The recent past performances of the University of Massachusetts football team might be seared in our collective memories. Last year’s 1-11 record does not, however, matter anymore.
“I’ve got to be honest. I will not watch a game. Wherever I’ve gone, I have not worried about what has gone on behind me,” Don Brown said. “I worry about what’s in front of me.”
With that one quote, the new football coach at UMass won Wednesday afternoon’s press conference.
Winning press conferences is the easy part of coaching. Three-plus years ago, Walt Bell won the press conference inside the Football Performance Center, but was unable to translate that into wins on the field.
Don Brown says he's ready, able and excited to be be back at UMass. Brown, who was the head football coach in Amherst from 2004-08, will once again lead the Minutemen.
Whether the new coach will be able to turn the presser victory into being competitive on the McGuirk Alumni Stadium turf is a question we won’t be able to answer for a while. It is, however, a promising start.
I had asked Brown about looking at tape to see what he has on the UMass roster, and the implication is that every player — from Gerrell Johnson to Brady Olson to Ellis Merriweather is going to start practicing with a completely clean slate.
There is good and bad to not watching the tape. Certainly, if Brown and his new staff watched the video of 2021, they might have an idea of where the Minutemen were deficient. It’s easy to counter that argument with one that says the deficiencies might have been scheme rather than talent.
And Brown most likely does not want to prejudge any players, giving them all a chance to curry favor by what they all do in the winter workouts and in spring football.
Brown was UMass’ head coach from 2004-08, and he led the Minutemen to an NCAA Division I-AA championship game. He had also been Mark Whipple’s defensive coordinator when UMass won the I-AA title in 1998.
“We came in in ’98, following a tough ’97 campaign and we just worked hard on both sides of the ball and on special teams, and you win a national title,” Brown said. “You follow that up with a trip to the playoffs in ’99.”
Brown did say that ultimately, he would like to get the Minutemen into a bowl game. That, however, is not his first goal.
“Obviously, the first goal is we’ve got to get competitive and we’ve got to be in a position to compete and to compete at a high level,” Brown said, when he met with reporters on Wednesday. “To do that, winter workouts are going to be the important piece. We have to get in great shape, starting to integrate with our scheme and what we’re going to do offensively, what we’re going to do defensively and obviously being sound in special teams.”
The reaction to the hiring of Don Brown has been nearly unanimous, and unanimously positive. Social media, where negativity often rules, has been anything but negative. Brown said the reaction he’s had from coaches in the Commonwealth has been positive.
Which is also the reaction from one of the deans of high school football in Berkshire County.
“I think it’s awesome,” Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said. “This is my slant on it. From a football perspective, we are not a hotbed of recruiting, we’re just not. Massachusetts isn’t. What Don Brown did prior, in his first tenure, he gave the team an identity on defense and specifically a pressure team that knew how how to play man-to-man defense. More than anything, that side of the ball will benefit so much at UMass because of his philosophies and his teachings. I just think he’s really, really good at it and he’s invested in it.”
Campbell was in his first tenure at Wahconah when Brown was the head coach at UMass. While Brown did not make recruiting trips to Dalton, he used to open his spring practice sessions to high school coaches who took a lot of notes. One of those coaches was Campbell.
“I remember more of him through spring practices,” said Campbell, remembering that coaches wore boxing-style training gloves, using them to try and redirect receivers to make plays.
“I remember sitting at spring ball practices and seeing how hard they worked at that. I thought that’s a great idea,” Campbell said. “He never walked into Wahconah or I didn’t know him personally. He invited us all to those spring ball practices, and I loved every bit of it.”
What made an impression on the Wahconah coach was how Brown worked with his players.
I thought he was a good teacher when he was out there. He wasn’t a yeller. He wasn’t this or that. He was teaching finite stuff that made a difference in a game,” the Wahconah coach said. “That’s what I was impressed with.”
So far, so good, but we’ll see whether this all translates into wins on the field.