UMass is officially back on the hunt for a new head coach. It’s not going to be an easy vacancy to fill. This is, arguably, the most difficult job at the FBS level, which is still Independent, has natural recruiting issues because of the region of the country they’re in, a bad reputation, and an administration that doesn’t back football as much as they should. This means that to get a lot of these potential coaches, UMass is going to make a massive investment into the program.
On top of that, because of the natural challenges that UMass offers, athletic director Ryan Bamford needs to be precise with who he chooses to hire. There are a few things to look for, though not every candidate is going to fit these needs. The first is head coaching experience, if possible. The second is some kind of regional tie to the Northeast, if not New England. They also need to be an expert in selling. That means selling themselves, selling to recruits and boosters alike. It would also help if they actually want to be there, and not just because they like the idea of being a head coach.
It’s worth pointing out that this is a list of candidates who would make sense. Whether or not they’re interested or UMass is interested in them is anyone’s guess.
Liam Coen is in his first season as the offensive coordinator at Kentucky, and he was tasked with bringing the Los Angeles Rams offensive scheme, where he was an assistant offensive coach. How successful he’s been in doing that is up for debate, but he’s widely considered a great play caller and strategist.
Coen also, it should be pointed out, is one of the all-time great UMass quarterbacks. He brought them to an FCS National Championship Game, which they lost to App State. Coen was also a major part of Victor Cruz’s success while at UMass. From there, Coen briefly coached at UMass while they were at the FBS level before he went to the NFL. So, say what you will about the prodigal son returning home as a head coach, but Coen knows UMass well.
The only thing that Coen is missing is head coaching experience, but that could be overlooked in this instance.
Head Coach-Holy Cross
The current head coach of Holy Cross would need to see a major investment in football by UMass to leave Worcester for Amherst, but that doesn’t mean the Minutemen shouldn’t make a run on him. Chesney has turned Holy Cross into a perennial playoff contender, with the Crusaders boasting one of the best offenses and defenses at the FCS level.
Chesney would bring a defensive background to UMass, which they desperately need after years of failing on that side of the ball. He’s also been a head coach in New England, in three different spots, for more than a decade now. So, he knows the region very well. Add to that, Chesney is still a young and energetic coach. In a lot of respects, UMass should be going Bob Chesney or bust.
As the head coach at UMass, Don Brown had a 43-19 record and was Liam Coen’s coach for UMass’ 2006 run to the FCS Championship Game. He left for FBS coordinator opportunities and hasn’t been a head coach since, but he’s still fondly remembered at UMass. He also, reportedly, has an interest in getting back to New England.
Whomever UMass hires they need to have experience as a head coach on their resume, full stop— Fight Massachusetts (@FightMA247) November 7, 2021
Not sure what that candidate pool looks like but will say that Don Brown attended a UMass game this year during Arizona's bye week. Word is he'd like to get back to the New England area
Brown hasn’t been a head coach for a long time, but he was a great one at one point. That could make it a worthwhile gamble for UMass. It would, however, look weirdly like the second time they brought in Mark Whipple, which was to appease boosters with someone who had succeeded at UMass in the past. Whipple never won more than four games in his second stint.
Brent Davis has been the longtime offensive coordinator at Army, and this would represent a decided choice by UMass to move away from what they’ve been doing and go with a triple option offense going forward.
It might not sound incredibly appealing, but UMass is dealing with less talent than their opponents, including teams like UConn. It’s hard to recruit to UMass. The triple option is designed to level the playing field and shorten games. UMass might just need that.
Davis also comes from Army. West Point is relatively close to UMass, has similar talent deficiencies, and is a successful Independent program at the FBS level. All of those are worth emulating if you’re UMass. This does take eating your pride and going to the triple option, though. Coastal Carolina offensive coordinator Willy Korn and former Georgia Southern head coach Chad Lunsford are coaches who could potentially bring a more modern strategy.
Brennan Marion would be an inspired choice at UMass. The former high school head coach and offensive coordinator at stops like Howard and William & Mary, wrote the book on the Go-Go Offense. In his first year as the wide receivers coach at Pitt, that offense has exploded, as he’s helped their current offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, to modernize his approach.
The Go-Go Offense essentially means that the offense is blending triple option ideas with spread concepts. It’s unique and takes advantage of having a versatile quarterback. It’s being used at every level of football now too, but Marion is the one who quite literally wrote the book on it.
On top of that, Marion is young. He’s energetic, and he could successfully recruit to UMass. This is the type of innovator UMass would need.
Defensive Coordinator-Boston College
Tem Lukabu is the current defensive coordinator at Boston College, where he has been learning defense from Jeff Hafley. Before that, Lukabu has proven himself in places like the NFL and SEC. However, he has never been a head coach. So, if that’s a disqualifying factor, Lukabu would be out.
Boston College has had a long season, largely due to offensive injuries, but their defense has been dominant this season. In fact, for the most part, that’s been what’s kept them in games this season. Add to that those connections he’s been building in New England, and Lukabu could be an interesting choice of head coach.
Currently the head coach at Fordham in the Patriot League, Joe Conlin would be an interesting choice. As a coach, he has experience on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Conlin also played defensive line at Pitt, while the job he held before going to Fordham was the offensive coordinator role at Yale. His Fordham team has one of the best scoring offenses and defenses in the FCS.
Conlin’s overall record at Fordham is 12-21, but that truly doesn’t tell the whole story. Conlin inherited a struggling team and has only improved every season. That means that he could be the program builder that UMass needs.