Based on the reactions flooding Twitter throughout the day, not many Massachusetts football players were expecting to wake up to news that coach Charley Molnar was fired Thursday morning.
One of those players was quarterback A.J. Doyle, who said he was “shocked” to find out Molnar was fired by athletic director John McCutcheon just four weeks after telling the Daily Hampshire Gazette he would be coaching UMass in 2014.
However, after a pair of 1-11 seasons filled with disappointment, controversy and blowout losses, Doyle wasn’t too surprised his coach was let go.
“Anytime a team goes 2-22 over two years and we don’t put up many points and we give up a lot, there’s alway a possibility,” Doyle told the Collegian via phone interview. “But then before the Ohio game, Mr. McCutcheon saying that he was our coach the next year, it was kind of a mixed signal. But it’s a business and people understand that so I’m not 100 percent shocked by it.”
Asked if he thought firing Molnar just two years into a transition to Football Bowl Subdivision – where struggles were to be expected – was the right decision by the university, Doyle said, “I’ll say yes right now. We were 2-22, maybe it’s a coaching change that will spark us, maybe it’s something that us players here can do. It’s just one thing that could possibly lead to a spark and hopefully get this program back to where it was at the (FCS) level, but at the (FBS) level in terms of winning.”
Molnar was under fire from fans and alumni just one month into this season when an alumni petition that called for the better treatment of players as a result of a video of players performing winter conditioning workouts, which included boxing and wrestling-style bouts between players, made waves online.
At the time, those activities were legal. And even though it put a sour taste in the mouths of many fans, Doyle said he never saw that or anything else Molnar did on or off the field as problematic or detrimental to the program.
“I just don’t know if coach Molnar ever got off on the right foot with people at UMass,” Doyle said. “It’s difficult to take a program from (FCS) to (FBS) so I can’t blame him.”
With that being said, Doyle would like to see UMass bring in a coach different from Molnar in order to help change the culture of the program.
“We just want a guy that’s gonna be in there with us that would bleed with us, cry with us, sweat with us,” Doyle said. “That’s what we need. I think right now we need a different style of coach than what coach Molnar was. Maybe that’ll be a spark in the program and it’ll help us turn it around.”
The Collegian attempted to reach numerous players for comment, but got no other responses. But based on Doyle’s conversations with his teammates, he said that there is a mixed reaction among players, some of which are taking it hard, and others who are pleased with the decision.
Doyle, of all players, had the closest ties to Molnar. He was the first player Molnar contacted after being hired by UMass in December 2011. Doyle went from being a linebacker commit at North Carolina State to becoming the future starting quarterback – a position he always dreamed of playing at the collegiate level – of the Minutemen thanks to Molnar, something he said he’ll be “eternally grateful” for.
Ultimately, however, Doyle said the success of the program comes down to playing better as players, no matter who the new coach is in 2014.
“Overall as a team we understand that we need to improve ourselves first before we can worry about a coach,” Doyle said. “We need to worry about improving ourselves as a team. We all understand that.
“We’ve been talking as players for the past four or five weeks since the season ended,” he added, “and we know that it’s all on us to change ourselves because we’re the only ones that go out on the field on Saturday and make the plays.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.