No one pretended UMass would be good this season. Since joining the FBS in 2012, UMass has never won more than four games in a season.
Expectations were low, but this is the abyss.
Losing to Rutgers stunk. Losing by 25 to FCS Southern Illinois was shocking. Now, losing 52-17 to Charlotte, is numbing. Look into oblivion UMass football. It’s darker than ever before.
How’d UMass get here? The minutemen were a respected program at the FCS level. They won the 1998 National Championship. They played in the 2006 National Championship.
UMass did everything wrong since transitioning to FBS.
Going into 2012, UMass decided they needed a new coach to lead their FBS transition. That made sense. Kevin Morris had only seen average results since he took over for Don Brown (yeah, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown was once UMass’ head coach).
Charley Molnar was hired as head coach.
Molnar was the cheapest coordinator from a power program that was willing to take the job. Molnar had been the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, and had run a solid offense.
It didn’t work. Molnar went 2-22 over 2 seasons as the UMass head coach. He got fired, not just for on field failures, but for killing fan support, and rumors he overworked players.
To try and regain fan support UMass made another awful hire. They went with a nostalgia choice, Mark Whipple. Whipple was head coach for that 1998 National Championship team. He hadn’t been a head coach since 2003.
The issue was that it seemed he hadn’t changed with the game. Whipple seemed old, and tired. During his second tenure at UMass he went 16-44. Times had changed, and UMass was slow to accept that, giving Whipple at least one more season than he should have had. That wasted Andy Isabella’s senior season.
Walt Bell inherited a sinking ship. The best talent from last year’s team moved on. This season is about changing that culture, and building for the future. It isn’t about winning now.
It’ll be a long road.
Last spring, I was finishing my senior year at UMass. One day, I overheard two football players complaining that Bell was working them too hard. That’s an embarrassing mentality.
Hopefully, Bell changes that culture when he brings in his own recruits. Coaching, however, isn’t UMass’ only issue. They killed the football culture on campus when they first joined FBS.
Their stadium, McGuirk Alumni Stadium, wasn’t ready to be a FBS stadium. It needed a larger press box, and video board. So, while this was being added, UMass played at Gillette Stadium. Students could take a two hour bus ride to games. No one went. Nowadays, going to the football stadium isn’t a part of the culture at all.
Today, McGuirk looks like a high school stadium, where no recruit wants to play. There’s no tradition, or pageantry. The experience is awful.
This makes recruiting harder than it has to be. New England doesn’t produce much in terms of FBS talent. This means that UMass needs to leave its immediate region to recruit well. How do you get players to go to an empty stadium of a losing program?
It’s not easy. It would help if UMass had some traditions, and a better atmosphere at football games.
“The Militia,” a student fan group, is trying to change the atmosphere by bringing chants to football games. Unfortunately, when no one shows up, it doesn’t matter. Getting students to games without winning is difficult, which the athletic department knows. They sent a poll out to students on how to get students to games. In the poll they asked that students don’t write-in ‘winning.’
A suggestion. Add some pageantry to UMass games, like musket firing when UMass scores. This will make a better experience for students, even without winning.
UMass is further let down by its lack of conference. When the Minutemen first went FBS, they were a football-only MAC school. The MAC wanted UMass to join for all sports. UMass, wanted to stay in the A-10 and Hockey East for other sports.
UMass was forced out of the MAC, and into Independence. Now, UMass faces scheduling issues. They are trying to restart an old rivalry with UConn. Maybe that comes to reality. But at the moment finding home games that will excite the fan base are rare.
As a student, living a block off-campus, you rarely could watch UMass on TV. They’ve been on Eleven Sports Network. If you know where to find Eleven Sports then you’re beyond the pale.
However, this season, they’ll have more games on NESN in a new agreement. That’s a small improvement, to build a fanbase.
If Bell’s not the right hire to build the UMass program over a long time, then UMass may need to consider another route. Going back to the FCS? The triple option? Another mentality shift? No matter what, the coach who turns UMass around won’t do it in a season.
Despite the horrific on-field play, there are some positives. UMass is building an indoor practice facility, which will help improve player development and recruiting. Young players are getting experience for the future.
With that being said, this is rock bottom for UMass. It can’t get worse. Hopefully Walt Bell takes his time, and builds the program the right way. Hopefully administration builds a foundation on the back of facilities, traditions, and player development.
Hopefully everything else, like wins, will follow.