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College football notebook

Molnar to lead the Minutemen

By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / December 8, 2011
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Call them the Fighting Minutemen.

The University of Massachusetts is bringing Notre Dame offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Charley Molnar to lead its program into the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Mid-American Conference.

Molnar accepted the coaching job offer of director of athletics John McCutcheon, a source with knowledge of the hiring process confirmed yesterday, speaking on the condition he not be named. Several reports had said the school was on the verge of naming the longtime offensive assistant to replace Kevin Morris, who was fired after a 5-6 season.

A news conference is scheduled for this afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the new home of UMass football, which next season will become the third New England program (along with Boston College and Connecticut) at college’s top level.

Molnar, 50, has spent the last two seasons with the Fighting Irish, who play Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl Dec. 29. The offense he runs for Brian Kelly has been prolific, averaging 424 yards and 30.5 points and showing a knack for getting an early jump in games. Over the course of the season, the 8-4 Irish have doubled the first-quarter point production of their opponents.

UMass is banking on getting off to a similarly fast start in its step up to the FBS by putting on the kind of offensive show that will fill a respectable number of the 68,756 seats at Gillette.

Molnar arrived in South Bend before the 2010 season along with Kelly, for whom he served as an assistant for three seasons at the University of Cincinnati and, before that, for a season at Central Michigan. In his first year with the Irish, Molnar worked with two first-time starters at quarterback, and by season’s end the offense was clicking. Notre Dame won its last four games, including an upset of No. 15 Utah and a win over Miami in the Sun Bowl.

This season, the Irish offense has spread the ball around. Wide receiver Michael Floyd has been a highlight reel with 95 catches for 1,106 yards and 8 TDs, but four other players also have had more than 25 catches.

Molnar was quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Central Michigan in 2006, and the offense was instrumental in the program’s first 10-win season in 27 years. The Chippewas led the MAC in scoring and won both the conference championship and the Motor City Bowl.

The MAC familiarity is significant because UMass is joining it in September. Molnar also coached at a couple of other MAC schools, Western Michigan (2003-04) and Eastern Michigan (2002).

Over his 29 seasons, Molnar has spent 12 years as an offensive coordinator and has coached QBs for 18 seasons.

Expansion official

The Big East officially introduced Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, SMU, and Central Florida as its new members, effective in 2013. “The Big East conference is the first truly national college football conference,’’ commissioner John Marinatto said. Boise State president Bob Kustra said his school was “proud to be aboard.’’ The Big East, depleted by the planned departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia, is trying to rebuild as a 12-team football conference with a western division.

Ortiz wins Agganis

Harvard defensive tackle Josue Ortiz will receive the Harry Agganis Award tonight as the region’s outstanding senior. Others to be honored by the New England Football Writers’ Awards and Captains include: UNH linebacker Matt Evans (Division 1 Gold Helmet); New Haven quarterback Ryan Osiecki (Division 2-3 Gold Helmet); Western New England linebacker Mike Valentine (senior achievement); Maine’s Jack Cosgrove (Division 1 coach) and WNE’s Keith Emery (Division 2-3 coach); and Rhode Island coach Bob Griffin (contributions to New England football) . . . Oregon State defensive tackle Fred Thompson has died. The 19-year-old was playing basketball on campus when he collapsed . . . Illinois junior Whitney Mercilus won the Hendricks Award given to the nation’s best defensive end . . . Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora has accepted an offer to become North Carolina’s next coach, two people familiar with the situation said.

Jeff Wagenheim reported from Amherst; material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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