It’s all about the look.
I liked what I saw, at least from a football standpoint, when UB held its annual preseason media day Tuesday. Now, I realize that everyone puts on a happy face for these events. Even teams that finish 1-10 have a media day in August and naturally everyone says it’s going to be a big year for State U. No one thinks they’re going to go 1-10 but somebody has to.
Too often, UB has been one of the big losers. But this year looks different. It feels different.
When wide receiver Alex Neutz astutely told me about “a different swagger” and quarterback Joe Licata called it “a certain aura,” you knew exactly what they meant.
The Bulls have long settled on a quarterback in Williamsville South’s Licata. They have an NFL first-round pick in linebacker Khalil Mack. They have depth at skill positions, better athletes all over the roster and a deeper, more experienced coaching staff than they’ve ever had.
The opening to the very first sentence head coach Jeff Quinn uttered in his remarks to reporters was, “It’s probably one of the most exciting times to be part of UB football.”
Coachspeak? Sure. But for once, it seems there’s actually reason to believe Quinn, who is the most relentless optimist I have ever heard. I’d want to play for him too.
Still, I couldn’t help but notice the goofy logo on the white polo Quinn was wearing and on the blue backdrop he was speaking in front of. And the utterly hideous jerseys the players were wearing for their team picture.
Not a good look.
The athletic department is changing its brand — again. “NEW YORK” is in huge capital letters in the logo while “State University of” and “Buffalo” are in tiny letters above and below the state name. The players are wearing “NEW YORK” on their chests, although the letters are oddly small. No sign of “Buffalo.”
(In basketball, the charging bull has been scrubbed from center court at Alumni Arena and replaced by a large map of the Empire State. Major boo.)
This is new athletics director Danny White’s bold stamp. UB wants to be a big-time university. It already is academically. But now it wants to be big time in athletics too. Fair enough. But it’s one thing to announce it and another thing entirely to do it.
“We want to be what the University of Wisconsin is to the state of Wisconsin, Texas is to Texas. We have the vast potential of reaching that,” Quinn said. “And to do that, you have to have that mindset. New York is a tremendous state with a lot of proud people. We have a lot of alumni out there. We have a lot of UB blue out there throughout the state and we want to bring them all together.”
Memo to UB: “New York’s College Team” is the marketing slogan of a certain school two hours East of here that pretty prominently flashes Orange. And they have ads in Times Square, on New York city cabs and in Yankee Stadium. Which is where they won a bowl game last year with some guy named Doug Marrone as the head coach.
But I digress. Quinn continued, talking about a movement in place. About how even schools like Wisconsin had starting points and how UB needs to “look at the Boise States and Fresno States.”
Point taken. Of course, Boise and Fresno aren’t shunning the very city they represent with some new name either.
Quinn is 9-27 in three years with only six FBS wins. His team was 1-7 last year before probably saving his job by winning three of the last four games. If White had no problem whacking ultra-popular basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon after he had gone 93-69 in the previous five seasons, was there any way he was keeping a football coach with a three-year winning percentage in the .200 range?
Since 1985, UB has had exactly three winning football seasons (1986, 1996, 2008). It’s 39-115 in this century and 69-192 since 1990. That 2008 MAC title season, highlighted by one win on a Hail Mary pass and two on multiple-overtime triumphs, sure looks like a one-year fluke in the rear-view mirror.
Instead of slogans, where is the long-needed practice facility? Why doesn’t anyone have any meaningful discussion about how woeful UB Stadium is as a game facility?
Twenty years after the World University Games (remember them?), fans are still stuck watching games from somewhere near Eggertsville because of the track that encircles the field. Nor do many of the upper-crust alums have the kind of premium facilities that are the norm in FBS.
When White leaves, and few close observers of the program expect him to stick around very long, is the next AD simply going to put his stamp on things by changing it all back?
I’ve been around UB athletics since 1992 and it has always had an identity crisis. What’s in a name? Pick a preposition. University OF Buffalo? No. University AT Buffalo. Then just Buffalo. It’s UB to us but that means nothing for television.
What’s the State University of New York at Buffalo? What’s Buffalo State? Oops, that’s on Elmwood.
“It still does say Buffalo so I’m still playing for my hometown team, which is awesome,” Licata insisted. “But to be more of a global brand and take that New York, it’s pretty cool. For everyone across the country it will be easier to recognize. But the most important thing is for us to win games. That’s going to get us recognized. It’s not the name.”
Exactly. You don’t use funky slogans to become big time. Beat somebody. One last point: Has anyone out in Amherst taken a drive downtown lately?
With all that’s going on at the waterfront, UB’s own medical campus and in Pegulaville, is this really the time you want to distance yourself from Buffalo?