Timing of Matt McCall’s firing a ‘pressure release,’ Bamford says

  • Matt McCall will finish the season as UMass men’s basketball coach, but the search for his replacement is underway. CHRIS TUCCI/UMass Athletics

Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2022 2:38:51 PM

The future of the UMass men’s basketball program looks clearer, even if it muddies the immediate present.

UMass announced Tuesday that there will be a change in leadership following the end of the season but current coach Matt McCall would stay on to finish out the season. It’s odd timing given that the Minutemen still had two regular-season games (Wednesday night against Fordham and Saturday at George Mason), plus whatever happens in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament (begins March 9 in Washington D.C.), remaining when the decision was made.

“There’s been a lot of pressure and stress and I think anxiety built up in our building,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said Wednesday. “We all want to win and the results have been mixed. And I think that people felt that and I thought it was the right time to say to everyone look, we’ve got to hit a pressure release valve on this program right now, and everybody needs to understand that that ultimately worked.”

Even though the Minutemen will be making a change, that change has not technically been made yet. McCall’s exact termination date is yet to be determined. What day he is officially terminated matters. McCall’s contract year ends March 28 and the next year (the last on the extension he signed in 2018) begins March 29. If he’s fired before the 28th, he’s owed 100% of the remaining value for this year and 75% of his $850,000 salary next season ($637,500). After the 29th, all $850,000 becomes guaranteed.

“The change will come effectively before March 28. I just don’t know the exact date and what that will mean,” Bamford said. “The only thing that would change from a financial standpoint would be what we pay him for vacation days.”

McCall was hired in March of 2017 after UMass’ unsuccessful attempt to bring in Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. The Minutemen are 58-81 under McCall.

“Everything that coach McCall has done in his five years off the court, the work in academics, the work in recruiting the work in the citizenry of our young men and all of those things are very positive,” Bamford said. “But ultimately, we’re in the business of winning, and it’s very important that we build a program that our community, everyone associated with the university that’s come before us and will come after us, feels great pride in this basketball program.”

Bamford said McCall expressed a desire and willingness to finish the season out.

“There’s no easy way to make these transitions. Decisions like this impact lives,” Bamford said. “I have a great relationship with Matt and I felt like I needed to be honest with him to say, ‘Matt, I need to start having conversations with agents and others to prepare our basketball program for what’s next.’ And I wanted him to hear that from me and not hear from other people.”

UMass will employ the search firm Turnkey to help find the next coach. Bamford didn’t use a search firm when hiring new football coach Don Brown, nor was one employed to bring in hockey coach Greg Carvel or women’s basketball coach Tory Verdi. The firm Folger Consulting was used during the men’s basketball hiring process that followed Derek Kellogg’s firing.

“When we’ve used search firms as a public institution, I think it’s really important for us to make sure that we’re protecting the privacy of the candidates that want to be involved in our job. But I also want to make sure that I’m meeting any obligation I have from a public record standpoint,” Bamford said. “This isn’t a search firm’s hire, this is Ryan Bamford’s hire along with our chancellor and other important people around this program that I’m going to have dialogue with it, but the search firm will help us organize things.”

And what are they looking for? Bamford went for younger, up-and-coming coaches with his first two football and men’s basketball hires (the since fired Walt Bell and McCall) — three if you include Kelsey — and turned to an established veteran with this winter’s return of Brown.

“I’m not married to any one track, any piece of experience ... it would be I think, disingenuous to say that some level of head coaching experience wouldn’t be valuable,” Bamford said.

He also said he’s open to assistant coaches as well, but the ability to recruit and connect as well has having Northeast ties are important, too.

Whoever Bamford hires will likely be compensated more than McCall, in the same way that being able to pay a higher football coaching salary helped land Brown.

“You can anticipate that we have the ability to go beyond where we’ve gone in head coaching and coaching pool salaries,” Bamford said. “I wouldn’t put an exact number on what that’s going to be, but it could be significantly higher if it makes sense for us to do that. We’re not going to spend foolishly. We’re going to be good stewards of the resources we have.”

There’s also no hard and fast timeline for when Bamford wants to complete the search. He said he wanted to complete it before the end of the college basketball season. Historically, UMass has waited at least a week after the coaches’ previous teams finished their season.

“There’s going to be coaching candidates that will be playing that will continue to be in their season. I want to be respectful of that. But I also want to move our search forward,” Bamford said. “I anticipate before the end of the month we’ll have a pretty good idea of which direction we’re going to go.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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