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Top candidates to be next UMass football coach

  • Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak, right, looks at an official during the first half against Connecticut, Sept. 1, 2016, in East Hartford, Conn. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2018 7:35:15 PM

AMHERST — UMass is keeping a tight lip about its latest coaching search after Mark Whipple stepped down as football coach last week.

Athletic director Ryan Bamford declined to comment on the search until it is completed, leaving the candidates for the UMass opening unconfirmed. Several names have been thrown out on social media since Whipple’s resignation was announced Wednesday, although no official contact has been confirmed between UMass and any candidate.

One of the more popular names being thrown around is Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who was the UMass defensive backs coach in 2006 when the Minutemen played for the FCS national title. The 52-year-old has coordinated some of the nation’s best defenses since leaving Amherst, including ranking in the top 25 in total defense every year from 2011-2015 while at Vanderbilt and then Penn State. His expertise would solidify the Minutemen’s defense, which has been the program’s weakness in many years.

However, UMass won’t be able to match the seven-figure salary he currently makes at Mississippi State, so Shoop would have to take a pay cut for an FBS coaching gig. He has three years as an FCS head coach, but he led Columbia to a 7-23 record during those seasons in the Ivy League before coming to UMass.

Another popular choice is former UMass head coach Don Brown, who left the school in 2008 in search of a better path to becoming an FBS head coach. The current Michigan defensive coordinator had no shortage of success in his first two stints with the Minutemen, leading the UMass defense during its 1998 national championship season and then coaching the team to the 2006 FCS title game. He is one of the nation’s premier defensive coordinators and should be able to turn around a struggling unit and help that side of the ball catch up to the offensive weapons.

However, in addition to being slightly older than Whipple, Brown also is being paid more than $1 million at a Power Five school. He also didn’t sound too enthusiastic about trying to become a head coach again in a recent article, saying he loved the challenge of trying to stop the other team.

One choice gaining traction is Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak, whose Black Bears won the competitive Colonial Athletic Association title this year and earned the No. 7 overall seed in the FCS playoffs. The 32-year-old has quickly turned around Maine’s program, which has gone 18-14 in his three years after a 3-8 year in 2015. He was Maine’s defensive coordinator before being promoted to head coach and shaped the Black Bears into a top-20 defense. Harasymiak also would be a cheaper option for Bamford as the Springfield College graduate only makes $150,000 at Maine.

Perhaps the only thing that would keep Harasymiak at Maine is his loyalty to the administration for its faith in him or a massive pay raise, which UMass would likely be able to match anyway.

The fourth and final candidate who has become a fan-favorite is Harasymiak’s former offensive coordinator and UMass’ all-time leading passer Liam Coen. The 33-year-old is currently in his first season as the wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams after spending two years as Maine’s offensive coordinator and two seasons as UMass’ quarterbacks coach under Whipple. He likely wouldn’t change the offense too much from what Whipple ran the last five years, which would make the transition easier for the Minutemen.

However, Coen would need to surround himself with an excellent defensive staff to help upgrade that side of the ball. He also has a pretty good job in the professional ranks and it would be interesting to see if he has an interest in pursuing an upward trajectory on that route instead of returning to coach in college. He would be one of the youngest FBS coaches and navigating the pathways of being a first-time head coach, a combination that will require some patience.

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