Thursday, August 21, 2014
By MICHAEL KELLEY
AMHERST -- Christmas came early for University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Bob Marcum.
He was looking for a head football coach who had the drive, confidence and credentials to return UMass to the top of the Atlantic 10 Conference, and possibly win a national title. Santa delivered when Mark Whipple was announced, by Marcum, as the new coach of the Minutemen Tuesday at the Mullins Center.
"When I look at the University of Massachusetts, it's an unbelievable opportunity for myself and my family," Whipple said. "When I came on campus for my visit I just had a warm feeling. You look around this place and you know it's a great institution. I really believe it's a sleeping giant and together I think we can accomplish things that have never been accomplished at UMass."
Marcum said he was pleased that the entire search committee agreed with the choice."He was the unanimous choice of the search committee," Marcum said. "He was the one I wanted to surface in it and I was really pleased when they told me he was the unanimous choice."
UMass began looking for a new head coach following former head coach Mike Hodges' resignation on Nov. 15. Following Hodges' announcement, Marcum said he wanted to find someone who could bring the program back to the top. It appears that UMass might have found its man.
"I wish to express my appreciation to the search committee for what I believe is an outstanding candidate," Marcum said. "It's not a matter of coming here and fielding a team. It's a matter of coming here and graduating our young people, to win championships and that's what the program is all about and what this program needs to return to."
UMass chancellor David Scott could not attend the press conference, but said in a statement, "Mark Whipple's enthusiasm and skills are right in the tradition of UMass football. With his appointment, we look forward to the continuation of the high level of athletic and academic excellence that the university's supporters have come to expect."
Whipple, who just completed his fourth year at Brown University in Rhode Island, seems to be all this and more. He left Brown with a 23-17 record as his teams won more games in four years than in the previous eight seasons at Brown combined. Prior to that, Whipple was the head coach at New Haven where his record was 48-17.
UMass was 2-9 this past season and despite the fact that the Minutemen have a record of 34-32 over the past six seasons, Whipple said he wants the big prize.
"Our goal, flatly, as I told the team, is to win a national championship," Whipple said. "I've never done anything in my life except to be the best. This is a tremendous opportunity to show that we can be the best."
There are many steps in the process and this is not a professional organization," he continued. "This is a college. A university. Our first goal is to graduate every single student-athlete that comes through the program. It's a family and that's the most important factor. We certainly want to win the Atlantic 10 Conference championship, but ultimately we just don't want to go to the playoffs, we want to be the best."
Whipple and the university are still ironing out details of his contract, which should be finalized soon, Marcum said.
"The basic parts are four years and a base of $95,000," Marcum said. "We have some incentives we're dealing with right now in regards to season ticket sales, the possibility of a strong Division 1-A opponent. Right now, more or less, we have a letter of agreement on the basic things."
Whipple will bring some of his coaches from Brown, but could not say which ones because they are still obligated to Brown. He did say he won't change his philosophies about the game.
"We're going to be wide open on offense," Whipple said. "That's the only way I know how to coach and is the only thing I've ever done. We're going to look to score points and be aggressive in everything we do."
Offense was one of the Minutemen's weak points this season. UMass scored only 149 points and averaged 284.9 yards-per-game of total offense."I'm going to gear things toward the players I've got," Whipple said.
"Right now I've only looked at one tape and the one thing I'm not into is a quick fix. We're looking to bring this program up from the bottom and build a foundation."
The Minutemen's defense last season was strong early on, but when the offense started to sputter, the defense did, too. Whipple said he plans to change that."On defense we'll be very aggressive," Whipple said. "We'll be tough, we'll be physical. My teams, most importantly, will leave everything they have on the field. With those kinds of aspects I think you'll see the crowds come back."
Right now, that could be the most important thing Whipple could accomplish. Empty seats abounded last year at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium, and it's been quite some time since it was filled to capacity.
"The most important thing is that the members of our football team carry themselves with pride and bring a certain amount of confidence and respect amongst everyone in the Amherst community," Whipple said.
Although Whipple will be behind when it comes to recruiting, he said he feels confident that his new squad will make improvements from last year. In fact, his goal for next season is lofty."My goal is to win 11 games next year," he said. "There's 15 (games) on the schedule. I think you need four to win the national championship, that's what our schedule will read. Our goal is to win the next game. The schedule says 11 and I plan on us being 11-0, being No. 1 and get a home berth (in the Division I-AA playoffs)."
Whipple isn't living a dream, however. He knows it will take time and a lot of hard work to produce such things, but it's been done before at UMass. Another new coach once said he wanted to lead the basketball team into national prominence.