FRISCO, Texas — Jim Hofher has traveled the notoriously uncertain career path that comes from spending three decades as a college football coach.
He has been a head coach at two places and a position coach at seven others.
He has been hired and he has been fired.
After all those ups, and all those downs, he is pleased to find himself on top of his game Friday night when Delaware and Eastern Washington duel for the FCS football championship here at Pizza Hut Park.
“It’s great to be in this position with this team, knowing what I’ve seen and been through,” Hofher, 53, said.
Two years ago, Hofher was looking for a coaching job – not an uncommon position in his business – after coach Gregg Brandon was fired at Bowling Green, where Hofher had been quarterbacks coach in 2008.
Hofher had spent the two years before that doing TV work after he was dismissed after five years as the head coach at long-struggling Buffalo. His teams went 8-49 but, Hofher is certain, with the players he brought in, provided the groundwork for some subsequent successes.
Hofher also had been head coach at Cornell from 1990-97, going 45-35.
“We say this all the time: ‘It’s a great game, but it’s a lousy business,’ ” said Hofher, a former Cornell quarterback.
“It’s these guys,” he added, motioning toward Delaware players, “that make it a great game because of the relationships you develop over the year with coaches, with players. That’s what makes it unique.”
Delaware coach K.C. Keeler had decided to hire a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach following the 4-8 2008 season, which was plagued by ineffective play at quarterback and throughout the unit. He returned Brian Ginn to his wide receivers coaching position and, at the urging of new Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson considered Hofher.
“He was our first interview,” Keeler said. “An hour interview went almost five. I said to Nick Rapone (the UD defensive coordinator), ‘How are we going to top this?’ ”
Hofher was hired as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at a school well known for its offensive firepower and ability to send quarterbacks to the NFL.
With Penn State transfer Pat Devlin in place at quarterback, Delaware improved offensively in 2009. The Hens ranked No. 2 in the Colonial Athletic Association in passing offense and No. 5 in total offense while going 6-5.
But the running game wasn’t nearly as effective as it needed to be, and Keeler made improving that the No. 1 requirement for the offense heading into 2010.
While he has a penchant for spreading the field and using the passing game as somewhat of a ball-control attack, Hofher was just as determined to improve the running attack, knowing it would make the passing game tougher to stop. It fit right in with his offensive philosophy.
In his initial conversation with Keeler, Hofher said, he stressed that “We’ll do our best, by formation, to spread people out to run the football.”
With improved offensive line play and the addition of freshman tailback Andrew Pierce, Delaware has been an all-around offensive force, feared for its run-pass balance.
“We needed to be good enough to run,” Hofher said. “It’s always going to be relative to what the players do. It doesn’t matter what we know or think we know [as coaches], but what can the players execute?
“And in this particular season, there’s a lot that’s gone right in terms of allowing our guys on offense to have some success running the football.”
Devlin, the CAA Offensive Player of the Year, has been at the heart of that success.
Hofher says he might be the best quarterback with whom he’s worked. He also coached Tyler Sheehan, Bowling Green’s 2007-09 starter now with the Houston Texans. Hofher also coached at Syracuse when its quarterback was 1987 Heisman Trophy runner-up Don McPherson, drafted by the Eagles and who played three years in the NFL and four in the Canadian Football League.
“He’s so easy to work with,” Hofher said of Devlin, “because he’s a smart guy, he’s a talented guy, he’s very serious about football. It’s a pretty good laboratory. I certainly feel like there’s never been a second or an ounce of confusion or differences.”
Devlin, who had a 3.7 grade-point average as a finance major and is now in graduate school, hit it off with the Ivy-educated Hofher. The two have become kindred spirits.
“Last year we were kind of feeling each other out,” Devlin said. “This year we’ve been able to discuss a lot more, just talk things through. It’s great to have a guy like Coach Hofher around.”
Devlin has been selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game Jan. 22 in Orlando, Fla., and is widely viewed as among the top 10 quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL draft.
His development has thrilled Hofher, who marvels that Devlin “has never played a poor game.”
“He’s a very mature person and a very smart person,” Hofher said. “He’s a very mature player and a very smart player. His growth from a year ago to now has been beyond knowing our words, our terms, our philosophies, our plays to now, ‘Coach, what about this?’
“That’s the next step for any good quarterback. If there was a collegiate player-coach, he’s a little bit like that. He’s sharp and he’ll do that with his teammates, mostly with receivers. He’ll say, ‘Try this,’ but not be out of bounds or totally different from what a play should be.”
Devlin’s success and Delaware’s certainly have cast a favorable light on Hofher, who enjoys the job he has but isn’t willing to predict his future. With salaries increasing, especially at the I-A level, any opportunity is worth considering.
“I coach for a living, so you go where there’s a job,” he said. “Especially at this time of year, you’re thankful to be working because it’s a closed shop. You’re really thankful at this time of year to be playing.
“You just have to have faith in what you do and faith in that what you do is right,” said Hofher, whose faith has been rewarded this season.
So was Keeler’s.
“Jim knew Delaware because Jim’s a football junkie,” Keeler said. “This (coming to UD) made a lot of sense for him. He hadn’t coordinated for a while, but that didn’t scare me. I knew how bright he was.”