Don Brown not just a football guy, but a UMass football guy

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, addresses about 70 people gathered in the James and Helen Hunt Hospitality Suite of the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center for his introduction on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Don Brown, left, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, is presented a Minuteman jersey by UMass Amherst Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2021 8:00:14 PM

AMHERST – It took Don Brown less than five minutes into Wednesday’s introductory press conference to talk X’s and O’s. He specifically mentioned avoiding pre-snap penalties.

The new UMass football coach, who was officially welcomed back to lead a program he coached from 2004-08, is many things.

Unquestionably, he is a football guy.

“We solve our problems with aggression,” Brown told the crowd gathered inside the Hunt Room at the Football Performance Center.

Put it on a T-shirt.

Dr. Blitz, as Brown’s affectionately known these days due to tenacious defenses cultivated at Maryland, UConn, Boston College, Michigan and Arizona (his stops since leaving UMass in 2008), was ready to get to work upon touching down back home in New England Sunday night from Tucson, Ariz. He coached his last game against Arizona State, finishing a one-year stint as the University of Arizona’s defensive coordinator.

That doctorate in blitzology will be put to good use as Brown tries to repair a defense that finished 125th out of 130 FBS schools in total defense this year. UMass allowed 485 yards per game and over seven yards per play.

While Brown has the necessary defensive pedigree that should help get the UMass ship righted, he also has the maroon pedigree to be able to sell what he’s preaching. He’s not just a football guy, he’s a UMass guy, too.

The 66-year-old Spencer native is more than likely taking his last job in football back in Amherst. He came back not just because of his ties to the program, but because his family still lives here. Three of his grandchildren spread out in the front row at Wednesday’s press conference, flanked by Brown’s daughter Chelsea and son-in-law Danny. His wife Deb was there, too, and UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford double-checked to make sure it was, in fact, 11 grandchildren that Dr. Blitz has under his wing.

Brown even mentioned his first coaching staff hire during Wednesday’s press conference, a decision that came to the surprise of absolutely no one who’s been paying attention: Alex Miller will return as offensive line coach after guiding UMass as interim head coach for the season's final four games following the dismissal of Walt Bell last month.

Miller played for Brown in Amherst, culminating in the 2006 FCS title game against Appalachian State. Now he’ll coach alongside his former mentor.

“Having him back, I couldn’t be happier to still be here and coach with him,” Miller said. “It makes you feel good. To have now, somebody on staff that shares that passion that you do, and now that’s coming from the top... that’s exciting.”

Miller knows full well what Brown's defenses are capable of. For three years at practice on the offensive line, he battled against his Minuteman teammates coming from across the line of scrimmage.

“We were so competitive,” Miller said. “As good as they were on defense, we were pretty freakin’ good on offense. It just creates a competitive atmosphere. As an offensive player, you want to drive to go after the head coach’s defense. It gets you excited. That competitive balance is what we need. Our kids are going to feel it.”

Comparing Brown’s first tenure in Amherst to this one is apples and oranges. The Minutemen were a successful, established FCS (formerly Div. I-AA) program that Brown guided to the national championship game in 2006. This time around, he has to jump into the recruiting game head first while staying active in the transfer portal in order to get the roster to the point of resembling an FBS one.

He said he’s learned a lot along the way. Stops at high-powered FBS programs as a coordinator will do that, and it ultimately led him to Arizona this past offseason where he reunited with first-year Wildcats head coach Jedd Fisch. The two had coached together at Michigan in 2016, and Fisch wanted the wily veteran to shape his defense in Tucson.

Upon the news that Brown was thinking of taking the job in Amherst, Fisch said the Wildcats made an effort – financially – to keep Dr. Blitz in the Southwest. But Brown's mind had been made up. He was set on returning home to UMass, home to his family and all the challenges that such a move entailed.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I knew it was the right thing for me at the right time,” Brown said of UMass. “I’m a challenge guy, I love challenges. With this one and me having such a strong affinity for this university, money wasn’t an issue. Relativity of where are you in the pecking order in terms of jobs, was not an issue. This was a place I feel very strongly about and I feel like I can make a difference. No one was going to stop me from doing it.”


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