Danny White had been thinking about the possibility all season, so it wasn’t as if the UB athletic director snapped after a bad game and started firing people. The loss to Eastern Michigan contributed to Jeff Quinn getting canned seven games into his fifth season, but one defeat didn’t cost him his job.
White had three hours to himself in the car while driving from Ypsilanti, Mich., after the Eastern Michigan game to Cleveland for the Mid-American Conference meetings. He had another three hours in the car while driving from Cleveland to Buffalo after the meetings.
Several hours in a car is enough for most of us to solve the world’s problems, but White used the time alone to remove emotion, clear his head and examine his football program from all angles. He realized he needed to replace his coach. He owed the seniors a chance to save their final season, and he wanted an upgrade for the players after them. Quinn was finished.
It was a matter of when, not if.
“It was something I was thinking about from the first few games of the year, regardless of the way we lost them,” White said during halftime Saturday in UB’s 20-14 loss to Central Michigan. “It was the way we played. Everybody could see that we weren’t matching our expectations we had in the preseason.”
White ultimately determined that the sooner Quinn was fired, the better for everybody else. He had a former head coach in Alex Wood who could take over for Quinn. He hoped the move would rejuvenate the Bulls going into the final stretch of their season against teams they were capable of beating.
It also bought him more time before hiring someone to replace Quinn before next season. White repeatedly has made himself clear about his standards. He expects the Bulls to compete for conference titles in all sports. If they’re not moving forward, they’re going in the wrong direction. He’s not afraid to make changes.
Quinn had one good season in a cyclical league. White was looking for him to confirm last season wasn’t a fluke. UB had trouble with Duquesne in the season opener. There was the loss to Army. They struggled against conference pushover Miami and followed up with a loss to Bowling Green.
Where was the program going after losing to Eastern Michigan? Backward. UB fell to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in the conference with the loss Saturday. It’s not good enough.
“We’re serious about competing for MAC championships in all of our sports,” White said. “We’re very serious. We have a budget that allows us to be highly competitive in the conference. I’m not saying we’re going to dominate the conference, but we want to be in the hunt.”
White has made numerous changes since he was hired in 2012, but none was more important to the athletic department than this one. He has been effective when it comes to raising money. He has connections to big-time programs. He insists the job will attract good candidates in a national search.
He needs someone who can help sell the program, but nothing generates interest and money more than a winning product on the field. It’s not easy in the MAC, which has several fragile programs. Recruiting is difficult. The best players generally land in bigger programs. The better MAC coaches usually don’t stay for long.
And it’s particularly tough in Buffalo, given the university’s academic standards, the region’s reputation for lousy weather and the program’s lack of history. It’s a tough sell for players and a tough sell for coaches. If coaches can’t lure good players, they’re in trouble.
In essence, White is putting his reputation on the line. He has his detractors, people who believe he’s too enamored with big names or that he’s trying to polish his resume or that he’s too slick. He could be all of the above, actually, but it doesn’t matter if he hires the right coach.
White deserves credit for this much: He makes no apologies for his decisions. It will serve him, and by extension, UB very well. He’s raising the bar, which is a refreshing change in a sports town that has come to accept 6-10 seasons and losing as a long-term strategy for winning.
Despite all the changes over the past 2½ years, each move was made for the sake of short-term success and long-term stability. The next football coach he hires will have at least four years to get the program going in the right direction. At that point, he’ll evaluate him much the way he assessed Quinn.
“We don’t take these kinds of decisions lightly,” he said. “Transitioning a coach, in this sport more than any other, it’s a complicated endeavor. If you’re too quick with the trigger finger, and you have multiple classes of athletes with different coaching changes on one roster, it’s hard to be competitive.”
Quinn’s firing Oct. 13 made for awkward pregame Senior Day ceremonies Saturday. Some were recruited by Turner Gill, but all 19 seniors honored spent their college careers under Quinn. Rather than shake his hand near midfield, they were greeted by Wood, the offensive coordinator before Quinn was fired.
It hardly made for a touching moment. Then again, we all know Division I college and professional sports are cold and unsentimental. White had a good working relationship with Quinn, but he didn’t have any real allegiance to him. It came down to winning. He didn’t hire Quinn, and he had no problem firing him.
The seniors will be on their way in another month. The juniors will have one season with a new coach. UB’s underclassmen will get a fresh start, but they’ll need to prove they’re worth keeping for two years. Some may back their bags and transfer. The change is certain to affect recruiting one way or another.
We’ll see where the program goes with White behind the wheel.