AMHERST -- The new football coach at the University of Massachusetts said his goal for the program is the same as it was when he first came here in 1998.
"We're here to get jewelry. That's what it's about," Mark Whipple said at his re-introductory news conference in the Mullins Center on Tuesday morning. "That's the goal. It always has been at UMass, and always will be."
Whipple, who was the head coach at UMass from 1998-2003 before beginning a sojourn that took him to the National Football League, has begun his second tenure as head coach of the Minutemen. He won an NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 1998 and took three different UMass teams to the I-AA tournament in his six seasons.
It's a five-year contract for the new UMass coach with a base salary of $250,000.
Whipple replaces Charley Molnar, who was fired in December after posting a second consecutive 1-11 record. Whipple's six-year record at UMass was 49-26.
He left Massachusetts after the 2003 season to join the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers as quarterbacks coach, where the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006. He also spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles before becoming the offensive coordinator at the University of Miami (Fla.). Whipple was the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland from 2011-12, and spent last year out of the game.
UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said there were some 70 applicants for the vacancy, and there were 45 candidates with the proper background. Whipple was one of four finalists who came to campus to interview.
"We always knew he was going to be, from the beginning, probably somebody we were going to be taking a real hard look at," said McCutcheon. "We wanted to make sure through this process that we were thorough and we threw out a wide net. If he was the guy, everybody in that room was convinced that it wasn't because we took the easy way out. It's because we really evaluated what our options were, and he still emerged as the top guy."
Massachusetts opens its 2014 season at Gillette Stadium against Boston College. The Minutemen will play BC and Colorado at Gillette this fall, along with one Mid-American Conference opponent. The other three MAC games will be played at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on campus.
When Whipple was here the last time, he often talked about the program taking the step up from the I-AA level to the I-A level. Now, the names may be Division I-FBS and Division I-FCS, but playing in the Mid-American Conference and having the improved on-campus facilities, get the new coach excited.
"We have something to tell to our young men, the student-athletes that comes in, here's a building. When I was here before, here was a picture," said Whipple. "The guys who were recruited can't say I was a liar. That's made a difference."
Speaking to reporters following the introduction, the new UMass coach said he saw the 2013 season opener against Wisconsin on television in a Scottsdale, Ariz., restaurant. That's the extent of what Whipple has seen and will be the extent of what he watches on tape heading into the coming season.
"I won't look at tape of us. I want to go on a clean slate," he said. "In 1997 I didn't look at anybody.
"Our focus right now is recruiting."
And that'll get done with a coaching staff Whipple said he is in the process of putting together. According to his Twitter feed, former UMass quarterback Liam Coen said he'll be joining Whipple's staff as the quarterbacks coach. Coen was recruited by Whipple, but never got the chance to play for him. Coen has been a quarterbacks coach at Brown, Whipple's alma mater, and Rhode Island.
The UMass head coach said he can't wait to reestablish some of the relationships he had around the Commonwealth in his first stint here.
"It starts in Massachusetts and then we drive around New England," said Whipple. "We'll be out first right here. Then we'll stretch out through the eastern seaboard.
"We can go to California and get a Todd Bankhead from San Diego, who loves it. We can go to Florida. We can go to Arizona. We can go anywhere in this country. There are no limits here. But it starts here and it starts with the Massachusetts players and the Massachusetts high school coaches."
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