Offensive coordinator Ambrose the newest piece on UAlbany football’s chessboard

Jared Ambrose is the new offensive coordinator for UAlbany football. (Photo courtesy Delaware Athletics)

Jared Ambrose is the new offensive coordinator for UAlbany football. (Photo courtesy Delaware Athletics)

The shuffling of football coaching staffs, Jared Ambrose said, works a lot like a chessboard.

“We’re all kings,” Ambrose said during an interview earlier this week with The Daily Gazette, “or pawns.”

After last season, Ambrose — then the offensive coordinator at Delaware — became a pawn without a king when Delaware fired head coach Danny Rocco after five seasons. Ambrose initially thought he might serve under a new king with the Blue Hens when the school brought in a coach he was familiar with, Ryan Carty, to lead the team, but that didn’t materialize.

Instead, Ambrose moved to a different spot on the CAA chessboard.

On Dec. 10, the same day Ambrose learned he was being let go at Delaware, he got a call from UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso. The Great Danes were in need of a new offensive coordinator, having opted not to renew the contract of Joe Davis following the team’s 2-9 season, and Gattuso asked Ambrose to come up to Albany for an interview.

“I came up that following Monday and really, really enjoyed it,” Ambrose said. “The staff here are good people. I’m a big ‘go with your gut’ guy, and it was easy to feel and see when I came here that they’re aligned and they’re together. I really enjoyed it.”

Ambrose was officially introduced as UAlbany’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last week as the Great Danes completed the offseason shuffling of their coaching staff. Davis and co-offensive line coach/associate head coach Jim Sweeney weren’t retained, while running backs coach and special teams coordinator Damian Mincey departed for a job at UMass.

Ambrose comes to UAlbany with the task of rebuilding an offense that went from shattering program records in 2019 to a disappointing lack of production in both the spring and fall 2021 seasons — a 15-game stretch that saw the Great Danes go 3-12 while averaging just 18.9 points and less than 300 yards per game.

His resume suggests the ability to do just that. In 2013, in his first year as the offensive coordinator at Towson — working under his brother, head coach Rob Ambrose — Jared Ambrose ran a unit that scored 30 or more points in 13 of 16 games en route to an FCS national championship appearance.

After moving on to Delaware, he engineered an offense that led the Blue Hens to the FCS semifinals last spring behind running back Dejoun Lee, who was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Year.

Jared Ambrose said his offensive philosophy is simple: Tailor the offense to the personnel you’ve got.

“You’ve got to figure out who does what well,” he said, “and then you’ve got to cater to that.”

But, while his philosophy is malleable, there is a simple precept at its backbone.

“We’re going to run the ball,” Ambrose said. “I believe in that, just because of the nature of the season. We’re not playing in Fort Lauderdale, we’re playing in Albany, New York. When you want to be playing meaningful games late in the year, the weather’s not going to be kind — regardless of where you go. If you’re going to go out and sling it 55 times a game, you might be in trouble.”

At UAlbany, he’ll look to overhaul an offense in flux. The Great Danes enter 2022 with a few experienced position groups — offensive line, receiver and tight end — but major question marks at both running back and quarterback.

Karl Mofor, who had 352 of the 373 rushing attempts by UAlbany running backs in the Great Danes’ pair of 2021 seasons, graduated and has opted to pursue a pro career, leaving a major gulf at a position group that includes a pair of returning contributors — Lavarey Banton and Jose Lopez-Quinones — as well as incoming freshman Landon Alexander and an expected veteran transfer from outside the program. 

Similarly, the Great Danes are set to see a change at quarterback with entrenched starter Jeff Undercuffler’s entry into the NCAA’s transfer portal. Ambrose is familiar with two names in UAlbany’s quarterback room, Joey Carino and Tyler Szalkowski, from the recruiting trail while he was at Delaware.

“There’s a working relationship I have with both of those two,” Ambrose said. “They’re both really, really good kids. They’re driven, they’re smart, they’re passionate about playing football. But, we’re going to bring in an older quarterback as well . . . and he’s going to compete with them. It’s no man’s job right now.”

Ambrose didn’t identify that “older quarterback,” but it would appear to be former Fordham Prep standout Matt Valecce, who announced his commitment to UAlbany earlier this week via social media. Valecce entered into the transfer portal this offseason after spending 2021 at Colorado State, where he transferred after spending his first three collegiate seasons at Boston College. 

With players off-campus for winter break since his hiring, Ambrose said he’s yet to meet with “a single one of the players,” but is excited to build the offense moving forward into spring practice.

“I’ve taken a lot of advice on who we have, and who’s coming back,” he said. “The beauty for me is I’m going to listen to my boss when he tells me who’s who and what’s what. That’s part of being a king or a pawn, and Greg’s the king here.

“But, I get to be a clean slate for some of these kids. I get to watch them, and sometimes, that’s just the chip they need.”

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