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UMass eyes the future of its athletics with the hiring of Athletic Director Ryan Bamford

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Ryan Bamford speaks to friends, family, colleagues, students, athletes, and the media as he steps into the role of athletic director of the University of Massachusetts. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Ryan Bamford speaks to friends, family, colleagues, students, athletes, and the media as he steps into the role of athletic director of the University of Massachusetts. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

University of Massachusetts Vice Chancellor John Kennedy stood before an assembled audience at the Football Performance Center and finally answered a question he’s presided over for nearly two months.

“When we launched the search back in February, I was asked by one of the reporters in this room, ‘What are you looking for in the next athletic director?’” Kennedy, who chaired the search committee tasked with hiring the next athletic director at UMass, said.

“After checking with the boss, I said we need someone who can be the face of UMass athletics and can sell the power and value of athletics to the University community, the Commonwealth and beyond,” he added.

Tuesday, the University officially put a name to that sought-after face, naming Ryan Bamford as the seventh full-time athletic director in UMass history.

“When this (job) came open, my eyes became wide open and I was really excited to just learn more about it,” said Bamford, who donned a grey suit and maroon tie. “I have told people in this industry that I’ve never been in a rush to be an AD. I want to be at the right place at the right time, and I think this was it for me. UMass has tremendous opportunity and potential, and this for me was a home-run fit.”

Bamford arrives after four years at Georgia Tech, where he was an associate athletic director and oversaw football, men’s basketball and baseball. Previously, he worked at Yale University.

It’s unclear when Bamford will officially begin at UMass, but he anticipated a mid to late April start. He’ll replace John McCutcheon, who left UMass in January after serving as athletic director for 11 years.

Bamford, along with Kennedy and UMass chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, all spoke Tuesday. Subbaswamy hailed the 36-year-old Bamford as a “rising star” within the college athletics community, while Kennedy called the hire a “game changer.”

“With the appointment of Ryan Bamford as our athletic director, we’re embarking on a whole new era for UMass athletics,” Subbaswamy said. “An era that will be filled with promise and prominence.”

Subbaswamy lauded Bamford’s enthusiasm throughout the process. Bamford said his excitement for the position grew as he learned more about the school.

But Bamford also acknowledged challenges that exist at UMass, chiefly surrounding the football program. He pointed to the football program as the “centerpiece” to the success of UMass athletics moving forward.

The program has won only five games in three seasons since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012, and is entering its final season as a member of the Mid-American Conference. Following 2015, the school will move forward as an independent as it searches for a permanent home.

Still, Bamford said he views those types of situations not as challenges, but as opportunities.

“Obviously, the football piece,” said Bamford when asked about those challenges. “I’m not going to shy away from that in terms of conference alignment. I think it’s important for us right now as we move into an independent in 2016 to raise the profile for football because that’s going to help us to get into a conference.”

Bamford has experience working with an FBS football program. Georgia Tech is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the premier conferences in college athletics.

Subbaswamy said UMass football is at a “critical stage.” The University recently renovated McGuirk Stadium and constructed the multi-million dollar Football Performance Center.

“In fact, from the very beginning as we put out a job search announcement, we said that we would prefer FBS-level experience, because clearly we’re in a transitional state having made the investments that we made in football,” he said. “Having major experience in a good football conference, a football school, is a big plus – almost a necessity.”

Bamford said he didn’t shy away from promoting his FBS experiences in the interview process, but is also excited to work with other programs on campus. He said Georgia Tech didn’t have lacrosse, soccer or hockey programs, something which he missed.

Ultimately, Bamford said his goal upon arriving on campus is to forge as many relationships as he can as he acclimates himself to the University. He said the department’s devotion to the UMass brand stood out, and the goal is to take athletics to the next level.

“I want people to understand how important it is to be a Minuteman or Minutewomen, and understand how important we are for this Commonwealth,” Bamford said. “We’re building something special, it needs to be all hands on deck. I can’t do it alone, this is about UMass.”

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

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