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Bell rings on new UMass coaching era

New Minuteman football coach looks to bring culture of winning north to Amherst.

Maine v Massachusetts Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The #Flagship has its football captain.

Walt Bell strode into his introductory press release in head-to-toe Minutemen maroon.

In an accent nurtured back home in Tennessee, he started with a single question:

“How ya’ll doing?”

Technically, no one answered loud enough to hear, but the answer from UMass fans is universal and clear.

“We’re excited, and we’re ready to win, coach.”

Bell officially became the head coach of the Minutemen Wednesday afternoon - a couple days after the university confirmed reports that the 34-year-old offensive coordinator at Florida State was coming to the Pioneer Valley.

Upon the news of Bell’s hire, there were a few phrases that emerged from those who knows Bell’s style:

  • “High energy”
  • “Dogged recruiter”
  • “Youthful passion for football”

For UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford, the information he gathered from sources, as well as a 90-minute phone call that he reiterated as “one of the best I’ve ever had with a coaching candidate” were the final clues needed to make the decision.

“The feedback on Coach Bell I received prior to our hire, and now since the hire was announced on Monday, has been exactly what we need,” said Bamford. “He is a worker, a grinder, and a relentless recruiter who loves young people and the game of football. I think you will all come to know how passionate he is about not only football, but how passionate he will be about this institution. He will be a great ambassador for us.”

The recruiting moniker Bell is known for will be key in the coming years. UMass is a team without a conference, without a winning season since coming up to the FBS level and losing more than 20 seniors this year - effectively graduating the lion’s share of experience for the team.

As someone with youthful energy and an ability to recruit outside of New England, however, is an intriguing skill set for the UMass program that will need to lean on youth a lot in the coming years.

Bell struck all the right notes Wednesday.

Though the bulk of his career was spent nowhere north of Maryland, Bell said he believed he can win at UMass, stating that recruiting was not about location, but relationships.

Offensively, he brings high octane pedigree that Bamford said helped first land Bell on his personal radar in 2014 when Bell was at Arkansas State.

Defensively, he talked about “playing fast, physical and aggressive”, “tackling well in space” and being “fundamentally sound.”

Bell mentioned he has a vision of the rest of his coaching staff, but declined to say names at this point.

Bell seems dead set on building the culture of winning first and foremost. He half-joked at one point that the only thing he is positive on right now is that the program is not ready to win right now. That comes with time.

Oh, and energy.

Plenty of energy will be needed.

“We are going to play offensively, defensively and on special teams with fanatical effort,” Bell said. “We’ll play the kids that want to play that way.”

Thursday night is a final curtain call of sorts on the Mark Whipple era as UMass senior wide receiver Andy Isabella will find out on the national stage if he wins the Biletnikoff Award.

The work for Bell starts immediately with the new NCAA early signing period just around the corner, Dec. 19-21.

The honeymoon period for Bell will extend into the start of next season, when the Minutemen open up Aug. 30 against Rutgers (which was moved up one day earlier this week one day earlier than originally scheduled).

UMass fans hope the man who walked in donning the maroon-happy suit can mirror the hero with a white hat, riding in to save the day.

The attitude he hopes to instill will take time and patience, yes. But for now, Minutemen fans can take solace in a strong, youthful hire who is ready to hit the ground running.

Time will tell if that ground eventually produces more wins and/or an elusive FBS bowl invitation.

And if that comes to fruition, then to answer a question heard earlier...

“We’ll be doing just fine, coach.”