Canelas: Whipple’s respect for tradition made him UMass’ choice

By Nick Canelas

Alumni rejoice: Mark Whipple is officially the new head coach of the Massachusetts football team – again.

Whipple, 56, was introduced to the fans and media by UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon in a packed Massachusetts Room at Mullins Center on Tuesday nearly three weeks after Charley Molnar was fired following two forgettable seasons on the UMass (technically Gillette Stadium) sidelines.

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian
Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

News first broke of Whipple’s hiring on Friday night after multiple reports from local media outlets, bringing the second coaching search of the Football Bowl Subdivision era to an unofficial end.

There was an initial pool of about 70 applicants during the two-week search, but no other candidate could possibly carry the same aura that Whipple has in Amherst.

Whipple’s story is one of legend at UMass. In 1998, he took over a football program that was 2-9 the year before and led it to the Division I-AA national championship in his very first season. He went 49-26 in six years and led the Minutemen to three playoff appearances.

Whipple enters his second stint even more seasoned as a coach. He won a Super Bowl ring as quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers before spending two years as an offensive assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles. He then returned to the college ranks as offensive coordinator at the University of Miami for two years, followed by two more seasons in the NFL as Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach.

After a one-year coaching hiatus, Whipple is back. And he’s never felt more welcomed anywhere in the world.

“Sometimes you need to go away to find out where your home is,” a choked up Whipple said in a passionate opening statement.

I was only 4 years old the first time Whipple was hired by UMass. Back then, I didn’t know the difference between a first down and a first grader. But I’ve grown up in an age where social media is king, and never before have I seen a greater celebration on Twitter than the one that took place in the 24 hours following the news of Whipple being hired. It was just the kind of reaction the administration was hoping for. It was the kind of reaction this football program needed.

“We’re thrilled to welcome back one of the greatest coaches in the 135-year history of UMass football,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who was in India Tuesday morning, said in a statement read by Vice Chancellor of University Relations John Kennedy. “Coach Whipple’s winning record during his previous time in Amherst is legendary. He not only brought a national championship to the campus, but he instilled a sense of pride in the great tradition of Minuteman football.”

Whipple’s hiring wasn’t simply an X’s and O’s kind of decision. Sure, his offensive background should aid what were some putrid scoring numbers last season. But he’s being brought in to be the one thing Molnar failed to do on countless occasions: be a good ambassador for the program.

There won’t be any “big boy” comments under Whipple, nor will there be any alumni petitions. He doesn’t need to earn their respect because he already has their approval. He was the patriarch of the FCS glory years. He understands the winning tradition.

“When I came back in 2008 for the 10-year (national championship) reunion, that’s when it hit me,” Whipple said. “It was the look in the eyes of the players that I coached. They called me Coach.

“Yeah I’d like to win another Super Bowl, but what we can do here means more.”

Whipple also noted his appreciation for the alumni, saying, “They’re the guys that built this place.”


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Whipple begins his second go ’round as UMass coach as a celebrity. But the task ahead is much greater this time.

Whipple said he’s here to win a championship, but the Minutemen still have lots of losing in their future. There won’t be any worst-to-first turnaround with the current roster in place. It’s going to be a lengthy process. But if UMass is going to continue to lose, it’s important to at least have someone who fans will be willing to be patient with.

Right now, Whipple appears to be that guy. Now it’s up to him how patient he’s willing to be with the program this time.

“I’m not naïve to think there wasn’t problems here,” Whipple said. “We’re just gonna do what we do now. What head coaches do is they solve problems … and I think I’m good at it.”

Whipple was the obvious choice for the job. The festivities that took place in the Massachusetts Room were greater than any celebration this program has had in the last two years. One fan even came in carrying a sign that read, “Win With Whipple,” which the coach gladly embraced during his press conference.

For now, the dark times for UMass football are over. The Minutemen get to have a fresh start. Whether or not the hiring of Whipple will culminate into the ultimate goal is for another day.

“I haven’t looked at tape of us,” Whipple said. “I’m gonna go on a clean slate.”

Considering what the slate looked like over the last two years, that’s good news for UMass.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

Related: UMass football rings in new era, introduces Mark Whipple as head coach