New UMass defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham promises an aggressive unit

  • New UMass defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham coaches during spring practice at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. THOM KENDALL PHOTOGRAPHY

  • New UMass defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham coaches during spring practice at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. THOM KENDALL PHOTOGRAPHY

Monday, March 27, 2017

AMHERST — It sounds almost odd to hear new UMass defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham calling his boss “Mark.”

Most of the football coaching staff, players and administrators call coach Mark Whipple either “Whip” or “Coach Whip.”

But this isn’t the new guy who hasn’t picked up the nicknames yet. Pinkham has known “Mark” since Whipple was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire and he was the defensive coordinator. Pinkham was a guest at Whipple’s wedding.

But nothing sounds out of place about Pinkham’s defensive philosophy. Whipple gives his defensive coordinators a lot of autonomy, but he hires guys who teach an attacking style.

Pinkham is no exception. He’s similar to former UMass defensive coordinator Don Brown stylistically. So much so that the Minutemen have watched video of Brown’s current defense at Michigan to help learn their new system.

A year ago, Pinkham’s defense was a huge part of Western Michigan’s 13-0 regular season that earned it a trip to the Cotton Bowl.

It was No. 15 nationally in scoring defense (19.8 points per game allowed), No. 26 in total defense (353.6 yards per game), No. 18 in turnovers gained (1.29 per game) and No. 22 in interceptions forced (15 in 14 games).

“We had a situation there where we took a team the first year and went 1-11,” said Pinkham, who has worked at eight schools during his career. “We tried to keep it simple enough to get better each year. We were fortunate enough to have some success.”

When he didn’t follow WMU head coach P.J. Fleck to Minnesota, Whipple pounced, hoping Pinkham could help build something similar in Amherst.

“I knew he was a great football coach. Their scenario at Western Michigan (when Pinkham arrived) wasn’t that different from ours,” he said. “When he didn’t get asked to go to Minnesota, it was a no-brainer. I called him right away. I’ve always respected what he’s done. He challenges the kids.

“I knew he’d be a good fit with our staff. He’s aggressive and a good recruiter,” Whipple continued. “Working at Rutgers was a big thing for New Jersey recruiting. All the things just fit. We’re really fortunate to have him. It’s worked out really well.”

Pinkham said he was enjoying installing a foundation with a coach he was comfortable with.

“The thing that excites me as a coach is the challenge of building a program,” he said. “You find a level of trust with people you work with. They’ve got your back, you’ve got their back. That’s the feeling you get working with a guy like Mark.”

The Minutemen will technically be a 4-3 defense under Pinkham, but he said it’s more like a 4-2-5 with a linebacker/safety hybrid instead of a third linebacker. The players are learning the system’s nomenclature and making adjustments after spending the past three years in a 3-4 defense.

“It’s always like learning a new language. It’s a learning process. It takes a while so they understand and become accustomed to buzz terms,” Pinkham said. “The simpler we can make it the quicker they can digest it all and understand what we’re trying to do. The simpler you can make it, the harder they can play early.”

Linebacker Steve Casali, who’ll be a senior in the fall, said it’s sinking in quickly.

“He’s a great teacher. He brings a lot of intensity to the defensive room. We’ve been learning a lot,” Casali said. “He simplifies it for us so we can play fast. I’m just really excited about how we’re doing so far.”

Senior safety Jesse Montiero agreed.

“It’s been a learning process for everybody. We’re just trying to pick it up as fast as we can. It’s real fun because we’re able to fly around,” he said. “Coach Pinkham is fun to be around. He wants us to have energy when we’re out there and just play football.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage