Football: Great Danes crack top 25 in FCS coaches' poll
They say winning never gets old.
Victories, and the accolades that come with them, help keep veteran coaches young.
Just ask University at Albany head coach Bob Ford, who is 75 years old and owns one of the most impressive resumes among all Division I Football Championship Subdivision mentors. He still feels like a kid on Christmas morning when his program gets a pat on the back, especially from his peers.
The Great Danes (3-0 Northeast Conference, 5-1 overall) are ranked 24th in this week’s Coaches Football Championship Subdivision poll with 73 votes. North Dakota State, Montana State, Old Dominion and Wofford are ranked first through fourth, and all are unbeaten.
“We finished 23rd at the end of last season. These polls still mean a lot to me. It lets you know how you are playing, and that you are playing well at this point of the season,” said Ford, who owns 260 career victories, including a 251-158 mark in 40 seasons with the Great Danes.
“Of course, the most important poll is at the end,” he said.
The Great Danes pounded Bryant, 31-14, in Smithtown, R.I., over the weekend, and they host Saint Francis (Pa.) Saturday at 1 p.m. as part of the university’s homecoming celebration.
Ford is enjoying the ride as the Great Danes try to close out their relationship with the Northeast Conference by winning a second consecutive championship and trip to the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs. UAlbany joins the Colonial Athletic Association next season, just in time to move into a new stadium.
“I was talking to my wife the other day, and she said to me that it’s obvious how much I really like this team, and I told her that I really do — not just because we’re winning,” said Ford.
“We have a great combination of seniors, juniors and sophomore, plus a couple of freshmen who are chipping in. There are a lot of leaders on this team, and they show an unbelievable enthusiasm for practice. Fifty-two players stayed all summer in Albany to practice here. That happens at a lot of places with 85 or 63 scholarships, but we have just 38 scholarships, and convincing 52 players to stay here and work out together every day is pretty special.”
Ford said his team’s cohesiveness and health have played major roles in its success.
“We have a great strength coach, and our players are in tremendous shape because of that, but the other thing is that we’ve stayed healthy, so far. We have a great coaching staff, and if your team stays healthy, the coaches can build on things. They can look at film and make corrections. If the kids are responding the way you want them to, then the coaches can address other issues and make criticisms.”
UAlbany is averaging 35.8 points per game with a multiple offense that runs and passes equally well. The Great Danes produce 212.7 yards rushing and 203.5 yards passing per game, and allow opponents just 113.0 on the ground per contest.
Senior tailback Drew Smith, from Guilderland, has 605 yards rushing on 105 carries for an impressive 5.8 yards per carry. He also has 11 touchdowns. Two other Danes, Omar Osbourne and Kevin Chillis, have more than 200 yards rushing.
Quarterback Will Fiacchi, a sophomore, has completed 108 of 174 passes for 1,221 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s been intercepted just three times.
Wideout Ryan Kirchner became the Great Danes’ all-time leading receiver with 149 receptions during last weekend’s game. This year, he has 27 catches for 336 yards.
“We have so many weapons on offense,” said Ford. “There were two huge question marks coming into the season, and one was at quarterback. Coach Ryan McCarthy has brought Fiacchi along. He’s playing well, managing the game well and throwing the ball well.
“The other question mark we had was on the offensive line, and although they are a bunch of no-names, they are doing a great job for us.”
UAlbany’s defense has also been stingy. The Danes held Bryant to a conference season-game low of 27 rushing yards. Safety Justinian Mason was named the NEC defensive player of the week after returning an interception 75 yards for a touchdown.
“We are playing just as well on defense, and on special teams,” said Ford.
“But it’s human nature to let down at some point, and we’ve got to battle against that. At the end of the year, there aren’t many undefeated teams left. That’s because the psychological and mental aspect of the sport often affect the physical parts. You need to be focused at practice every day.
“Saint Francis has never beaten us, but they are playing better. You can bet that I’ll be talking to our players [today] at practice and reminding them that Saturday’s game is about us, not about Saint Francis. It’s about us getting better on a weekly basis. If we don’t get better, our opponent will.”