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UB’s quest for ‘right’ coach faces hurdles

University at Buffalo Athletics Director Danny White will have to buck a recent Mid-American Conference trend if he’s interested in hiring a coordinator from a “brand-name” football school to be his new head football coach.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. But White may have to find someone willing to take a sizable pay cut to come to UB if he wants a power-program coordinator.

That’s precisely what Jeff Quinn did when he was hired by UB in 2010. Quinn was all set to move with Brian Kelly from Cincinnati to Notre Dame when he was tapped by UB. He would have made roughly $200,000 more with the Irish than his $325,000-a-year gig with the Bulls. (Quinn never actually signed a contract with Notre Dame.)

Miami University’s Chuck Martin took a $200,000 pay cut last year to go from ND offensive coordinator to the head job in Oxford, Ohio, where he is making $450,000.

The expectation is White is going to aim high in his coaching search and try to hire someone with a connection to a power conference, someone whose mere presence raises the profile of the UB program. It may or may not be a coordinator.

For a long time, the Mid-American Conference teams looked to big-time coordinators for head-coaching positions. Not as much lately.

Only two of the 12 current MAC head coaches (not counting Quinn) came from jobs as coordinators at Bowl Championship Series schools. Martin did it this year. Two years ago, Paul Haynes went from defensive coordinator at Arkansas to Kent State. Haynes was on the way out with the rest of the staff at Arkansas, and Kent State is his alma mater. Going back a decade, current Ohio coach Frank Solich sat out a year after being fired as Nebraska head coach to take the Bobcats’ job in 2005.

Money is an impediment to hiring a coordinator from one of the power conferences.

The average salary of MAC coaches last year was $400,000. Ohio’s Solich is the top-paid MAC coach at $513,900.

More than 55 major college assistant coaches last season were making more than $500,000 a year, according to a USA Today survey. That did not even include more than 150 assistants at mostly private institutions who were left out of the survey because their salary information was unavailable.

The highest paid assistant in the country last year was Clemson’s Chad Morris, who makes $1.3 million a year.

Consider the case of Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. He worked with UB’s White in 2008 at Fresno State. The Michigan staff is on a hot seat, and Nussmeier might get fired with the rest of the Wolverines’ staff at the end of this season. Nussmeier makes a base salary of $830,000. He previously worked for Alabama’s Nick Saban. If he gets fired, it’s not hard to imagine him landing a $700,000 coordinator job next season.

To be sure, there are major conference candidates who would not have to take a big pay cut, or any cut, to go to the MAC.

Michigan State has a co-offensive coordinator, Dave Warner, who made $279,000 last year.

South Carolina’s co-offensive coordinator, Steve Spurrier Jr., has a reported salary of $380,000 this year. He’s 42 and is someone UB fans have targeted as a potential candidate because he has the name recognition that would make an impact at UB. He has spent most of his career working for his famous father, the South Carolina head coach.

Central Michigan, which UB faces on Saturday, hired Dan Enos away from Michigan State in 2010. Enos had been running backs coach for the Spartans.

Nevertheless, the job of a MAC athletic director isn’t quite as easy as it used to be when it comes to finding coaches.

Two of last year’s MAC hires came from the lower-division, Football Championship Subdivision ranks.

Bowling Green hired Dino Babers from Eastern Illinois. Eastern Michigan hired Chris Creighton from Drake.

Three years ago, Akron hired Terry Bowden away from Division II North Alabama. Four years ago, Ball State hired Pete Lembo from FCS Elon.

The website has floated some names of lower-division coaches who might be good fits at UB, including Indiana of Pennsylvania’s Curt Cignetti, Fordham’s Joe Moorhead and Towson’s Rob Ambrose. Cignetti, 53, served a four-year stint under Saban at Alabama before replacing current UB defensive coordinator Lou Tepper at IUP in 2011.

There are a lot of good coaches at the FCS and lower levels. Whether any of them have the profile UB is seeking is questionable.