advertised.
Meanwhile, at Nebraska, speculation has interim AD Tom Osborne retaining the job for a couple of years while the Cornhuskers overhaul their wreck of a football program. Otherwise, Manuel would be a legitimate candidate for that position, just as Gill is a contender to succeed Bill Callahan, a dead man walking, as head coach.
Manuel's two-year track record impresses. He secured the donation that funded a new weight center adjacent to UB Stadium, enabling the team to work out in unison, giving the program more of a big-time feel. He targeted the need for an indoor practice facility and is closing in on making it reality. He continues to court relationships with distinguished alums, asking them to take a more active role in the resurgence of UB athletics.
Manuel hit Buffalo with plan in hand. He'd played football at Michigan under Bo Schembechler. For 14 years before hitting Buffalo he served in administrative capacities, which included direct ties to the Wolverines football program. He already knew what achieving viability in the Mid-American Conference entailed.
Manuel knows his football? When Manuel decided the program needed a change of direction, he asked for a list of coaching candidates. He scanned the names and noted an omission. "Where's Turner Gill?"
Gill was in Green Bay, working as a player development director and offensive assistant with the Packers. He had severed his long-term relationship with Nebraska when Callahan was named coach by Steve Peterson, the AD fired the second week of October, one month after giving the mildly successful Callahan a five-year contract extension at $1.75 million a year.
Gill still was longing to run his own college program after missing out on the head jobs in Nebraska and Missouri. When Manuel detailed his vision for UB's ascension, a deal was struck. In a blink UB rose from the depths of college football to a title contender in the MAC East, turning both its coach and its AD into hot commodities.
The startling progression came with Manuel balancing both sides of the ledger. The football program had been in dire need of a capital infusion. The quick remedy was to take to the road against BCS conference teams willing to ante up for the right to conquer a struggling program despite worries that the big boys would beat UB into submission. Instead, in addition to landing lucrative paydays, the Bulls drew confidence from giving Auburn a run, playing a solid second half at Penn State.
There's a reasonable chance that Gill will get the Nebraska job. He's part of the program's storied lore and a statewide legend. And if the opportunity comes and he makes the move, good for him. He'll have stomped the perception that UB is a steppingstone to nowhere while leaving behind a roster laden with talent.
But what of Manuel? UB needs him around another two years, maybe three, to ensure the football program receives the keen oversight it warrants through this emerging stage. There's no guarantee that sweetening his contract will ward off all suitors. But letting him know he's appreciated certainly can't hurt.