UMass Liberty Football

The UMass offensive line was a real problem spot for the 0-4 Minutemen this past season. Head coach Walt Bell is bringing in a new assistant to address the situation.

The offensive line play for the University of Massachusetts was so disappointing at times during 2020 that head coach Walt Bell made a staff change. Now, it appears that Bell will get a chance to make over his line.

According to Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel, the Minutemen had an opening for an offensive line coach because Micah James was heading to Arkansas State for a yet-to-be-named position under new ASU coach Butch Jones. Jones has seven assistants listed, but all of the offensive coaches are "skill position" coaches.

To replace James, Thamel first reported that University of New Hampshire, and UMass graduate, Alex Miller will be coming back to his alma mater as the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator. He held the same positions on Sean McDonnell's staff, and was the co-offensive coordinator.

While the school has not announced the move, Miller's Twitter biography now reads "UMass Football Alum. UMass Football Coach."

At UMass, Angelo Mirando is listed as the offensive coordinator. Bell has said he was considering taking over play-calling in 2021.

Miller played at UMass from 2003-06 for former coaches Mark Whipple and Don Brown. The Minutemen were 36-14 when Miller played, making the NCAA Division I-AA Tournament in 2003 and the I-AA championship game in 2006.

New Hampshire is scheduled to begin a Colonial Athletic Association spring schedule on March 6, at home against Albany. The CAA will play six league games in March and April.

James moved from being co-offensive line coach to offensive line coach at UMass when Bell dismissed Jim Jackson midway through the 2020 season. James is a graduate of Middle Tennessee, and spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons at Arkansas State as a graduate assistant.

When Miller played at UMass, one of his quarterbacks was Tim Day. Tim Day's brother Ryan is in the sports news this week because Ryan Day is the head coach at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes will play Alabama for the Division I-FBS National Championship on Monday.

Ryan Day was a quarterback at the University of New Hampshire, and when he played, his teams went 2-1 against UMass. Ryan Day's best game against UMass came in 1999, when he was 26 of 44 for 351 yards and two touchdowns. UMass won 34-19, in part because Ryan Day threw four interceptions.

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Five members of the 2020 UMass football team were named to Phil Steele's All-Independent team. Phil Steele produces the "bible" of football preseason guides.

Wide receiver Samuel Emilus was a first-team selection as a punt returner. Emilus averaged 15.3 yards per return in 2020.

Named to the second team were offensive tackle Larnel Coleman, linebacker Cole McCubrey, defensive lineman Avien Peah and cornerback Josh Wallace.

Coleman was also selected to participate in the 2021 College Gridiron Showcase. Coleman will spend Jan. 17-21 in Fort Worth, Texas, performing position-specific drills during practices and will participate in a game hosted in front of professional scouts.

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If there were any UMass football fans hoping that the now-available Don Brown would return to campus to help coach the football team, that hope appears to be over.

Brown was hired on Thursday to be the new defensive coordinator at the University of Arizona.

"Don Brown has coordinated the most elite defenses in all of college football, year in and year out, and today Wildcat Nation, we get to introduce him to you as our new defensive coordinator," Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch said in a statement. "I have known Don since 2016 when we worked together but have respected and admired him as a coach for many years prior. He is incredibly passionate and a phenomenal teacher."

Fisch, the now-former quarterbacks coach with the New England Patriots, was hired to replace Kevin Sumlin at Arizona.

Brown was the head coach at UMass from 2004-2008, and had been the defensive coordinator under former coach Mark Whipple when the Minutemen won the NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 1998.

"I promise to work tirelessly to make our defense into something that our players, alumni and fans can be proud of," Brown said in a statement. "My focus will also be to develop our student-athletes so they can play at an elite level and achieve success, which requires dedication, a tremendous work ethic and building great relationships."

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It isn't easy putting a schedule together on the fly. Sometimes, you have to play teams that are much better than you are.

In 2020, UMass played four football games. All four of their opponents went to bowl games, and those teams finished 2-2.

Georgia Southern got an invitation to the New Orleans Bowl, and in as close to a road game as one could get, Georgia Southern rolled past Louisiana Tech 38-3.

It was a rough finish to the season for a Marshall team that was ranked 16th or 15th (depending on the poll) when the Thundering Herd routed UMass. The Herd lost its final three games, including a 17-10 Camellia Bowl game to Buffalo. Because of that, head coach Doc Holliday's contract was not renewed.

Florida Atlantic's bowl appearance did not go well either. Playing in the Montgomery Bowl, FAU lost to Memphis 25-10.

But in what might have been as good a bowl game as any this winter, Liberty needed overtime to knock off Coastal Carolina 37-34.

Four Minutemen opponents also went to bowl games in 2019, Walt Bell's first schedule as head coach. Like this season, those teams also went 2-2.

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One former UMass player and assistant coach had his second Power Five football season end well.

Neal Brown, who played wide receiver at UMass in 2001 and 2002, led West Virginia to a 6-4 record in 2020, and a 24-21 win over Army in the Liberty Bowl.

Brown coached one year at UMass, handling the tight ends and being an assistant offensive line coach in 2003.

Brown had been an offensive coordinator at Division I-FBS Troy, at Texas Tech and at Kentucky, before taking the head job at Troy from 2015-18.

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

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.