Seeing season through despite knowing his UMass basketball tenure is over shows how much Matt McCall cares

  • Matt McCall, shown earlier this season, coached his final game at the Mullins Center on Wednesday. UMass announced it is making a coaching change after the season, but he's seeing the journey through. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2022 11:10:36 PM
Modified: 3/2/2022 11:10:10 PM

AMHERST – Matt McCall hurried across the Mullins Center floor, crossing it for one of the last times.

UMass guard T.J. Weeks Jr. stayed down after an awkward collision in transition. Even as he was standing up, McCall wanted to make sure he was OK. The Minutemen’s coach, at least in title for now, subbed Weeks out and wrapped an arm around him to help Weeks walk to the bench. Weeks, one of the longest tenured players on the UMass roster at three years, put his arm over McCall’s shoulders as they walked.

“He really does care about his players. He really will reach out when you’re not feeling OK,” Weeks said after UMass’ 81-73 victory over Fordham on Wednesday. “He’ll still call and reach out.” 

McCall has been there for Weeks since he arrived at UMass. He supported Weeks when a sports hernia robbed him of the second half of his freshman season and last year when he couldn’t find his shooting stroke.

“I’ve been to three schools, and I have a lot of friends that play Division I basketball. It seems like an obvious thing that a coach would care about his players, but that’s not the case in Division I,” said UMass grad student Rich Kelly, who previously played for Boston College and Quinnipiac. “A lot of coaches, it's pretty cutthroat, and it's a business, and they could care less about how you're doing off the court. And McCall is an outlier there and he's a good coach and an even better person.”

McCall still cared about the players, staff, administration, everyone at UMass even though he knew his tenure had an expiration date. UMass announced Tuesday that it would be making a coaching change after this season. McCall stayed on to finish out the season because of the people.

“I didn't want tonight at all to be about me. I wanted it to be about our team and our players,” McCall said. “I’ve had an opportunity to coach some unbelievable players and develop some great relationships with the people here at UMass. I want nothing but the best for UMass and UMass basketball going forward.”

McCall entered the postgame interview room with tears still fresh in his eyes after the victory. He said Tuesday was the emotional day and he didn’t want to get more emotional.

“I always try to keep things in perspective,” McCall said. “And, you know, I'm a former student manager that worked my way up to an Atlantic 10 head coach. I’m a better coach, I’m a better leader, I’m a better husband, a better father from going through what I've gone through these last four years or five years. This doesn't define me. Me and my family are excited about the opportunity for us, what’s next.”

McCall’s wife Allison joined him for his last Mullins Center media session. He smiled when he looked over at her. His family, including three children Brooklyn, Kylie and Maverick, will be a big part of when, where and if he coaches again once his UMass tenure officially ends.

“I don’t know how much my wife wants me home. This has been a journey these last five years, with a lot of ups and some downs. I’m tired. I’m gonna take some time,” McCall said. “We're going to make the best decision for Brooklyn, Kylie and Maverick on what's next for us. I love the game of basketball. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

McCall went 59-81 (and counting) in his five years in Amherst. The Minutemen never reached the national postseason nor advanced further than the quarterfinals of the A-10 Conference Tournament. Their Wednesday win improved their record this season to 13-16 and snapped a three-game losing streak.

“When you look at my tenure here, I think we really just lacked some consistency,” McCall said. “Consistency with rosters, consistency with staff, and it's hard to have sustained success with that. I always take full ownership of where we're at. And like I said, this experience has made me better.”

It isn’t over yet. McCall will helm the Minutemen as long as the 2021-22 season lasts. They have one more regular season game Saturday at George Mason, and the A-10 tournament begins March 9 in Washington D.C. Coupling Wednesday’s win with a Rhode Island loss moved UMass to the No. 10 seed, avoiding that first round of Wednesday’s games. The Minutemen need another win at George Mason to secure that bye. 

They figure, why not win them all?

“We’re not dead yet. We’ve still got some life, and hopefully we can get it rolling here,” Weeks said. “We still have a chance. Everybody says our season’s over, it’s not over. Why not make a run? Why not beat every team from here on out? At least, give the effort.”

The end of the season, whenever it comes, will likely mean wholesale changes in the men’s basketball program beyond the head coach. UMass celebrated four departing players for senior night Wednesday. Most assistants don’t stick around when regimes change. The transfer portal could bring a new crop of players in or provide a way out for those who came to UMass for McCall.

“At this point, we got nothing to lose. And when you run into someone with nothing to lose, you can be in trouble because that's a dangerous person,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a whole program full of those people.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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