UMass Mailbag: Dec. 7

  • 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 Writer
Published: 12/7/2018 2:15:10 PM

The white smoke came on Twitter early Monday evening and within the hour, UMass officially had a new football coach. The Walt Bell era of Minutemen football began Wednesday at the introductory press conference, an hour-long event that shined a bright light on the direction the program is headed in the near future.

Not surprisingly, all of your questions this week had to do with Bell and the football program. So let’s tackle these subjects – fundamentally-sound tackling of course – in the mailbag.

Our first question comes from Kwabena Asante, who has emailed me several times with financial questions about UMass. He asked if there was any information on Mark Whipple’s buyout and how the university can afford to pay both the buyout and Walt Bell’s contract.

The simple answer is that there isn’t a definitive agreement yet between Whipple and the school. It’ll likely range between $300,000-400,000 and will include Whipple doing some work as a special assistant with the university and maybe even helping with the transition to the new staff. As soon as that information is available, I will write something about the details of the agreement.

The fact that Bell comes as cheap as $625,000 annually helps UMass absorb the extra buyout money that it will pay Whipple. That will likely come out of the general athletics budget – maybe just built into the football-specific budget – or it could be paid off by private donors. Either way, affording both Bell’s contract and Whipple’s buyout isn’t a huge deal for the university because it’s a combined less than a $1 million, and I can guarantee Ryan Bamford can find that money somewhere.

Our next question comes from Twitter where @BTwittur asked “(It) seems obvious to me if Bell is at all successful he will not be in Amherst long. Should UMass be targeting these stepping stone type or older Whipple types who would stick around?”

It takes a lot of luck to find a coach willing to stick around a non-blue blood program forever, and most of the time that coach is either an alum (Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern) or someone who doesn’t have enough success to garner higher-profile jobs but enough to keep his own job safe (Rick Stockstill at Middle Tennessee State). Honestly, I don’t know if there is a UMass alum out there ready to be a head coach – maybe Liam Coen – and any coach who can find longterm success at UMass will likely end up being a target for higher profile Group of Five jobs if not low-level Power Five.

I have been on record as saying I think UMass needs to embrace what Xavier basketball has become over the last 25 years. Since 1994, the Musketeers have had five coaches, all of whom won at least 69 percent of their games before leaving for bigger jobs and finding success. Even Temple football in recent history has produced coaches who have become decent Power Five coaches after leaving Philadelphia. UMass football will never be a destination job as an independent, so the administration needs to continue to find, follow and recruit the best young coaches it can to lead the program in the future. The best case scenario for the school is that it becomes a bastion for great young coaching talent and reaps some money from buyout clauses for other schools poaching coaches. 

We’ll stay on Twitter with Marc (@Zig2K), a popular fellow on #UMassTwitter. He asked about other players who might be considering transferring after the coaching change after Isaiah Rodgers announced his desire to return.

This question was sent in prior to Jessie Britt tweeting that he would rejoin the team after the coaching change. But I think Britt’s decision is indictitive of the fact I don’t believe anyone will be transferring from UMass until after spring practice. Walt Bell’s charisma will win over a lot of guys now and they’ll try to battle in spring practices for starting spots. I could see players leave in May or June if they don’t like their place in Bell’s system, but I fully believe the players will give him a fair chance and try to prove themselves.

The final question is another emailed question, this time from Tom Wisnauckas. He asks if the new coach gives UMass new hope about joining a conference.

The answer is no. The new coach has no impact on the dilemmas preventing UMass from joining a conference. It doesn’t make the Minutemen more desirable as a football program and it doesn’t alter the school’s approach about finding a conference.

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