Mark Whipple historically fares well with transfer quarterbacks

By Peter Cappiello

UMass head coach Mark Whipple (left) and quarterback Blake Frohnapfel. (Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
UMass head coach Mark Whipple (left) and quarterback Blake Frohnapfel. (Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Mark Whipple knows what he wants in a quarterback: a competitive, tough-minded leader. And if he doesn’t have that player on the roster, he finds one.

Whipple, in his first year back as Massachusetts football coach after a run from 1998-2003, brought in Marshall quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, who won the starting job over incumbent junior A.J. Doyle.

Almost every starting quarterback for a Whipple-led UMass team has been a transfer player or a junior college recruit. Frohnapfel, a graduate student with two years of eligibility left, is the fifth quarterback to start in Whipple’s seven years in Amherst, which includes an NCAA Div. I-AA championship in 1998.

All of Whipple’s starters threw for more than 2,000 yards in their first seasons. Todd Bankhead, who joined the Minutemen from Palomar Junior College, tops the list with 3,919 yards in 1998.

Whipple learned of those stats after a practice last Tuesday, and was quick to say he’s more interested in wins than numbers. He believes Frohnapfel will help get those wins.

“I would hope he’d throw for more than 2,000 (yards) if he stays healthy,” Whipple said. “I would be disappointed if he didn’t. Our receivers have stepped up and I think our line’s gotten better. We’re improving daily as an offense.”

Frohnapfel was 9-for-22 with 147 yards and a touchdown in his team’s season debut, a 30-7 loss to Boston College at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.

The 6-foot-6, 229-pound signal-caller said Whipple’s West Coast schemes are similar to the offense at Marshall. The main difference, he said, is the experience of the man in charge.

Whipple’s collegiate and professional coaching resume is 31 years long. He previously served as quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he won a Super Bowl while mentoring Ben Roethlisberger. He was also an offensive assistant for a Philadelphia Eagles team that featured Donovan McNabb.

“Someone like him has been around the best,” Frohnapfel said of his new coach. “Having someone who’s done that stuff for so many years and knows a lot about the quarterback position can help lead us in the right direction.”

This season is Whipple’s first in the Mid-American Conference. UMass competed in the Atlantic-10 during his first stint with the program.

Whipple’s son, Austin, a transfer quarterback from Penn State, said his father is relatable to quarterbacks because that’s the position he played in college (Brown, class of ‘79). He said quarterbacks latch on to his father’s confidence and poise under pressure.

The redshirt freshman said his father quickly bonded with Frohnapfel, and added that the latter takes direction well.

“He’s new and Blake’s new,” Austin said. “Since my dad’s a new coach, he’s adjusting to (the program) too. I think their relationship has been good because of the amount of time they spend together.”

Austin sees Frohnapfel excelling in the pro-style offense, and predicts he will continue the streak of throwing for more than 2,000 yards in his first season wearing maroon and white.

Said Austin: “I’m sure he’ll keep that record alive. Watching him play at Marshall and what he’s already proved being a leader in the short few months he’s been here, he’s given everyone on the team a lot of confidence. We’re looking forward to watching him tear it up on the field.”

Peter Cappiello can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @petecapps.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Whipple’s only starting quarterbacks were transfer players or junior college recruits. It has since been corrected in the above story.