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Manuel casts long shadow over Hofher

Warde Manuel has been on the job for only three weeks, but already the clock is ticking on his first major decision. Sometime after the season, and not a minute before, the new University at Buffalo athletics director will comb through his notes, complete his evaluation and decide the fate of Jim Hofher.

Manuel insisted early Sunday morning, shortly after UB continued its season in familiar fashion, that Hofher is no different than anyone else in the department. Manuel described himself as a fair but calculating man. He will assess everybody. It starts with Hofher, who faces more scrutiny than ever.

Hofher refused to speculate about his future, but it can't look promising for a coach with a 7-42 record and one full season left on his contract. Certainly, Manuel has a short list of candidates he believes can lead the Bulls in the right direction. It makes sense that he would want to bring in his own man and put his stamp on the program.

Hofher is a good man, a hard-working man, but it doesn't mean he's the right man. His team looks no better in his fifth year than it did in his first. In fact, it might be worse. He won three games his first year with holdovers from the Craig Cirbus era. He's won four games since. UB still hasn't beaten a Mid-American Conference team on the road. Quarterback remains a persistent problem.

The Bulls dropped to 0-3 Saturday after a 17-3 loss to Rutgers, outgaining their opponent by 61 yards and losing by two touchdowns. It was the best news to come out of the program this year after UB had been outscored, 69-0, in the first two games. It must be humbling for Manuel, given his success at Michigan.

Manuel didn't express disappointment with Hofher, but he didn't give his coach a ringing endorsement, either. How could he? UB is averaging a point per game, giving up nearly 29. And there's no blaming it on youth and inexperience, not with 17 juniors and seniors he recruited in the starting lineup.

Granted, Hofher isn't the only problem. Manuel knows the program is underfunded compared to its conference rivals. He's thinking about scheduling a game against a big-time school on the road, collecting between $400,000 and $600,000 for being a cupcake and dumping the money back into football. He wants to increase coaching salaries. He wants an indoor practice facility to help lure recruits.

They are real issues, definitely, but they aren't excuses for failure.

Hofher couldn't have helped his credibility Saturday, when the Bulls drove 75 yards and were greeted by fourth-and-2 from the 9 in the second quarter. Common sense for a team that hadn't scored all year says kick the field goal, complete the drive and accept a respectable 7-3 deficit before halftime.

Instead, Hofher rationalized UB had a better chance of making the first down and came away empty. No wonder the Bulls were greeted with a standing ovation after Mike Baker, who had missed six straight attempts and couldn't kick a bad habit, booted a 33-yarder later in the game.

Oh, the sounds of sarcasm.

Manuel should understand that the standards around here aren't exactly through the roof. Nobody is demanding excellence. But it doesn't want to be a laughingstock, and that's what UB has become.

Hofher was hired for his offensive mind and knack for developing passers, but he has yet to land a qualified QB, hasn't developed one either. He entered this season with four quarterbacks, a sign he really had none. UB has eight games to turn things around if he's going to keep his job.

Time hasn't run out, but the clock is ticking.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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