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Newly appointed UMass defensive line coach Dave Wissman has taken interesting road to Amherst

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

Newly appointed Massachusetts football defensive line coach Dave Wissman won’t have to sleep out of his car anymore after long days at the office.

That’s because he’ll be working the sidelines with defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham and head coach Mark Whipple in Amherst, just short of 40 miles from his home in Guilford, Vermont, unlike when he was working as a defensive coordinator with Sacred Heart.

Wissman’s road to UMass was a difficult one, but not one without accomplishment. Before he was the Pioneers’ defensive coordinator, he was without a job entirely.

Spending nearly 20 years coaching prep football with stops at five different schools, Wissman was building houses after his tenure with the Berkshire School came to an end in 2007. After the housing market dried out, he was without a job for the first time in his life.

He received a call from-then Sacred Heart head coach Paul Gorham in 2009 out of whim to come and help build up a culture with the Pioneers.

Now the UMass’ Director of Football Operations, Gorham had been the Pioneers coach since 2004 and was teammates with Wissman back in the early 80s. The two played at New Hampshire under Pinkham and then-Wildcat offensive coordinator Whipple.

Wissman didn’t hesitate to take the job assisting Gorham, even though he would be spending his nights after work sleeping in the back of his truck at the office.

After two seasons, Wissman was named defensive coordinator and his hard work paid off. He led the Sacred Heart defense to back-to-back Northeast Conference championships in 2013 and 2014, and the team advanced to the FCS championship in both seasons.

“It was a great experience because the culture was kind of shot down there,” Wissman said. “They didn’t know how to win. They didn’t have any confidence. After a couple of years, we kept banging away at it. We did some good things”

In early March 2017, Wissman agreed to come coach with men he had played for and in a town he remembered fondly.

Wissman earned his undergraduate degree in studio art at UMass in 1993. It’s a weird feeling for the coach who once sat in classrooms and studied on campus to return as a coach years later.

“It’s bizarre,” Wissman said. “It’s bizarre driving home every night. To be able to go home to my wife, it’s nice. It feels more like a job that has reasonable bounds than hopping up into my truck every night and waking up at 4 [a.m.]. I know the area well. It’s kind of neat.”

During his days coaching prep schools from the mid-80s to 2007, Wissman made trips to Elon, Colgate, Holy Cross and Western Michigan to visit Pinkham at his respective school in trying to learn from his old coach.

Wissman will now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pinkham as coach on the Minutemen bench in 2017, this years after receiving orders from him in the huddle on the old New Hampshire sideline.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Wissman said. “He was a big time mentor for me in college. He took care of me and kept me in line. He was like a second father to me in college. Now working underneath him, it’s a little surreal at times. But he didn’t cut me any slack. He’ll get after me and he expects me to do everything that’s important here between recruiting and coaching the kids.”

“He brings a wealth of knowledge,” Whipple said of Wissman. “He’s a guy Eddie [Pinkham] wanted. He’s not only just a really good technician and person, but he’s coordinated – he’s called defenses. That helps in the scheme when you’re bouncing things like, ‘What do you think about this coverage?’ or ‘What do you think about this blitz?’”

“The guys have been playing really well for him. He’s been a treasure for us.”

Wissman’s energy was felt at McGuirk Stadium on a rainy Tuesday evening during one of the Minutemen’s spring practices.

The team was upbeat and energized running through technique drills in the pouring rain more than four months before the first snap of the season. Wissman was shouting from behind his defensive line during drills and instructed his players on mistakes made in between plays.

“There was an energy today,” Whipple said. “Today was one of those days that a lot of people would just say, ‘Oh well what are we doing today?’ but there wasn’t. I could feel it. There’s just been a real positive feel in the whole building.”

Wissman’s early efforts and teachings at his new gig appear to be appreciated.

“He’s passionate and direct,” redshirt sophomore D’Shan Harley said. “Everything he says, he’s going to say it toward you and everything he says is to better you. He might get on you, but it’s for the betterment of you and the team. He loves the game. You can’t beat somebody who loves the game.”

“You can see the trust factor starting to rise with the kids,” Wissman said. “I see it in my positional meetings. That was something that you kind of have to put the seed of corn in the ground and let it grow a little bit. My perception is the kids like it. It’s a little more attainable. There’s less moving parts and they see it on the film. It’s been good.”

There is no doubting that Pinkham is trying to change the culture of the Minutemen defense, much like Wissman did during his time with Sacred Heart.

While echoing the sentiment of his former coach and mentor, Wissman is taking a bit of a different approach with his position players.

He stresses accountable in all three phases of their lives – athletically, academically and socially.

“I want these guys to be accountable in whatever it is they do,” Wissman said. “If you’re going to your study groups or your tutoring sessions, you’re going to feel better when you walk into the Football Performance Center. Odds are, you’re going to play better having done well in the other aspects of your life.”

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at kdaluz@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.

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