Matt Vautour: Ryan Bamford won’t make a decision on coach Mark Whipple’s status until after the season

  • Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Akron in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. AP

  • Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple watches his team warm up before an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. AP

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Is the UMass football team’s recent success a sign that the team and the program has turned the corner or merely a blip?

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford’s opinion on that will likely influence his decision whether or not to extend or dismiss football coach Mark Whipple.

This isn’t a case where Bamford can take action or stand pat. Whipple is completing year four or a five-year contract. Nobody ever coaches that last year of a contract. Coaches with a year left either get an extension or a pink slip.

The perception is that a coach working in that last year would have a prohibitively difficult time recruiting as a perceived lame duck. Bamford has to do something either way.

When UMass was 0-6 Whipple seat seemed especially hot. But with three wins and a strong showing against a Mississippi State team that almost upset Alabama on Saturday, the Minutemen have move positive momentum that they have at any time in the Bowl Subdivision.

An extension wouldn’t have to mean and probably wouldn’t mean five or even three more years and more money. A more likely answer is adding a year, one more season for to show whether or not the recent success is sustainable with a lot of key players coming back.

Asked about the status of a coach in question, Bamford has used similar language, no doubt intentionally, about a coach he’s opted to keep (Whipple last year) and a coach he eventually to fired (Derek Kellogg).

“It’s been my mantra to take a hard look at the end of the season and all the work is done to make sure we’re putting ourselves in position going forward to have success,” he said. “We’re going to go out and try to win these last couple weeks and give ourselves a chance to get to five wins, which would be outstanding. Once the season ends, we’ll go from there.”

Bamford praised Whipple, who is 11-35 in his second stint coaching UMass, and his staff for helping to turn the season around.

“I’m very pleased at how our attention has been focused on the opponent we’ve been playing, even after an 0-6 start,” Bamford said. “Our kids really hung in there and played for each other and played for our coaches. Nobody quit on the season.

“We’ve had a good four week stretch. Even losing to Mississippi State, the way we completed there was promising,” Bamford said. “We have two more games and we’re hoping to get to five wins on the year. They’re two games that if we play well, we’ll certainly have an opportunity to win.”

Bamford did say he wouldn’t make a decision until after that season. That’s sounds natural, but it’s a little more noteworthy this year for a couple of reasons.

UMass’ final regular season game (most likely, see below) is Dec. 2. That’s seven days after most teams that aren’t bowl bound will be finished and two weeks after UMass’ second to last game.

Everybody else dismissing a coach will have already done it and have a head start on finding a replacement.

Because of the existence of the new early football signing period, Dec. 20-22, teams will be trying to hire coaches in a hurry in hopes of maintaining commitments.

The Minutemen have a week off between BYU on Saturday and FIU. If Bamford had already decided to fire Whipple, it likely would come after the BYU game to give him a head start on a search. It’s possible he truly hasn’t made the decision yet. There’s potentially a lot of info to be gained over the final two games.

GAME OF THE WEEK:Michigan at No. 8 Wisconsin, Saturday noon — The Wolverines are capable of ending the Badgers’ dream run.

PLAYOFF BOUND: Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma, Wisconsin

IF I HAD A HEISMAN VOTE — Hard to picture Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield blowing it at this point.

FIU UPDATE — Old Dominion appears to have ended the suspense early. The Monarchs upset FIU last week to make the Golden Panthers chances of reaching the Conference USA title game almost impossible. So UMass’ game at FIU on Dec. 2 should be on as scheduled.

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