By Jonah Bronstein
AMHERST — Turner Gill finally responded to the chants.
The student fans at last Thursday’s University at Buffalo basketball game feared their football coach would soon leave before fulfilling his commitment to build a winning program.
“Turner stay,” they cried. “Turner stay!”
Gill said Tuesday what UB fans have been waiting weeks to hear, announcing he plans to be remain the Bulls’ coach for the “foreseeable future” at the onset of his season-ending press conference at UB Stadium.
In a prepared statement, Gill thanked God for the opportunity to interview for the head coaching vacancy at Nebraska, where he was first revered as a star quarterback and later as an assistant coach.
“Most people would think it would be a great fit for me to be at Nebraska but it just wasn’t meant to be at this time,” he said. “The fit here at Buffalo, however, has turned out very well.”
Tom Osborne, Gill’s mentor and the Cornhuskers’ interim athletic director , announced Monday that LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini had been hired to replace Bill Callahan.
Gill, who also announced he is currently discussing a contract extension with UB, had also been rumored to be a candidate for vacancies at other schools, notably Washington State. He said he did not formally interview anywhere but Nebraska, but was contacted by at least one other program.
“There are only a handful of schools that I’d be interested in going to but I plan on staying here,” he said. “I’m not a coach that likes to jump around. You never say never, but I have every plan to stay here with my wife and kids.”
Gill, who holds a degree in behavioral analysis, said he has a passion for molding 18- to 22-year-old men, more so than climbing to the top of the coaching mountain.
For the first time since joining Division I-A in 1999, the Bulls will enter next season with a realistic chance to contend for a Mid-American Conference championship and secure a bowl game.
The Bulls will return 19 starters (10 offense, eight defense, one kicker) from a team that went 5-7 in Gill’s second season, equaling their win total from the four years prior to Gill’s arrival. UB also boasted its first winning record in the MAC (5-3) and claimed a share of the East division title.
“I want to be able to look back and see that we are winning and know we helped start that,” said defensive end Trevor Scott, one of the Bulls’ 17 departing seniors.
Gill said defensive line and linebacker — where the Bulls bid farewell to seniors Kareem Byrom and Larry Hutchinson — top the list of recruiting needs.
On offense, UB needs only to replace center Jamey Richard. Quarterback Drew Willy, who didn’t throw an interception in his final 235 pass attempts, will return for his fourth year as a starter. James Starks, the Niagara Falls native who set D-I era records for rushing yards (1,103) and touchdowns (14), and Naaman Roosevelt, the St. Joe’s graduate who led the Bulls in receiving, will both be juniors.
Starks and Roosevelt were among eight Bulls named voted to the all-conference team, a school record. Davonte Shannon, a true freshman safety, was the first UB player voted first-team all-MAC.
“We’re looking forward to next year,” said guard Jeff Niedermier, whose 30 career starts are the most on the team entering 2008. “It starts today.”
Gill also confirmed that UB’s 2008 non-conference schedule will include a home game against Army, meaning the Bulls will play six games at UB Stadium for the first time since 2003.
The Bulls previously announced they will host UTEP in their Aug. 28 season opener. Next year’s schedule also includes games at Missouri and Pittsburgh.