Published August 26, 2010
AMHERST, N.Y. – It's late into practice and Jeff Quinn's vocal chords are starting to give out, when suddenly a call quarterback Jerry Davis makes at the line of scrimmage catches the Buffalo Bulls rookie coach's attention.
"Very nice job, son!" yells Quinn, his hoarse voice echoing through the stadium as he high-fives Davis for switching the play from a pass to a run. "Great job!"
It's a telling moment that serves as a reminder that there's a new man in charge in Buffalo.
Quinn's high-octane intensity and enthusiastic approach, stands in contrast to the methodical, low-key style former coach Turner Gill carried during his successful four-year run, which ended last year with his decision to become coach at Kansas.
Personalities aside, what's unchanged are the raised expectations of a program that, thanks to Gill, is no longer considered a Mid-American Conference afterthought. The Bulls open the season at home against Rhode Island on Sept. 2.
Gill, the former Nebraska star quarterback, made Buffalo relevant by leading the Bulls to their first MAC championship and first bowl appearance in 2008. It's on Quinn to keep the Bulls from slipping back into their old losing ways.
"Absolutely, and I take that responsibility very seriously," Quinn said. "Obviously, Turner did a great job in putting that foundation in place. So we're going to continue building on what he's done."
The players, a majority of them recruited by Gill, are buying in to Quinn.
"It definitely has been a little different, but I'm getting used to it," senior guard Peter Bittner said. "The biggest thing is it's the same goals, just a different approach to how they preach it. Everyone understands that. He's not trying to be coach Gill, and we don't want him to be."
Safety Davonte Shannon can see the similarities in the two.
"Coach Gill, he instilled that winning effort in us. He won with us," Shannon said. "Coming from coach Quinn, he won in his past. I think we'll be able to learn a lot and be able to uphold that winning spirit."
Quinn has the credentials, but not yet the experience.
He's spent most of his 27 years in college coaching working as the right-hand man to Brian Kelly, who has taken over at Notre Dame. For 21 seasons the two worked together in devising a potent spread offense that proved successful at every stop they made.
After winning consecutive national titles at Grand Valley State in 2002 and '03, they carried over that success at Central Michigan, where the Chippewas won the 2006 MAC title.
Quinn declined a chance to follow Kelly to Notre Dame, believing it was time to test himself as a head coach.
Bulls officials like to tout that as recently as five years ago no one would have envisioned a coach choosing Buffalo over the chance to be Notre Dame's offensive coordinator.
That is a testament to Gill, who proved in short course that Buffalo could produce a winner. Under Gill, the Bulls went 20-30 and 14-18 in conference play. Compare that to the program going 10-69 and 7-49 in its previous seven seasons.
The cupboard was not bare upon Quinn's arrival.
The offense, though short on experienced play-makers, has a line that returns four senior starters. Then there's a defense that returns eight starters and features a talented secondary led by Shannon, a three-time first-team conference selection, and cornerback Domonic Cook.
The main question marks are at quarterback and receiver, where the Bulls will be very young. Davis, who attempted only 15 passes as a freshman last year, has the edge on redshirt freshman Alex Dennison for the starting job. At receiver, the only player with more than 10 catches at the college level is junior Terrell Jackson.
"I really like the way they've come together," Quinn said. "And until we really see it come full force when the game's start, that's the excitement, that's the anticipation."