New chief Engineer keeps MIT humming

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Brian Bubna, with a headset on, walking the sidelines for MIT. (MIT athletics photo)
It wouldn't take long for Brian Bubna to become one of the greatest MIT football coaches of all time. He's just the third since they revived the program in 1988 and no records exist about coaches from 1881-1901, if there were any.
MIT athletics photo

By Brian Lester

That first season with a new head coach can be a rough one. Expectations are sometimes lowered.

This can be especially true when your previous coach led the program to its greatest-ever success.

MIT could have found itself in that position this year after Chad Martinovich stepped down in January to take the job at Rochester.

It was fortunate to have Brian Bubna take over as the head coach. Bubna is in his 10th year with the program, serving most recently as the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, positions he’s held since 2012.

The Engineers haven’t missed a beat under his guidance, sitting at 6-0 and in contention for not only a NEWMAC title but as in control of its own destiny for a Pool B playoff bid as possible.

“It’s been about as smooth of a transition as it can be,” Bubna said. “It makes it easier when you promote from the inside because you understand what football is at this school and you understand the student-athletes here.”

But there have been a few differences he’s had to get used to.

“The day-to-day stuff has all been pretty consistent, but now I have added responsibilities like travel and paperwork, and I get a lot more phone calls and emails than I used to," Bubna said with a laugh.

From an on-the-field standpoint, Bubna can’t complain. It’s never a bad thing when you are the head coach of an undefeated team.

Bubna cites consistency across the board and everyone doing their job as the primary reasons the Engineers are marching along to an unbeaten tune. And the success isn’t a surprise, to a degree at least.

“Winning just one game can be a tough thing because any team can beat any other team on a given week,” Bubna said. “You don’t expect to win them all, but you know that if your guys prepare and compete hard, you’ll give yourself the best chance to win every week. It’s worked out so far.”

Senior quarterback Udgam Goyal called the transition from Martinovich to Bubna as seamless as a transition can be. He said it’s a big deal that Bubna knows the strengths and weaknesses of the players and he knows the system. Goyal also loves what Bubna brings to the table as a coach.

“He’s very energetic and very smart,” Goyal said. “He brings a lot of passion and energy to practice and gets everyone excited to work hard every day. He brings that on game day, too. He’s also smart as a game manager. He’s smart about how he calls the game and he allows us to make plays.”

Senior running back Miguel Wagner said what has stood out to him about Bubna is that he knows exactly what buttons to push.

Miguel Wagner hit the hole for MIT. (MIT athletics photo)
Miguel Wagner grinds out yards in the backfield for MIT.
MIT athletics photo

“He knows what we will react to positively and what we won’t react to,” Wagner said. “He knows when he needs to be the guy who is getting on us and making sure we are doing what we are supposed to do and he knows when he should be the guy making a joke and lifting morale. He’s found a good balance.”

Goyal and Wagner have been instrumental to the Engineers’ success on the field. Goyal has thrown for just over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s been picked off just five times.

“One thing that has really helped is my receiving corps. They are extremely athletic and incredible playmakers. They’ve made my job easier,” Goyal said. “Additionally, the offensive line, even though its young, has done a great job of giving me protection, allowing me to go through the reads and make the right decision.”

Wagner is MIT’s leading rusher, churning out 471 yards and five touchdowns.

“The line has stepped up and playing out of their minds,” Wagner said. “The defense has been excellent, too. With my personal success, I’ve just stayed true to everything I’ve learned playing football and it’s worked out for me.”

Bubna said his team is always working on the basics in its quest to improve week to week.

Improvement is key if the Engineers are going to keep this successful run going. Especially with big games against Springfield and WPI still ahead. MIT lost to both teams last season. But first up is a game Saturday against Coast Guard, which like Springfield and WPI, only has one loss in conference play.

“We have tough tests coming up, but I always tell the guys you can’t look ahead or you’ll get hit by the guy in front of you,” Bubna said. “We’re putting in the work Monday through Friday to be ready go on Saturday.”

There are challenges, though, when that come with staying focused, including off the field where MIT students face a unique grind.

“We’ll shorten practices if the guys have a lot of tests coming up and a lot of the upperclassmen have job interviews during the week,” Bubna said. “Our quarterback was in Seattle last week and missed a day of practice and we’ve had other players miss days for interviews. A lot of coaches might think that’s a tough thing to deal with, but we’re used to it. We make it work.”

Meeting academic and athletic demands is certainly a challenge, but as Wagner puts it, football is easy compared to everything else.

“It’s almost like when you are a kid and you get to go to recess,” Wagner said. “Football is a nice break from the grind of being a student here.”

With four games left on the schedule, each one matters. A lot is on the line for the Engineers and they’d like to keep their goals intact. Goyal wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a pressure-packed situation to be in.

“The big part of us not feeling like there is a lot of pressure is because we enjoy playing the sport so much,” Goyal said. “We are all having fun. We’re taking it one week at a time and if we are fortunate to have the opportunity (to be in the playoffs), we’ll be ready and really excited about it. Our focus right now is beating Coast Guard.”

Wagner said team morale is at an all-time high, something he credits Bubna for, and he said the Engineers are confident they can meet the expectations they have set for themselves.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is that we come out fired up, play strong and play the best football that we can play,” Wagner said. “We know if we do that every week, no one is going to be able to beat us.”

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