Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Where does UMass football go from here?
The late Thanksgiving-eve announcement only made official what much of the college football world had known for the early part of the week, that Mark Whipple's second tenure as the UMass football coach had come to an end.
Whipple's five-year run in his second stint as the head coach of the Minutemen ended fairly unceremoniously, in a late afternoon news dump the night before Thanksgiving.
The way I see it, UMass fans can look at Whipple's stint in two ways. Actually, both are true.
First of all, he stopped the bleeding of a 2-22 record by Charley Molnar, who was originally hired off the staff at Notre Dame to shepherd UMass into the Football Bowl Subdivision era and the Mid-American Conference. Molnar's team beat Akron in 2012 and then beat Miami (Ohio) in 2013. Molnar, now the quarterback coach at Idaho, did not survive a second 1-11 season.
A 3-9 record in Whipple's first year of his second tenure included three MAC victories, and he had two conference wins the next year.
But just as UMass was poised to make a move in the conference, the school was told by the MAC to enter for all sports or leave. Giving up the Atlantic 10 Conference and the historic rivals was too much to ask, so after the 2015 season, UMass became an independent.
Whipple's Minutemen were competitive in some games, overmatched in others. But if nothing else, Whipple and his coaching staff seemed to right a ship that had been buffeted by some very heavy seas.
Progress was sometimes difficult to see, because it appeared like every time the Minutemen were ready to take a big step forward, they would take two steps backward. By the time the team got going forward again, the damage had been done.
Take the period of time from game one to game two.
UMass routed a Division I-FCS team in Duquesne 63-15, and Minuteman Nation was flying high. The next game was against Boston College, and the Eagles — who eventually made their way into the Top 25 — rolled to a 55-21 win over their rivals from Western Massachusetts.
"We weren't as good as everybody thought we were last week and we're not as bad as they think after today," Whipple said after the BC loss. He was right.
It did not, however, seem to matter to the UMass fan base. My social media feeds erupted with calls for the coach to be fired. Losing most games disappointed UMass fans, but losing to Boston College really struck a nerve. And in retrospect, that loss might have sealed Whipple's fate.
That's because there is nothing more than indifference in killing a sports team. Fans can be happy when they win or angry when they lose. In UMass' case, the anger after the BC loss turned into indifference. By the time the regular season came to an end when the Minutemen collected a $1.5 million game check at Georgia, the diehards were still the diehards, but the casual fan had more than tuned them out.
The next move is up to athletic director Ryan Bamford. In his four-plus years as the AD in Amherst, he has replaced his men's and women's basketball and hockey coaches. The jury may be out on all three, but basketball is trending upward while Greg Carvel has the hockey team ranked fourth in the nation.
Bamford's got a tough job. Do you hire a good, young coach from a smaller program? Do you hire a coordinator from a Power Five conference team? Do you take a chance on a coach who just got fired, much like Kansas did when it hired Les Miles?
There are only 130 teams that play in the FBS level, and UMass — however unsuccessful it has been — is one of them. So expect Bamford to get a lot of inquiries about the job. I don't believe that any candidate needs to have direct connections to UMass football.
Two names that have gotten a lot of traction in social media are Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak.
Harasymiak is currently up for the Football Championship Subdivision coach of the year after leading the Black Bears to a 7-1 record in the Colonial Athletic Association and an 8-3 overall record. The graduate of Springfield College is in his third year in Maine.
Shoop coached at UMass under Don Brown for one year back in 2006. Shoop was the national defensive coordinator of the year in 2014 while at Penn State. He came to Mississippi State from a two-year tenure at Tennessee.
Both coaches have experience recruiting the Northeast, and Shoop has the added experience of recruiting SEC-level players.
There are two names that are off of most fan and media radar screens that could be viable candidates: Princeton head coach Bob Surace and Trinity coach Jeff Devanney.
Devanney was the NESCAC coach of the year leading Trinity to a third consecutive conference title. The ride from Hartford to Amherst isn't bad and he wouldn't have to move. But the Bantams have been the gold standard in NESCAC since he took over.
Surace led Princeton to a 10-0 record, a 7-0 mark in the Ivy League and the Ivy title. He has NFL experience with Cincinnati, and he has head coaching experience, which I believe is important.
Those names might be on Bamford's list, or he might have others he's interested in.
The next couple of months will be very interesting.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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