The beginning of Charley Molnar’s end came on Aug. 31 in Madison, Wis.
Everything was going about the way one could have expected. The Massachusetts football team was trailing then-No. 23 Wisconsin 10-0 midway through the second quarter, and appeared to be on its way to a well anticipated lopsided defeat at the hands of a far superior opponent to open the 2013 season.
Then quarterback Mike Wegzyn got in a rhythm.
The Minutemen drove 48 yards in eight plays to set kicker Blake Lucas up for a 47-yard field goal that would cut the deficit to 10-3 – you read it right, a single touchdown against the three-time defending Big Ten champions – with three minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the first half. That in itself could’ve been considered an upset.
Lucas made the kick. But it was immediately erased because Molnar called a timeout right before the snap. Lucas’ second attempt went wide left. Two plays later, Melvin Gordon ran for a 70-yard touchdown to put UMass in a 17-point hole at halftime that quickly turned into a 45-0 loss.
If Molnar felt any sort of responsibility for such a costly mistake, you wouldn’t have known it based in his comments after the game.
“Well, the clock was ticking down and we could tell our center wasn’t aware of the clock and our special teams coach and I were looking at each other and we had to make a decision really fast,” Molnar said. “We were right on our kicker’s limit for that day. And if we take a 5-yard penalty, now we’re out of field goal range. … (Lucas) should’ve made it the second time like he made it the first time, really.”
All I sense from those comments is a lack of accountability from Molnar. And to me, that’s the biggest reason he deserved to get fired after two seasons as coach of the Minutemen, which was made official following a university news release Thursday morning, taking with him the three remaining years on his contract and about $836,000.
In December 2011, Molnar was asked to lead the program in its risky transition to Football Bowl Subdivision. With his outspoken confidence and faith in an unproven program, Molnar came in looking like Alexander The Great. On Thursday, he left feeling as hopeless as Alex Rodriguez.
There were a number of factors that made Molnar unfit to continue leading the Minutemen after two seasons. There was the 2-22 record over two seasons, with little on-field progress shown. There was his knack for burning timeouts at the most inconvenient moments of the game, clearly showing his clock-management deficiencies. Then, of course, there was the scolding heat Molnar took when an alumni petition calling for him to “stop the improper treatment of the current players (and) improve the quality of the program” after a video of players participating in winter conditioning workouts that included boxing and wrestling between teammates circulated the web.
But none of those was Molnar’s biggest downfall. With each big decision that went wrong, it wasn’t he who was to blame for the team’s failures. It was his players. When he opted to go for the two-point conversion rather than take the tie and overtime Oct. 26 against Western Michigan, he highlighted his fear of potentially getting into a kicking battle with the winless Broncos in overtime, using Lucas. His players, most notably Rob Blanchflower, instead expressed his support and sympathy toward his teammate, even after missing a 22-yard chip shot earlier in the contest, in his own press conference.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Blanchflower said. “He hits them all the time in practice. We love Blake. We trust him. It was an extremely windy day going from right to left so you can’t put all the blame on a guy like that in these conditions.”
Players should without a doubt take responsibility when they make a mistake, but a coach with two wins doesn’t have that same right to openly place blame on his players to the media.
The pressure to build a program with little foundation. This tension that undoubtedly rose between Molnar and his players and the bitterness toward a coach who often tried to deflect blame from himself, eventually caught up to him. Numerous players packed their bags and made a one-way trip out of Amherst after his first season, and multiple players, including prominent names such as Wegzyn and Stacey Bedell, are seeking their way out one month into this offseason.
While there is the possibility more players, especially some commits, could be lost as a result of Molnar’s firing, this dark chapter of UMass football is over. Now it’s time for the university to find a coach who is fit for such a daunting task.
The Minutemen need a coach who is not blind to the mess that is in front of him. They don’t need someone to predict a Mid-American Conference championship in five years – which actually sounds more comical now than it did two years ago. They need a coach who is aggressive, isn’t afraid to take risks and will hold himself accountable when things don’t go as planned.
I don’t know who that coach is, or where UMass can find him. All I know is that this person is no Charley Molnar, which may be the best thing the program has heard in years.
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.