Five unheralded candidates for UMass football

  • UMass Warren McGuirk Alimni Stadium 11/3/18. UMass No.11 Zak Colman, evades a tackle from Libertys No.28 Corbin Jackson as he dives the ball up the field in the 1st Qtr. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2018 3:38:54 PM

If you’re looking for the likely candidates to be the next UMass football coach, this blog is not for you. I’ll delve into the obvious names athletics director Ryan Bamford should call next week, but I wanted to throw out some other coaches who might be good fits for the Minutemen.

I designed this list with the idea of looking at some strategies that have worked for programs like UMass in the past and found a coach in that vein. Obviously not all of these names are feasible for one reason or another, but they will provide some post-Thanksgiving discussion fodder at least.

The Buffalo Model

No school has earned more comparison from UMass Twitter than Buffalo. The Bulls were an afterthought for so many years in the MAC until Turner Gill arrived and then they returned to that level to some extent after Gill left. But the Bulls made the riskiest coaching decision of all in 2015 when it plucked Lance Leipold from Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater. If UMass wanted to take that type of chance, it wouldn’t have to look far for its target: Trinity coach Jeff Devanney. He is 91-15 in 13 years as the Bantams’ coach and is the type of defensive mind who could turn around the Minutemen’s defense quickly. His predecessor at Trinity, Chuck Priore, has had a lot of success at Stony Brook and there’s no reason to believe Devanney couldn’t do that at UMass. Obviously, Devanney hasn’t coached at the Division I level in almost two decades, but there’s no doubt about his winning pedigree and he might be able to inject that into the UMass program.

The Akron Model

Akron turned to Terry Bowden in 2012 and he led the Zips to a bowl game in his fourth year and the MAC East title last year. Bowden, of course, had success at Auburn before taking an 11-year break from coaching and then returned at Division II before being hired by Akron. That leads us to the most controversial name on my list – Bo Pelini. The fiery coach led Nebraska to at least nine wins in every season before an acrimonious split with the Cornhuskers in 2014. But then he went to Youngstown State and led the Penguins to the 2016 FCS national championship game in his second season. The obvious downside is that Pelini would bring with him some controversy and the possibility for some temperamental issue, but he is a pretty good football coach.

The Eastern Michigan Model

The Eastern Michigan program wasn’t in great shape when it hired Craig Creighton from Drake. It took some more patience, but the Eagles now have their most win over a three-year period in 30 years. Although Creighton is much younger than K.C. Keeler, the latter would be a wonderful bridge coach to restore the UMass program and complete its ascendancy into relevance at the FBS level. All Keeler has done in his coaching career is win, whether it was the Division II level with Rowan or the FCS level with Delaware and Sam Houston State. He began his career at neighboring Amherst College and he’s been in the mix for several FBS jobs in the past. The negative for him is that he’s 59 years old, but he still has the fire and energy to keep him going for five to seven more years.

The North Texas Model

North Texas lost the bite of its Mean Green nickname for most of this millennium. But then it hired Seth Littrell, the architect of the high-flying North Carolina offense, and North Texas has won 22 games in three years under Littrell. If UMass wanted to commit to a highly-successful offense, the choice would be Texas Tech offensive coordinator Kevin Johns. He’s been around explosive offenses on every stop of his coaching journey and understands how to succeed in the modern game. His current salary is only $380,000 per year, which puts him in UMass’ price range, but Johns also hasn’t been around many successful defenses and might be too close to the Mark Whipple archetype.

The Troy Model

Honestly, I couldn’t find a great fit for my last candidate – who also happens to be the most realistic one on this list. I decided on Troy because the Trojans hired a young under-the-radar coordinator from Kentucky, and it seemed to work out just fine for them. Defense was obviously UMass’ biggest weakness under Whipple, but Matt House has helped transform the Kentucky defense in his time in Lexington. This year, the Wildcats rank 29th in red zone defense, 26th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. The one downside to House’s candidacy is that he’s being paid $650,000 per year and he might be due for a raise from Kentucky, but he might be willing to take the same salary in order to run his own program.

The Walfish Addendum

I know I said this was going to be only five names, but I wanted to include two more to stir up some discussion: Pete Lembo and Brady Hoke. Both had some success at Ball State and both would likely be in the price range for UMass if they wanted to try to resurrect their head coaching prospects for one last run at glory.

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