Charley Molnar Upbeat About UMass
By Clyde Hughes
Charley Molnar does not sound like a coach whose team went 1-11 in its first season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2012.
The University of Massachusetts, better known as UMass, won one game in the Mid-American Conference last year, but Molnar told WFXT-TV (Fox25) in Boston in a recent interview that he's expecting so much more this season and beyond.
"My goal is within five years we'll be in a bowl game and 50 percent of our starters will be from the state of Massachusetts," Molnar said in the television interview posted on the UMass website. We have a lot of work to do. Our first season was a growing process not only for the football players but for the whole university in understanding the expectations and demands of I-A football.
"Our guys made great strides through the course of the season. We played more freshmen than anyone in the country and I'm darn proud of that fact. All this is going to do is reap awards for us down the line."
Most fans are familiar with the UMass as a member of the Atlantic 10, but the Atlantic 10 doesn't sanction football. So when the Minutemen needed a conference when the UMass decided to move up from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A), the Mid-American Conference welcomed them.
UMass was not eligible to play in a bowl game last year, but Molnar's face had to light up when he saw the record seven Mid-American Conference schools get bowl invitations in 2012.
"I think the MAC schedule is undervalued," Molnar told Fox25. "It's very competitive. If you take the MAC schedule and the aggressive out-of-conference schedule we're doing, (a player we're recruiting) can't say he's going to another school because that school plays a better schedule. We play an awesome schedule. We're playing the best teams we can in the country and guys will be challenged each and every week."
Along with the MAC schedule this year, UMass will play at Wisconsin on Aug. 31, at Kansas State on Sept. 14 and at home against Vanderbilt on Sept. 21. Wisconsin (8-6 last season) played in the Rose Bowl, while Kansas State (11-2 in 2012) played in the Fiesta Bowl and Vanderbilt (9-4 in 2012) participated in the Music City Bowl, making it one of the more competitive MAC pre-conference schedules.
"We have a great product here," Molnar said. "Our players are always our best salesmen. The players are really excited about the future and were able to bring that energy to the recruits. I think we had an awesome recruiting class."
UMass had a lot of success in the FCS ranks, winning a national title in 1998 and reaching the championship game in 1978 and 2006. While its campus home, McGuirk Stadium, is getting a $30 million upgrade to meet FBS requirements, included expanded seating to 25,000, the Minutemen are playing their home games in Foxboro's Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
Despite it being roughly two hours from campus, Molnar sees the Minutemen playing their home games there as a positive.
"What it signifies is that we're a big-time football program," Molnar said. "We're playing in a major league stadium in a big city. The other benefit, too, is that we have 150,000 alumni within an hour of Gillette Stadium. We really brought the game to the people and to our alumni.
"One the challenges I have as head coach is creating a fan base in the eastern part of the state. There, we're starting at ground zero. We have a great fan base in the western part of the state and Amherst. Now I have to build another one out here in the eastern part. Eventually we'll have games at Gillette and Amherst on campus."
The work is starting to play off. This month, UMass attracted two big-time transfers: defensive end Justin Anderson from Maryland, who started 13 games for the Terps, and wide receiver/tight end Ricardo Miller from Michigan.
"We want (UMass) to be your school of choice," Molnar said in the Fox25 interview. "We've got to give them a reason to pick UMass. We've got great academics and we've got great teachers here at UMass. We have a beautiful campus and now we have to give them a competitive football program. We're working each and every day to make that happen."
Molnar will get to do that with his second shot in the Mid-American Conference starting in August.