UMass football introduces new head coach

By Stephen Hewitt

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian
Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Mark Whipple stood in front of the assembled crowd, looked out among the plenty of familiar faces in the audience and held back tears as he ushered in the University of Massachusetts football program’s next chapter.

“Sometimes you need to go away to find out where your home is,” Whipple said.

Whipple, the director of one of the greatest eras of Minutemen football from 1998 to 2003, was introduced as UMass’ newest head coach for his second stint as the program’s leader on Tuesday at Mullins Center.

Distinguished UMass leaders were on hand to deliver addresses, including UMass president Robert Caret, Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy and UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Thomas. UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy was on a trip to India and unable to attend.

“We are thrilled to welcome back one of the greatest coaches in the 135-year history of UMass football,” Kennedy said in a prepared statement on behalf of Subbaswamy. “Coach Whipple is committed to fostering a positive environment in which our student-athletes will thrive both athletically and academically.

“I am confidant that, under coach Whipple’s leadership, Minuteman football will continue to improve and will excel at the (Football Bowl Subdivision) level.”

UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon said that he, along with his advisory committee and Carr Sports Consulting – which he hired for this process – sifted through about 70 candidates for the post, which was open since Dec. 26, when Charley Molnar was fired after guiding the Minutemen to two one-win seasons as a member of the FBS, the top division of college football.

In the end, Whipple, who became a fan favorite during his six-year tenure with UMass, which included a Division I-AA national championship in his first season, was the man for the job, to move the program forward and out of its recent spell of mediocrity and controversy.

“We wanted to make sure the process was that we threw the net wide and far, so that if Mark did end up being the right guy, that we tested all the waters and it wasn’t just a marriage of convenience,” McCutcheon said. “It was that we really felt that he was the most qualified and best person for this job.”

Whipple returns following several coaching stints after leaving Amherst a decade ago.

Immediately after his stint at UMass, Whipple became the quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004 to 2006, helping signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger guide the Steelers to a Super Bowl title in 2005.

From there, it was on to the Philadelphia Eagles as an offensive assistant in 2008, the University of Miami (Fla.) as an assistant head coach and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2009 and 2010, and finally the quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2011 and 2012.

Whipple didn’t coach in 2013.

Whipple said becoming a coach in the NFL was a necessary step in his career and he can take the lessons he’s learned from the last 10 years and use them at UMass.


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“People ask me, ‘Why would you leave the NFL?’” Whipple said. “They hadn’t been to UMass.

“I needed to do that. I needed to broaden my horizons. I needed to compete at the highest level.”

Whipple will take over a fledgling UMass football program that has struggled mightily to get off the ground running in its first two seasons in the FBS and Mid-American Conference.

The Minutemen have suffered through two years of lopsided defeats and major inconsistency on both sides of the ball, especially the offense, which ranked second-to-last in the country in 2013 with 11.7 points per game. With constant questions on who would be the quarterback seemingly every week, UMass never found any rhythm.

Off the field, the program experienced more setbacks. There were rifts between Molnar and the program’s alumni base, which were intensified in September when the alumni created a petition to oust Molnar after a video leaked online of his team boxing and fighting each other during winter workouts.

Whipple wants to leave all of that in the past.

“Where do we go from here? What am I going to tell the players in the meeting on Monday night?” Whipple said. “We don’t look back. Everything’s forward.”

During his first UMass coaching tenure, Whipple expressed his desire for the school to move up to Division I football. At the time, administration was hesitant about making that move, which was part of the reason why he left for the NFL.

In 2011, as the Minutemen prepared to make the move up, Whipple was a name that was often brought up, but the school ultimately decided to hire Molnar, then an offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

“Mark’s name has always been out there,” McCutcheon said. “When we talked two years ago, it just wasn’t the right time for him.”

Fast forward roughly two years later, and the belief is that this is the right time.

Whipple is, to say the least, excited to get going. His first major task is to haul in his first recruiting class. The contact period begins Thursday and National Signing Day is Feb. 5.

“I believe in this place. This is a special, special place,” Whipple said. “And I will represent this place better than I ever have.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

Related: Canelas: Mark Whipple’s appreciation for tradition made him UMass’ choice