AD Ryan Bamford: Firing Walt Bell now ‘in the best interest of the future’ of UMass football

  • According to UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford, no state money will be used to buy former football coach Walt Bell out of the remaining time on his contract. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS


  • University of Massachusetts offensive line coach Alex Miller leads a drill during a Minutemen practice on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

  • University of Massachusetts offensive line coach Alex Miller leads a drill with Jonny Hassard, left, and Qualeem Charles (57) during a Minutemen practice on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2021 2:09:39 PM

AMHERST — UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford has historically waited to make coaching changes until a season has ended, but he recognized the necessity of an earlier move when firing football coach Walt Bell over the weekend.

“While I certainly would have hoped for better results and giving ourselves a chance to evaluate the entire body of work though 12 games,” Bamford said Monday, “I feel like this was in the best interest of the future of the program to get ourselves to a position, especially as we start to think about rebuilding and building the roster.”

The Minutemen lost 35-22 to FCS Rhode Island at McGuirk Alumni stadium, a defeat against a lower division opponent with fewer resources and scholarships available. UMass (1-8) has lost its last three games, with Bell going 2-23 over his nearly three-year tenure. The 37-year-old first-time head coach was hired in December 2018.

The Minutemen were 1-11 in 2019 before losing all four games last season in a year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in every facet.

At one point, UMass had the longest active losing streak in the nation (which it shared with Arizona at 16 games) before beating UConn on Oct. 9. The Minutemen lost every other game this season by at least two scores. Their average margin of defeat was nearly 35 points per game.

“We’ve got to develop and we’ve got to be competitive and we’ve got to win games. And we just, unfortunately, we weren’t competitive in a number of our games this year. And then, obviously, some of the games that I felt like we had a really good chance to win, we weren’t able to convert those to wins,” Bamford said.

“And in year three, you want to see that progress. And it didn’t necessarily mean it had to be all wins, but it had to be marked progress, and I didn’t feel like we were meeting that objective any longer.”

Defensive coordinator Tommy Restivo, who has been with Bell for his entire tenure, was also let go. Offensive line coach — and 2006 alum — Alex Miller will serve as the team’s interim head coach.

“It was an emotional day. However you slice it, you have to deal with those emotions. Outside of this building, no one’s going to care about our emotions, but we have to deal with them and attack the day,” Miller said.

“I only care about the current day. I’m not worried about Saturday (against Maine). My goal is to put a product out there, one that the kids can be proud of, their families can be proud of and, most importantly, the guys who have worn this jersey before — me being an alum, being connected to those guys — when that whistle blows the next couple weekends, I just want to make sure those guys are proud of what we’re doing on the field.”

Bell still had two years remaining on the five-year contract he signed when he was hired. UMass owes him his remaining compensation for the rest of this year and 75% of the $625,000 he’s due each of the next two years. But if Bell gets another job — which Bamford said he expects — then whatever salary he is paid will be deducted from what UMass has to pay him.

“That will help us. Those monies will come from different sources, none of which are general operating funds,” Bamford said. “We have built up some reserves in unrestricted fundraising accounts and through other means.

“I would expect we wont be paying anywhere near what the dollar amount is that is owed to him based on the contract. Those will come from funds that are not state or operating funds to our general ledger from a financial standpoint.”

Bamford did praise Bell’s contributions to the team’s culture from an academic, community service and “citizenship” standpoint. Their conversation when Bell was let go lasted around 15-20 minutes, Bamford said.

“He’s a true professional in that respect and wanted to make sure this program, which he cared for for 2½, three years, was in good stead as he leaves it. (He) asked if there was anything he could do to make sure he transition went smoothly,” Bamford said.

“I think he knows that we can win here and he wants to make sure as he departs that the next successful candidate has a chance to do that. He’s recruited most of this roster at this point and really wants these kids to have success.”

UMass will likely move somewhat quickly to put its new coach in place since there is an early signing period beginning Dec. 15. Most football recruits sign during the early period now rather than on National Signing Day in February, so it’s important to have someone in place to both try and retain UMass’ current commits and try to attract new players, mostly from the transfer portal.

New NCAA regulations allow players to transfer once without sitting out a year, and in this upcoming class teams will be allowed to sign a maximum of seven players beyond the traditional 25-person cap to help offset transfer losses.

“We cannot miss a recruiting cycle,” Bamford said. “It’s a really important signing class for us.”

Bamford said he doesn’t have a preferred profile for the new coach. He has brought in young, rising coaches for his previous football and men’s basketball hires (Bell and Matt McCall), but turned to established veterans to lead the hockey (Greg Carvel) and women’s basketball (Tory Verdi) programs five years ago.

“I’m wide open. I think when you go into a coaching search, you generally try to script some idea of where you want to land in terms of fit and culture,” Bamford said.

“I’m interested in finding out from head coaches that are candidates for us how they want to rebuild our roster, what is important to them from a culture standpoint and how they’re going to continue to represent our department and our university. We’re not a program that cuts corners.”

Whoever UMass brings in will likely have more money to work with, both for themselves and their assistants. Bamford called increasing the coaches’ salary pool of “prime importance.”

“We’ve lost under Coach Bell, under (previous) coach Mark Whipple, some really talented coaches, and it’s not all because of money. Some of it’s because of responsibility and role and things like that, but I think we’ve got to be more competitive in the way that we compensate our coaching staff.

“We’re working on that now to determine exactly what we think we can fund based on future revenues, but there will be an upgrade in that respect,” Bamford said. “Whenever you make a coaching change, if you’re staying where you are, you’re not addressing what the needs are of the program and ultimately of that next head coach, and we are fully aware that we need to continue to invest more money.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Daily Hampshire Gazette Valley Advocate


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy