When Miami (Ohio) rose from Mid-American Conference laggard to surprise champion last season the doors of opportunity swung open. Pitt hired RedHawks coach Mike Haywood to replace Dave Wannstedt. Haywood's Miami assistants were coming along with him.
But 17 days after his hiring Haywood was charged with domestic abuse. Pitt terminated his deal. Haywood's assistants, who hadn't yet signed contracts, were suddenly looking for work. And that group included Alex Wood, someone with a vast wealth of experience at the college and pro level.
"I knew somebody who knew Alex," said University at Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn. "I knew [of] him at Cincinnati when he was coaching up at Massillon, Ohio. I knew about his time with Denny Green coaching in the NFL. Mouse [UB alum and former NFL line coach Jim McNally] knew of him. It was just a matter of putting all those things together."
Quinn was in the market for an offensive coordinator, having parted with long-time coaching partner and friend Greg Forest after UB's 2-10 and offensively disastrous season. He contacted Wood to gauge his interest.
"I had known some about him just through reputation," Wood said of Quinn. "And when we played Buffalo last year, I thought they were just missing a few things here and there but they were a team that's going to be up and coming. I thought they played hard, played with a lot of heart."
It's interesting how it all worked out. Wannstedt, who resigned under pressure from Pitt, is now Chan Gailey's assistant head coach with the Buffalo Bills. Wood, expecting to be on the staff that replaced Wannstedt's at Pitt, is the new offensive coordinator at UB.
Few coaches in the college game can match Wood's diversity of experience. He's been an NFL receivers coach (Cincinnati), quarterbacks coach (Minnesota) and offensive coordinator (Arizona). He was head coach at James Madison, running backs coach for two Dennis Erickson-coached national championship teams with the Miami Hurricanes, an offensive coordinator at Wake Forest. While it pained Quinn to part ways with Forest, there was no denying Wood represented an upgrade as the Bulls began spring practice last week at the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse.
"It's never easy because it's not only about the person, it's about families and I'm a family man myself," Quinn said. "At the same time, I have to look at the big picture. I have to look at the overall direction of our offense and what's best for our football team. The production that we had last year wasn't up to my standards. It was well below. And I felt bringing in a guy with experience like Alex, who's been an NFL coordinator, and has been a head coach it's great for me going into my second year as a head football coach here at Buffalo."
The Bulls were an offensive mess last season. A spread, no-huddle attack designed to keep defenses on their heels screeched to a halt following a season-opening victory over Rhode Island, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. Quarterback Jerry Davis struggled and gave way to Alex Zordich. A running game that had flourished under previous coach Turner Gill plodded behind an injury-depleted and overmatched offensive line.
What will it take to turn it around? What does it take to put some sizzle into the no-huddle spread?
"Good players, just like any other system," Wood said. "Systems are one thing but good players are the bottom line. They have to execute and run and catch and score touchdowns.
"We have them. We've just got to get everybody to play at their best all the time and we're in good shape. It's early. Like all teams, we have potential. It's our job as coaches and players to realize that."
Quinn is confident the Bulls have begun putting those lean offensive days behind them. He's wide open to input from Wood and new receivers coach Don Patterson, another veteran presence with an extensive resume.
"It's been a collaborative effort," Quinn said. "And I think really just in the last two days here we've seen some great progress with our offense."