Howard Herman: Former UMass players now patrolling sidelines
Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again -- at least you can if you’re a college football coach.
For two of the best University of Massachusetts players of the 21st Century, returning to work on building a Division I-FBS program makes coming home all the better.
"It’s really amazing" to be back, UMass running backs coach Marcel Shipp told me. "This is where my career started. I have a lot of love for UMass. To have this opportunity to come back and be a part of it, it was all hands on deck."
Shipp rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns in the 1998 Division I-AA championship game, when UMass beat Georgia Southern.
He is in his first year at UMass, as is quarterbacks coach Liam Coen, who when he played for the Minutemen, set nearly every career passing record at the school.
Former UMass coach, and current Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown, once described Coen as the best quarterback in UMass football history.
Both Coen and Shipp are part of Mark Whipple’s first staff in Whipple’s second tenure as UMass coach. Whipple was Shipp’s head coach back in 1998.
"Coach Whip is great. He was great when I was a player. He’s even better now," Shipp said during a conversation inside the new Football Performance Center, which opened this summer and houses the coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, locker, training and weight rooms.
"I’m learning more about the game now, just being under him and listening to him talk."
Coen, who has been an assistant coach at Rhode Island and Brown, is also very happy to be back in the Pioneer Valley.
"It’s great," he said with a laugh. "In this facility doing interviews as opposed to doing them over in the bunker is a little bit different for me."
"The bunker" Coen talks about is the old football locker room facility in the opposite end zone of McGuirk. It still sits there, a reminder of the old Whipple and Brown days, or of the Yankee Conference days when the late Bob Pickett roamed the sidelines.
The coaching staff is as new as the performance center. Shipp and Coen aren’t all that far removed from their playing days. Coen’s ended in Amherst while Shipp’s ended with the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.
So, does Shipp see himself in the young men he is coaching?
"They’re different guys. Time changes everything," he said with a laugh. "The good thing is we have some guys with good heads on their shoulders. They want to work hard and they want to be good."
You hear a similar tale from Coen, who has a new starter in Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapel at quarterback.
"I’m really in a great situation because of the guys in my room," Coen said. "That’s what makes being a coach, the kids you coach. These guys are really fun to work with every day.
"We have a light room -- it’s fun, it’s light-hearted. They know how to work on the field and they know how to study in the classroom."
Whether that translates to wins on the field, only time will tell.
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.