University at Buffalo interim head coach Alex Wood had to chuckle at the suggestion this week that maybe he and his team will embrace the idea they have nothing to lose in the wake of the firing of Jeff Quinn.
“I’ve always approached it that way,” Wood said. “In my business, are you kidding me? There’s no security. Why get uptight about any of that stuff? Because if you don’t win the game, they’re going to get you anyway. So win the game. Make that your focus. I don’t get uptight about it. I like to live on the edge a little bit.”
Wood thinks the UB players will respond with a focused effort today when they face Central Michigan at 3:30 p.m. at UB Stadium.
“These guys are high-character gentlemen, young men,” Wood said. “They’ve responded appropriately, in my opinion, because they don’t like it. It’s left a nasty taste in their mouth, and I think they want to do better.”
Can UB (3-4) rebound from a bad loss at Eastern Michigan and the shock of Quinn’s firing 12 days ago? The players were saying all the right things this week.
“I think it’s funny that a lot of people are looking down on this season out in public,” said senior linebacker Jacob Stockman. “It’s funny to us. Our mindset is we’re going to rattle off five, we’re going to go 8-4 and go to a bowl game.”
“I think we’re ready to go, and we’re focused on Central,” said senior receiver Devon Hughes. “Last week was a shock, but I think we’ve moved past it. We’re behind coach Wood, and we’re confident of what we’re going to do against Central. I think we want to prove to everyone, and to ourselves, that we’re a good team.”
There’s no doubt the 59-year-old Wood is a calming influence on the team. He has 37 years of coaching experience. He was running backs coach at University of Miami when it won national titles in 1989 and ’91. He was a head coach at James Madison from 1995 to ’98, posting a 23-22 record. He spent nine years as an NFL assistant, with Minnesota, Cincinnati and Arizona.
He also has produced over the past four years as offensive coordinator for UB. The Bulls’ offense is balanced and effective. It produced 33.8 points a game last year. It’s averaging 33 ppg this year. Wood has the respect of the players.
“It’s a very upbeat tone here, it’s a go-get-em mentality,” said safety Okezie Alozie. “Everybody loves it. Nobody came out moping around or needed to be picked up. We all know what we need to do.”
“We’ve toned back the contact in practice a little bit, but we’ve sped up playing a little faster, and we’re hoping that will translate to game day,” said left tackle Jake Silas. “I think everyone’s buying into it.”
“I think it’s more of an NFL style he’s going with,” Hughes said. “He’s all about keeping us fresh. I think his main thing was he wanted us to be as fresh as possible going into Saturday. We don’t do a lot of hitting. It’s mainly technique-based and making sure our hands are in the right place, our routes are at the right depth. We don’t have to hit at this point of the season. I like that.”
The Bulls are 1-2 in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. Bowling Green leads at 3-1. Akron is 2-1. The other four teams all have at least two losses. Central Michigan (4-4) is 2-2 in the West Division.
“I have the utmost confidence in the guys we have here,” Wood said. “We’re going to make this thing go. We’re just a win away from being in the thick of this thing.”
“I think the most impressive thing about the team was last Wednesday’s practice,” Stockman said. “We got the news Monday. Tuesday we were off. As an upperclassman, you’re worried about what other guys are thinking. We got back Wednesday and everyone was bouncing around ready to go, hungry. Everyone understood that what happened, happened. Since then it’s just been about football. We’ve been on point. If anything, there’s a little more bounce to our step because as players, your head coach is now gone. They just fired your head coach. We know we’re a good team. We have a little chip on our shoulder now.”