Molnar introduces staff as Minutemen approach FBS season

By Stephen Sellner

New Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar always knew the day would come where he would be able to lead a Football Bowl Subdivison football program. So when it came time to choose his own staff, he’d been ready for years. .

“I’ve been assembling a staff [in my head] for years and years so it just mattered where the job was, what the opportunity was, who ultimately, I would end up hiring or trying to hire,” said Molnar at a press conference on Monday.

And at the press conference, he unveiled his finished product. The staff is highlighted by veteran defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian – who spent last season in the same role at Purdue – and offensive coordinator Mike Kruczek, who has held positions in the National Football League, United Football League and FBS.

Rodrick Plummer was named special teams coordinator and running backs coach, Dave Sollazzo takes over as assistant head coach and defensive line coach and Ron Hudson becomes the run game coordinator and offensive line coach. Rounding out the staff is Allen Suber (wide receivers coach), Shane Waldron (tight ends and recruiting coordinator) and Jeff Burris (cornerbacks coach).

Molnar’s selection placed great emphasis on experience as the program makes the jump from the Football Championship Subdivision to the FBS.

“The criteria I used was simple: Either the coaches that we hired had experience as a full-time assistant at the [Division] IA level, or the professional level, or played professional football. And we met all those standards,” said Molnar.

According to Molnar, he received over 1,000 text messages, emails, faxes and resumes for the positions

There was never any question who Molnar wanted leading his defense. In fact, Molnar had always told Elmassian that when he became a head coach, Elmassian would be the first person he called.

“I always told Phil when I became a head coach, he would be my defensive coordinator and he told me that he would oblige, and the stars lined up and I was able to bring in a veteran coach with over 30 years experience as our [defensive coordinator],” said Molnar.

Elmassian brings 38 years of coaching experience to the Minutemen, with 10 years from his time as defensive coordinator. He is no stranger to the spotlight of Division I college football, serving as defensive coordinator for elite programs such as Purdue, West Virginia, Louisiana State, Boston College and Virginia Tech.

With the Mid-American Conference stock full of spread offenses and no shortage of points, Elmassian will run a 4-3 defense to try and neutralize the conference’s offensive firepower.

Molnar and Elmassian have worked together in the past dating back to Molnar’s days as a graduate assistant at Virginia from 1987 to 1988 while Elmassian was the assistant head coach and secondary coach.

Elmassian knew Molnar would get his chance eventually based on his thoughts about Molnar’s focus and drive on the task at hand.

“He’s prepared for this day,” said Elmassian. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

On the offensive side, Kruczek is no stranger to teams in transition to the MAC. He was the head coach at Central Florida as the Knights jumped into the FBS in 2002. However, the process was much rougher the first time around than it is now at UMass, as UCF spent six seasons as an independent before earning a bid to the MAC.

“I’ve been here and done this,” said Kruczek. “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Kruczek, who will also serve as the quarterback coach, spent three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals from 2004-2006, with the last year as offensive coordinator and the first two as the franchise’s quarterbacks coach. He held the same title last season in the UFL with the Sacramento Mountain Lions during his only year with the team.

A Boston College alum, Kruczek was an All-American quarterback with the Eagles in the mid-1970s.

While he is new to the spread offense, Kruczek will be working side-by-side with Molnar, who is no stranger to the system after running it at Notre Dame and Cincinnati. But Kruczek is used to putting points on the board, as he did with UCF in his last stint in the college game.

“Spread, for me, is something new conceptually. I tell you what, it’s fast-paced and it’s [going to] be throwing the ball around the yard now and that’s what I like to do,” he said.

And with throwing the ball comes the obvious need for a capable quarterback. Junior Kellen Pagel returns for his junior season and he, along with incoming freshman A.J. Doyle from Catholic Memorial High School, headline the quarterback position. Kruczek said the competition is wide open.

“We have to have a trigger guy to be able to allow us to keep pace with these teams because obviously the defenses are having a tough time with it so there’s doubt that the guy that drives this car or train has got to be very good. And we have to find the right guy,” said Kruczek.

The entire staff represents a unified front, committed and excited to building the program up and changing the culture.

“Everyone expressed some of the same reasons for coming here that I had,” said Molnar. “A chance to really impact a program, to help a program grow from a IAA to a IA and really a chance to leave their fingerprints on the program, the same kind of things I’ve said.”

And as the team moves to the FBS, the Minutemen will have the task of competing against Division I talent when its roster consists of Divison II recruits.

“The kids are learning what it takes to play at the next level and that’s what we’re trying to transition to, and that’s the most important thing that we’re getting done right now,” said Sollazzo.

Sollazzo has 34 years of coaching experience, including 10 years at Maryland coaching the defensive side of the ball.

With the program’s transition to the FBS in full swing, this new coaching staff will have its fingerprints all over the future of the program and will have a lot of influence on where UMass is in the next five to 10 years. And the coaches appear to be embracing that notion.

“That’s one of the reasons that brought me here. Just the fact that we’re starting at the ground level and building the foundation and hopefully putting a big house on top of a big foundation and that’s what we’re in the coaching business for,” said Sollazzo. “That’s the most enjoyable thing that you can experience.”

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.