New UMass football coach Walt Bell sets plan for recruiting

  • Walt Bell, who has been hired as the new UMass football head coach, speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2018 8:10:49 PM

BOSTON — Walt Bell had a second to breathe Tuesday before attending a UMass donor event at the Colonnade Hotel.

The newly hired football coach has spent much of the past two weeks since his introductory press conference on the recruiting trail. With the early signing period looming Wednesday, Bell and his not-so-secret staff hires that haven’t been formally announced yet traversed the country turning every stone to find players.

Most of the early work focused on junior college players and other early enrollees who will join the Minutemen for the spring semester. But like most things as it relates to Bell, he didn’t embark on his travels until he had a firm plan in place for exactly what UMass was looking for in recruits.

“We went out every day allowed with the exception of one,” Bell said. “The reason we didn’t go out the first Monday was just to make sure we were organized and we really were recruiting with a purpose and a plan.”

In the days after Bell was announced as the next UMass football coach, his Twitter lit up with players hoping for him to take a look at their highlight film. Combine that group with the recruits Bell came across during his time at Florida State and what his assistants saw on the recruiting trail at their previous schools, it took several long days to find the players Bell felt would fit into the Minutemen’s future.

He said he had to build much of the infrastructure for recruiting himself as he pored over the same film two or three times to set his priorities.

“When we got here, there wasn’t really a recruiting board per se,” Bell said. “So for probably four or five straight days from six in the morning until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, (we were) just watching tape. Then here’s a pool of players we feel can help us, so let’s rewatch those again and let’s try to rank this board. Then let’s find out what parts of the country we can get the most done in to have a visit weekend.”

THE RE-COMMITS: When Bell was hired, there were several high school seniors who already verbally pledged to UMass. After speaking with each of those commits, only two of them remained firm with the Minutemen.

Some of those players likely didn’t fit into Bell’s scheme – per NCAA rules Bell cannot comment on specific recruits – but he said he had a plan for dealing with this situation. Bell has been part of four coaching transitions in the past eight years and he said the biggest mistake the new coach makes is signing a large number of players just for the sake of adding bodies to the program.

“When you get in those transitions a lot of times you end up with undue panic and you really don’t know the kids, especially when you’re changing geographic areas,” Bell said. “One of the most important things about building an organization or building a team and building a culture is you’ve got to know what type of kids you’re bringing in. Not panicking, don’t rush, you don’t have to sign 25 guys just to sign 25 guys.”

Bell is of course worried about the future when he’s evaluating players in this year’s class, but he’s less concerned about their physical maturation as much as their mental growth. He said this year’s class is going to set the tone for the program because it is the fundamental layer of the foundation on which the program will stand when the expectations are raised and the pressure is on the new coach to succeed.

“The guys you do sign when you look up in year three and year four, when it’s winning time, it’s time to show people the improvements we made as a culture and an organization, that’s going to be your leadership,” Bell said. “If you take a lot of unnecessary and undue risk in that first class, you’re setting yourself up to possibly damage the foundation of your team and your organization.”

SIGNING DAY: Bell said he expects around seven or eight players to sign with the Minutemen during the early signing period that lasts between Wednesday and Friday. Most of those recruits visited Amherst last weekend on official visits with Bell and his staff. The coach said the visits went well and it helped iron out the kinks in the process moving forward.

Ultimately, Bell said, it’s probably for the best that UMass doesn’t have too many recruits by the end of the week. He said it will allow him more flexibility in February and the subsequent months to find more ways to help bolster the Minutemen’s roster.

“That’s probably where we need to sit,” Bell said. “I’m not in a rush. The best people I’ve seen build rosters, it doesn’t even stop in February. There’s always a way to help your roster, especially with some of the avenues the NCAA has opened up with grad transfers and you’re seeing so many more kids from densely populated areas go to junior college as qualifiers.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at


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