Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: New UMass football coach Walt Bell talks recruiting, weather and an uptempo pace

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AMHERST — Walt Bell has completed his first recruiting cycle as the head football coach at the University of Massachusetts. The jury is out as to whether he'll be successful, and the jury will be out for a while.

The Minutemen did bring 20 players in, from the early-signing period and the National Signing Day on Wednesday. It was a quick turnaround for Bell and his staff, who were hired and then hit the road recruiting.

Bell said recruiting is all about relationships, and the first-year coach thinks a pretty good foundation has been set for future classes.

"People have to know that you're of them and by them. That doesn't necessarily mean you're from a certain place. It means that you hold the same truth to yourself that they hold," Bell said. "I think I'm a really good fit for what this place is known for. That's tough, blue-collar guys, resilient. That's what I think these [high school] coaches are. That's the type of kids they raised, and that's who we want to coach."

And the type of kids who come to UMass will not have one of those phone book-sized playbooks.

I asked Bell about that during a sit down chat after the signing day TV show signed off.

"It's really small," he told me. "It's small. I think it'll look like a lot but there isn't a lot."

And the reason for that?

"There is no substitution for repetition for anything you do in life," he said. "The only way to do that is to do very little a lot of times. That's a skill. From Coach [Hal] Mumme to Coach [Mike] Leach, we have eight or nine pass plays. That's kind of our system. The system is really simple.

"It allows our guys to chase and play free."

It's also an opportunity for the Minutemen to play fast football.

"Absolutely," he said, "and not just from a tempo standpoint, not the actual, physical act of snapping the ball faster. It allows you play much more confidently."

The former Florida State offensive coordinator is an interesting coach to talk to, when it comes to not only his recruiting, but his thought processes on football.

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For example, when the conversation turned to incoming quarterback prospects Andrew Brito and Garrett Dzuro, Bell said the were both good distributors of the football, who could fit into his offensive scheme.

Dzuro comes from a pro-style offense at his Ohio high school, while Brito played in a pro-style attack at the College of the Canyons and at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic High School. Bell wants them, and all of his quarterbacks, to "limit" mistakes.

"I don't necessarily look at completion percentages. I look at bad misses," he said. "Who can really hit spots, and who can't."

It sounds like a little more analytical approach to quarterback play and moving the ball down the field.

Whoever will be playing quarterback — veteran or rookie — will be getting play calls from a new coach. Bell wouldn't say if it's going to be him or one of his assistants, several of whom have called plays before.

"It depends on who that guy is," said Bell, when asked if his play caller would work from the field or the press box. "I've done it from the booth before. There's a million ways to do it. There are guys who swear by the press box and think that's their best way to score points. To me, it's all personal feel. Some guys want to be down there in front of the kids, and look them in the face when things don't go well. Some guys want to be in the press box, because they feel that's where they can see the most. I've been a part of both."

Spring practice begins in six weeks and the opener is Aug. 30 at Rutgers.

Seeing as how Bell seems to be so prepared, he laughed when I asked if he had watched any film of the Scarlet Knights.

"No. Nope. At this point, to be really honest with you, I'm more interested in recruiting, coaching and developing relationships," he said.

As to the weather for this coach — who has spent most of his time below the Mason-Dixon Line — it does get cold in Maryland, where he worked. But like it was last month?

"We were having a recruiting weekend when it was negative-3, with the windchill of negative-23," he said. "Got to walk around in that a little bit."

Chances are, when his team takes the field in March for spring ball, it won't be like that. Walt Bell will hope that his team warms up quickly, and will be hot come the fall.

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


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