University of Massachusetts head football coach Charley Molnar is not hesitant to say he believes his team will be competitive in its first season in the Mid-American Conference.
“I think we are going to fit in,” Molnar said July 24 during MAC Media Day at Ford Field. “Some teams will throw it a little bit better, some teams will run it a little bit better, but, at the end of the day, I think our spread offense is going to be similar to the other offenses in the league and we will be competitive.”
The Minutemen are making the transition from the Football Championship Subdivision, where they last competed in the Colonial Athletic Association.
In order to be successful, Molnar said he must first start by building a foundation that will last for generations.
“In Massachusetts, there are homes in Amherst where I live that were built in the 1700s,” the first-year head coach said. “And what’s the common denominator? They all had a great foundation, and that’s why those homes still exist today. That is how our football program is going to be. We are going to put down a great foundation, and if that means winning twelve games or winning less than twelve games, I don’t know. But when we put that foundation down, it’s going to last for a long, long time.”
That foundation begins with playing team defense.
“Our defense has to have a real trademark and the trademark that I want is for us to be the most physically and mentally tough defense in the MAC,” Molnar said. “And that’s something that doesn’t take skill. That just takes a mindset, a will and great coaching.”
Along with its eight conference games, UMass will also play the University of Michigan and Indiana University of the Big Ten, the University of Connecticut of the Big East and Vanderbilt University of the Southeastern Conference — all major conference opponents that could pose a difficult challenge for the Minutemen.
“We have to be physically and mentally ready to basically bring our ‘A’ game 12 weeks in a row,” Molnar said. “That’s the challenge ahead of us, and I believe it can be done. I believe the guys that we have right now have bought into that, and I believe as coaches we can get our guys ready week in and week out for the challenges that lie ahead.”
Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren said he thinks UMass will have little difficulty adjusting to the new league.
“They will be very competitive,” Doeren said. “I’ve coached at that level for a number of years. They’re going to have good players, and they’re not going to be shell-shocked by playing in our league.”
A new league also means a new stadium for the Minutemen, who will now play at Gillette stadium — home of the New England Patriots in the National Football League.
“We have 1,500 UMass alumni who live about an hour or so away from Gillette Stadium,” Molnar said. “We are going to bring the game to the people. For us to be a big time football program, we need a big time football stadium.”
With the addition of UMass, the MAC now has 13 teams, a number MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher says he is very comfortable with.
There is no rush to add another school any time soon.
“At the heart of the Mid-American Conference is a very stable core of institutions,” Steinbrecher said. “And I think it’s because of the common philosophy that permeates all of our schools. We look an awful lot alike, our athletic programs look an awful lot alike, our budgets are very similar, so we will be very deliberate in anything we do. Could we at some point? Perhaps. But we’re in no great hurry.
Central Michigan is scheduled to take on the Minutemen in Foxboro, Mass. on Nov. 23 for its final conference matchup before the MAC Championship game.