Sunday, January 19, 2014
AMHERST — In hopes of matching the biggest football building job in program history, the University of Massachusetts brought back the original architect.
The Minutemen introduced, or more accurately reintroduced Mark Whipple as the football coach, Tuesday at a press conference in the Mullins Center.
In 1998, Whipple took over a UMass team that had finished 2-9 the year before, and led the Minutemen to the Division I-AA championship. Whipple takes over a team that finished 1-11 in each of the last two seasons at the Bowl Subdivision level.
Whipple got emotional as he took the microphone.
“Sometimes you need to go away to find out where your home is,” said Whipple, who turned to UMass President Robert Caret, Vice-Chancellor John Kennedy and Henry Thomas, the chairman of the board of trustees. “Thank you. I’ll make you proud. I’m back because I have a lot to give. I can make a bigger impact than I’ve ever made in my life at the University of Massachusetts. That’s what I’m really, really excited about. I believe in this place.”
Whipple, 56, signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $250,000. Further contract details, including incentives, will be released at a later date. He replaces Charley Molnar, who was fired after a tumultuous two-year stint that featured struggles on the field and controversy off of it.
Whipple, who was the quarterbacks coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won the 2005 Super Bowl, said even that didn’t eclipse the championship he won at UMass.
“In 1998, that team was the greatest team I’ve ever been associated with. That includes the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers,” Whipple said. “I’m not saying the Super Bowl wasn’t great. But it wasn’t any better than being in Chattanooga (Tenn.).”
UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said many fans and alumni had reached out to him and to the committee supporting Whipple.
“He’s a known entity, a known winner. We had quite a few people reach out on his behalf. There’s quite a few people that thought highly of Mark when he was here and think highly of him now,” McCutcheon said. “They weren’t shy about sharing their feelings.”
Whipple led UMass for six seasons and earned trips to the postseason in 1998, 1999 and 2003. He finished with a 49-26 record.
Frustrated by the school’s unwillingness to upgrade to the Bowl Subdivision (then I-A), Whipple resigned to become the quarterbacks coach of the Steelers. He spent three years in Pittsburgh, one as an offensive assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, two as the offensive coordinator with the University of Miami and two as the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns. He did not coach anywhere in 2013.
UMass gauged Whipple’s interest in the position when Molnar was hired before the 2012 season. At that point, Whipple didn’t feel right about leaving the Cleveland Browns during the season.
Part of his reason for not coaching last season was to put himself in position to pursue head coaching jobs.
“I stayed out last year, not necessarily to get to UMass, but to become a head coach,” Whipple said. “That’s what I’m best at. That’s where I can have an impact. This came open and it’s a perfect marriage.”
Whipple planned to meet with alumni and fans in Boston, Tuesday night. He’ll take care of some administrative issues to get some assistant coaches hired Wednesday. On Thursday, he and his staff will hit the road recruiting. High school seniors can officially sign their National Letters of Intent on Feb. 5.
“I can’t wait to get out of here and get to the next step, to get to tomorrow morning,” Whipple said. “It’s going to be unbelievable. Buckle your seat belt.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage