In a vacuum, losing to an FCS team is bad, but generally not fireable. In context, losing to Rhode Island was so much worse for UMass. Rhode Island was a rival from their FCS days, who UMass historically dominated. It’s easy to make fun of UMass’ McGuirk Alumni Stadium for looking like a high school stadium, but that must make Rhode Island’s Meade Stadium a Pee-Wee field. This year, Rhode Island came into the game on a three-game losing streak. Meanwhile, UMass in three years of Walt Bell has two wins over Akron and UConn respectively. So, as reported by Pete Thamel, UMass fired Walt Bell following that two score loss to FCS Rhode Island.
From the opening kickoff, it was clear that Rhode Island was the better team and was about to walk into McGuirk and bully UMass around. By the fourth quarter, FCS Rhode Island was draining the clock.
It was completely unacceptable. It was the final nail in Walt Bell’s coffin. Now, after one full season, a four-game pandemic season, and nine games worth of the 2021 season, Walt Bell is out at UMass. His record was 2-23.
In most cases, you want to give coaches doing a massive rebuilt more time than Bell got in Amherst. The problem is that over three seasons there was no improvement. There was no development. Bell came in and immediately had one of the worst defensive teams of all time, and they still can’t tackle or run fit for the life of them. The offense still hasn’t found a quarterback or identity. The playcalling, which Bell called himself, never felt fluid or thoughtful. So, even if most coaches would need more time to turn around UMass, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. A change had to be made.
It’s not entirely Bell’s fault, of course. He was the wrong hire from the start. In hindsight, he almost matches the Charley Molnar hire. Molnar was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame when UMass hired him. Bell was the offensive coordinator at Florida State. In both cases, they were more or less the offensive coordinators at the highest-profile schools that were willing to take the UMass job. Molnar’s record was 2-22, meaning Bell only got one more game than him, and neither got above two wins while at UMass. The only real difference is everyone hated Molnar off the field too, while Bell is liked by many people on a more personal level.
UMass has numerous, institutional challenges. They have geographic challenges. The lack of a conference is a glaring weakness. UMass also has a fanbase that deserves better than this lackluster effort.
The players that Bell recruited like him, and he genuinely put the effort forward to succeed. He just wasn’t the right person for the job. Before UMass, Bell had never coached north of Maryland. That means he didn’t have regional ties to things like high school coaches in the region that are vital to a turnaround.
This next hire for UMass is vital, as they all have been since Don Brown left after the 2008 season. Maybe they’ll get this one right.