A year in review: UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford reflects on first year in charge

By Jason Kates

(Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)

The passion in Ryan Bamford’s voice is resounding.

Ask him about anything regarding the University of Massachusetts athletic department and there is no shortage of belief from him that success is coming to Amherst.

Hired in March of 2015 as the seventh permanent athletic director in UMass history, Bamford recently eclipsed his one-year anniversary into his position and took some time to reflect on what he called a “foundation” that was built to help as he enters year two at the helm.

“Year one has been very busy, you’re just trying to pay attention to what the culture is here in our department and on campus and make sure that we’re supporting the goals of the University and our Chancellor,” Bamford said. “Every day we try to build a championship-caliber program that can complement the things that this University is doing in academia and research and beyond.”

Success was hard to find in terms of wins this past year for many UMass programs, especially in hockey and football. In the past four years, the hockey team has gone a combined 39-88-11 while the football team has recorded just eight wins since making the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision prior to the 2012 season.

These two programs weren’t the only teams who struggled though, as women’s basketball hasn’t produced a winning record since 2006-07. This led to the first two firings under Bamford’s watch, with hockey coach John Micheletto and women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley getting dismissed on March 6.

“I think obviously we haven’t had as much competitive success as we would’ve liked this year,” Bamford said. “Making two coaching changes wasn’t something I necessarily anticipated coming into the year and was hoping that we wouldn’t have to do that.”

Despite it being unexpected, Bamford acknowledged the necessity for change, saying “It was something that we needed to do to get us going on the right foot in both of those programs.”

On a campus where athletics may not be as popular as with Power 5 schools, Bamford stressed the need for integration of the athletic department into the culture around UMass.

“That’s something that we continue to work on every day, to make sure that we’re promoting our athletics program to our students and making sure they know that we’re doing things to make this campus proud and to build an athletics program that can have a level of sustained success that all of us can have pride in,” Bamford said.

A change in direction

Bamford said his first two hiring processes of his term as athletic director have been “healthy for us” and believes the new coaches, Greg Carvel (hockey) and Tory Verdi (women’s basketball), will give their respective teams an opportunity to find greater success.

“It’s never easy when you have to remove people from your organization. Those are two programs that we’ve put a lot of resources into and that we believe can be successful in the A-10 and Hockey East,” Bamford said. “We’re going to put our arms around them administratively and try to help them grow and get to a level of success we think they can achieve.”

Bamford is especially optimistic that Carvel and the staff he assembled will turn around a hockey program that desperately craves success. He added that he couldn’t have “scripted (the hockey search) any better” after hiring Carvel.

“Obviously I’m biased, but I think Greg brings a lot to us that will allow us to build a championship-caliber program. His two assistants and director of hockey operations, Ben (Barr), Jared (DeMichiel) and Brennen (McHugh), I think really complement Greg in ways that will allow us to develop our kids, recruit the next wave of talent, and put us in positions to win Hockey East championships,” Bamford said.

Transparency is key

If there is one thing Bamford prides himself on, it is his belief that transparency and communicating with fans is the key to building a community that is proud to be a part of UMass athletics.

On Twitter he is constantly interacting with fans, often responding to those who ask questions on various UMass-related topics.

The athletic department has also been livelier on social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, and more recently on Snapchat.

“I don’t think people will invest their money, time or attention into a product that they don’t believe in. By being transparent and telling them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, I want people to invest in us, and that’s a way to do it,” Bamford said.

He also acknowledged his joy in communicating with fans and ability to listen to criticism is important when figuring out what will resonate with fans the most in the future.

Bamford gets numerous emails, tweets and phone calls every day from fans complaining that he’s not doing his job correctly, something he’s more than O.K. with.

“I have a thick skin about that and I can listen and learn and part of that is putting ourselves out there and saying, ‘We need you. We need to build a community of people that care about this place,’” he said.

With the way the football team has performed since joining the Division I ranks, Bamford emphasized the significance of speaking to fans who are unsure of where the program is heading.

“I think for fans, I know some of the faculty are concerned about the costs, I don’t know that we’ve supported it institutionally in a way that would allow us to have success in the first four years,” Bamford said.

In Bamford’s eyes, this decision to make the jump to the FBS is a good one, and it’s just a matter of making the right decisions moving forward.

“To those folks, I think the transparency, the fact that we are good stewards of the resources we have, we’re not doing anything that’s not a best practice in the industry,” Bamford said. “We benchmark ourselves against our peers all the time and I think you’ve seen with some of these schools what a football program can do.”

He added: “I think we’re responsible in the way we conduct our business and that’s what I would point to more than anything, and then point back to the fact that in football especially, it’s a process and we’re still in the beginning stages of this process. I know that’s hard for some people to hear four years in, but it’s going to take us some more time.”

What’s next?

For Bamford, this upcoming summer is an important one for UMass athletics, as there are several items on his agenda.

Making facility enhancements, enhancing game day experiences and doing everything they can to maximize revenue streams are some matters on the to-do list, but there is one overarching item: student engagement.

Home-field advantage is sacred in college athletics, and that is something UMass has not been able to achieve in recent years.

With 22,000 undergraduate students on campus, Bamford recognized the advantages that come with your teams playing in front of a raucous crowd.

“If we can get even 10 percent of those and be loud and proud of what we’re doing, it makes a huge difference in us being able to compete and create a home-field advantage,” he said.

“We’re in much better position a year ago to do some of these things and now that we’ve got the right staff on board from a coaching and administrative support standpoint, I think we’re able to do some things this summer that will help us.”

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jkates1216.