Don Brown coaches at UMass

UMass football coach Don Brown directs traffic during media day practice drills at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. At left is Brandon Collier. UMass is bringing Brown back as head coach in the hopes that the struggling football program can return to the time of its greatest success. Brown has spent the last 13 years as a defensive coordinator for major programs, most recently at Arizona.

For the second time, the University of Massachusetts has gone back to the future to hire a football coach.

The school announced Monday morning that Don Brown, who was the defensive coordinator on the 1998 Division I-AA championship team and guided UMass to a spot in the I-AA final in 2006, is replacing Walt Bell. Bell was fired by the school the day after the Minutemen lost to Rhode Island back on Nov. 6.

Brown, who worked as the defensive coordinator for two years under Mark Whipple and later returned to coach the Minutemen from 2004-08, comes to UMass after spending this season as the defensive coordinator for Judd Fisch at the University of Arizona.

"I am honored to return to Amherst and lead the football program at the University of Massachusetts again," Brown said in a statement. "I promise to work tirelessly to make this program into something that our players, alumni and fans can be proud of. My focus will also be to develop our student-athletes so they can play at an elite level and achieve success, which requires building great relationships and having a tremendous work ethic. I can't wait to get back to the Commonwealth and get to work."

Brown coached the Minutemen for 62 games, winning 43 and losing 19. He won the Atlantic 10 Conference championship in 2006, the same year that the 13-2 Minutemen made it to the championship game of the NCAA Division I-AA tournament. UMass beat Lafayette, New Hampshire and won at Montana, before losing 28-17 to Appalachian State in the championship game.

In 2007, Brown guided the Minutemen to the Colonial Athletic Association's championship and the NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the second round.

"Coach Brown's remarkable coaching expertise and familiarity with our program and the Northeast makes this a perfect fit," UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said. "Don is a phenomenal recruiter, talent developer and connector. We will benefit from his football acumen, strong leadership qualities and his fierce intensity and desire to build our growing FBS program into a perennial winner."

In a text exchange with The Eagle, Bamford said there will be no press conference Thanksgiving week.

"Not until next week," Bamford wrote. "Don finishing up duties at U of A." 

Brown left UMass after the 1999 season to take over as head coach at Northeastern. He returned to Amherst when Whipple left to become quarterbacks coach with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers under Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher.

Brown's Division I-FBS tenure began in 2009, when he left UMass for Maryland. He spent two years there, before coaching two years under Paul Pasqualoni at UConn. Brown's next stop was Boston College under Steve Addazio, and three years later, he headed for Michigan to work as defensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh.

At Arizona, Brown has helped move a defense that had been 12th in total defense the previous two seasons to fifth in the Pac-12 Conference. The Wildcats are second in the conference in pass defense.

Response to the Brown hiring has begun to come in, and it is all positive.

"Don Brown is a great football coach but more importantly he’s a great leader of young men. He will bring the right blend of 'modern' coaching w/ a much needed addition of old school toughness & grit that is missing in many programs today @UMassFootball will rise again," wrote Rene Ingoglia, a former UMass running back who graduated in 1995 and is third on the all-time rushing list.

Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen played for Brown from 04-08, and holds every career passing record in the UMass record book. He was another ex-Minuteman truly excited by the hire.

"Coach Brown's impact on the UMass football family goes beyond wins and losses. He was, and [is] a father figure, mentor and friend to so many of us who played for Coach Brown during his time at UMass," Coen wrote in a text message to The Eagle. "There isn't a better man to lead this program and impact the lives of young men."

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. 

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.