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Notebook: Ex-UB coach Hofher returns with new team

Jim Hofher spent a tough five years as head coach at the University at Buffalo.

He took over a program in 2001 that was just two years into what then was known as Division I-A status. The veterans on the roster when he arrived were I-AA players. Hofher’s teams went 8-49, and he was fired after the 2005 campaign.

Hofher, 57, will be back on the UB Stadium sidelines Saturday as assistant head coach and receivers coach for the University of Nevada. He takes some satisfaction in knowing he figuratively moved the ball down the field for the UB program.

“The program was in its infancy and we knew that going in,” Hofher said by phone from Reno, Nev. “I think of the work we did to try to develop a program and the guys that were on that championship team in 2008. So many of them were very young players who we were proud to have brought into the program.”

UB won the Mid-American Conference championship under coach Turner Gill in 2008. A lot of the key contributors were Hofher recruits. They included quarterback Drew Willy and running back James Starks, along with other future pro players such as defensive end Trevor Scott, lineman Jamey Richard, receiver Ernest Jackson and linebacker Ramon Guzman.

“There were good players, they were just all young,” Hofher said.

“I’ve been lucky enough to coach for a long time,” Hofher said. “It kind of feels like a half a lifetime ago. I’ll never dismiss the love and the relationships I had. I loved Bill Greiner, God rest his soul. He was the president. I loved Bob Arkeilpane, who hired me, and Bill Maher, who was the interim athletic director for almost two years and now is at Canisius. They were wonderful professional people whose friendship I greatly appreciated.”

After leaving UB, Hofher spent one season as an aide at Bowling Green and four at Delaware. When Brian Polian took over as head coach at Nevada, he immediately hired Hofher. Polian had been special teams coach at UB under Hofher from 2001 to 2003.

Does Hofher view his Buffalo tenure as more grueling than the others? Not really. Coaching is an all-in profession, win or lose.

“Every season, I’ve likened it to you’re about to go into a submarine,” Hofher said. “That submarine goes underneath the ice cap, and you don’t come out for a long time. Every season is like that, whether it’s a championship season or not.”

The rewards of coaching, however, are great. Hofher gave an example from Nevada’s road trip to Texas A&M last week.

“We were staying outside of College Station and one of our former UB players who makes his home in Houston went way out of his way to come to our team hotel,” Hofher said. “He was a fullback Jason Montanez. ... I had a chance to see him and he said, ‘Coach, before you say anything else I want to hug you,’ which he did, and he’s a big bear of a man. And he said, ‘I want to thank you for the opportunity you provided to me when I was a young guy, and I’ve been trying to make good in my life because of it.’ ”

“He’s got a terrific job with American Express,” Hofher said. “That’s why you coach. Sure, you coach to win. You coach to lead. But you coach, at least at the collegiate level, to make a difference.”

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UB senior punter Tyler Grassman was named a semifinalist for the 2015 William V. Campbell Trophy, the National Football Foundation announced Thursday. Considered the “Academic Heisman,” the Campbell Trophy recognizes an individual as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation. A two-time Academic All-Mid-American Conference selection, Grassman boasts a 3.7 grade-point average as a business administration major. In his fourth season as the Bulls starting punter, the Columbus, Ohio, native ranks third in school history in both career punts (220) and career punt yardage (8,461).

He’s one of 135 semifinalists, one of 56 from the Football Bowl Subdivision and one of 12 special teamers on the list. A group of 15 finalists will be revealed on Oct. 29.

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Nevada arrived in Buffalo on Thursday evening. The Wolf Pack were scheduled to practice Friday at St. Francis, coach Brian Polian’s high school. They planned to have lunch at Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant in Blasdell, then visit Niagara Falls.

UB coach Lance Leipold said his team is mostly recovered from the stomach bug that more than a dozen players caught on the trip to Florida.

“We had to cut out about a half-hour of practice today,” Leipold said. “We shrunk a lot down to try to get them all back. But I think our guys are excited to be back home, and they’re ready for the challenge.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com