Massachusetts Daily Collegian

John McCutcheon reflects on his time at UMass, admits it’s time for change

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Photo by Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Photo by Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

John McCutcheon sat before a handful of reporters at the Mullins Center and appeared at to be at ease.

Hours before, the University of California Santa-Barbara officially announced that McCutcheon would become the school’s next athletic director. It marked the end of McCutcheon’s 11-year tenure as athletic director at the University of Massachusetts, which included the University’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, a return to college basketball’s NCAA Tournament and the constant battle against budget cuts and the difficulties of keeping every program stable.

Yet McCutcheon believed that it was time for a change on both ends, calling it a mutual decision.

“There comes a point where you feel that perhaps a change is good,” McCutcheon said.

“I know (UCSB) is going to be a great opportunity for us and I think it will be a great opportunity for UMass as well. Somebody will come in with new blood and new ideas and I really believe it will give the program a lift to take it to new levels.”

Over the second half of McCutcheon’s tenure at UMass, he too was charged with guiding the University to new levels.

McCutcheon oversaw UMass football’s shift from the Football Championship Series to Bowl Subdivision in 2012, the highest level of college football. With it came the hiring of a new coach (Charley Molnar), the building of a multi-million dollar football performance center and a new press box and the securement of a conference home (The Mid-American Conference).

It wasn’t a smooth transition. The program faced criticism, won only two games in its first two seasons and fired Molnar. After the 2015 season, UMass will not be a member of a football conference and will again need to find a permanent home.

McCutcheon called finding that home the most important challenge for his replacement.

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

“I don’t think that’s a matter of it, that’s a matter of when,” said McCutcheon, who pointed to the team’s improvement – it went 3-9 under newly-hired Mark Whipple last season – as an indicator that momentum is positive.

“I think all the work that Mark (Whipple) and his staff have put in and the improvement we’re seeing with the competitive level of the team with what we saw last year and what we anticipate will be there next year, those things are what are going to make a big difference,” he said.

He believes the foundation is still in place for future success in football.

“I think it’s a lot of staying the course, staying resolute to the mission,” McCutcheon said. “We’ve said from the beginning when we started this process it was going to be a 5-7 year transition and I think that’s still the case.”

McCutcheon wouldn’t name the most satisfactory moment during his time at UMass – instead pointing toward a number of achievements. He named men’s soccer’s 2007 run to the Final Four, softball’s sustained success under Elaine Sortino, football’s appearance in the 2006 Division I-AA National Championship and men’s basketball’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season – it’s first in 16 years – as great moments.

But how would McCutcheon ultimately like to be remembered?

“I think to remember that we were open, we had a stable hand on the tiller,” he said. “That we were able to advance the program through some challenging times. If you recall, we had budget cuts during my first six or seven years while I was here.”

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The only program which folded under McCutcheon was skiing, which was relegated to a club sport. During that time, he oversaw what he termed as physical and capital improvements. He praised the renovations of softball, lacrosse and rowing facilities and said UMass opened up academic opportunities to student-athletes which weren’t available when he arrived.

McCutcheon said he was most proud of his entire body of work, saying he puts it in context with the rough shape the program was in when he arrived. Yet he acknowledged that his tenure didn’t come without the inevitable ups and downs.

“You wish that every decision you made was a home run, that you never took a misstep or had something not work out,” McCutcheon said. “But that’s certainly not the way the world works.

“I think everybody has missteps along the way,” he said. “It’s not an exact science and I’ve said that before. You do the best to weight the situations, to make the best judgment calls and I think more times than not, those have been the right decisions for us.”

McCutcheon arrived in 2004 after previously servicing as the associate athletic director for business at Boston College. He had previous experience as the athletic director at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and recently determined that returning to California was the best opportunity for his family.

“We weren’t really thinking of making a change, but the more we got into the process with UCSB I think the more we realized that maybe this is the right thing for us to look at something else,” McCutcheon said.

He’ll fly to Santa Barbara, California on Monday and attend an introductory press conference Tuesday. McCutcheon plans to work the following two weeks in Amherst – his final day is Feb. 20 – and will start at UCSB March 2.

McCutcheon said he’ll let others debate his tenure at UMass.

“I’ll leave that for others to judge,” he said. “I know when I look back on it, I’ll look back on it with a lot of satisfaction.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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