Ryan Bamford discusses state of UMass athletics

Bamford enters fourth year at the helm of athletic department


(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s been three years since Ryan Bamford was hired as the seventh permanent athletic director at the University of Massachusetts.

Taking over for former AD John McCutcheon — who was hired in the same capacity at UC Santa Barbara in the spring of 2015 — Bamford arrived at Amherst just weeks later after spending four years at Georgia Tech, the last two years as the Senior Associate Director of Athletics.

Now entering his fourth season as the head of UMass athletics, Bamford feels there’s a lot to be excited about surrounding UMass sports.

“If I was gonna use one word, and we’re using this to encapsulate the end of the ’17-’18 year and as we go into the ’18-’19, the one word is probably ‘momentum,’” Bamford said. “I think we’ve shown that we’ve been able to rebuild some programs, most notably our men’s and women’s basketball and hockey programs, into what we think will be winning programs here in the near future.”

The Massachusetts hockey team went from five to 17 wins in a one-year span under coach Greg Carvel’s leadership. The UMass men’s basketball team was in disarray at the end of the 2016-17 season following Derek Kellogg’s firing coupled with Pat Kelsey’s backout as the next coach. However, Matt McCall stepped in and led the 2017-18 squad to a respectable 13-20 and 5-13 Atlantic 10 record despite dealing with a boatload of injuries. Similarly for the women’s basketball team, Tory Verdi came in and revitalized the program that went from nine wins his first year to 14 the next.

Men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse also each won conference titles last year, adding to Bamford’s optimism about the department.

“We take a lot of pride in that. We talked a lot about investing in championships and champions in and out of the classroom and in competition,” Bamford said. “And our kids, to their credit, went out and did that last year and we’re looking to replicate a lot of that success moving forward here – make some more strides, positive strides, in what I would call our flagship sports in football, men’s and women’s basketball and hockey.”

Perhaps the most noticeable area of change during Bamford’s tenure has been the infusion of new coaches at UMass. Carvel, Verdi and McCall were all hired by Bamford, along with field hockey coach Barb Weinberg in 2016, baseball coach Matt Reynolds, tennis coach Juancarlos Nunez and women’s soccer coach Jason Dowiak in 2017, plus men’s cross country coach Tim Ritchie in 2018.

Eight of the 19 total head coaches in the department are Bamford hires and the former Ithaca College graduate has tons of confidence in his coaching staff.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of coaching talent in this department,” Bamford said. “It’s certainly better than when I got here in a lot of ways. I feel as good now and as bullish about our coaches – our head coaching roster – as I ever have.”

Bamford also expressed his desire to build a winning atmosphere throughout the entire athletics department when talking about the coaching decisions he’s made.

“I think the women in our soccer program, after watching our men win the tournament and win the regular season A-10 championship last year, looked at what the men did and said ‘We want that.’ That’s what it does – that’s what winning does: Winning begets winning,” said Bamford. “You look across and if we can build winning programs across the board, it’s a culture. Then you look at it and you say, ‘I don’t want to be the only team or the only kid that’s not winning and now what am I going to do to do what they did?’

“I think that’s why we have momentum, because I think the people in our program are like, man, hockey is getting better, basketball is getting better and we’re winning championships in all of these other sports. Let’s go,” Bamford added. “Let’s take the next step. And that’s exciting, that’s what you want.”

The Minuteman football team seems to be the one outlier when it comes to the excitement around the athletic program. In a year thought to be its best chance for a bowl game since it made the switch to the Football Bowl Subdivision, UMass has fallen flat out of the gate — save for a big season-opening win over Duquesne — recording a rather dismal 1-3 record to start the 2018 campaign.

Most recently, the Minutemen were ousted by Florida International last Saturday, falling 63-24. During this current losing skid, UMass has looked particularly overmatched defensively, being outscored 152-58 over the three-game span.

Although the outlook for this season has taken a sharp turn for the worse, Bamford still has hope.

“I would say this, when you look at a football schedule and as an independent, I tried to build this schedule in a way where we could go out and really figure out if we could acquit ourselves and get ourselves prepared to be a bowl eligible team,” said Bamford. “I want us to be patient and support our guys and our coaches because I think we’re going to have a level of success this year that we can point to and be proud of, I really do. I think there’s plenty of runway ahead of us. We’ve got talent on this roster – we’ve got coaching talent. I think we’re going to have a level of success moving forward.”

Last season, the Minutemen went 4-8 and coach Mark Whipple’s contract was set to expire after the 2018 season. It was up for debate whether or not Bamford would choose to extend Whipple or add to his coaching tree at UMass with an outside hire. On April 30, however, Bamford reupped Whipple for two more seasons. Despite the poor start to the 2018 season, Bamford has faith in Whipple’s ability as a coach.

“I love [Whipple] because he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s been through it – he focuses on things that impact winning. He doesn’t worry about stuff that doesn’t matter,” Bamford said. “He and I talk all the time about ways that we can help him as an institution – as an athletic department – to get better. We have to continue to invest in this football program and I believe in [Whipple].

“[Whipple’s] won everywhere he’s been, but we don’t have the biggest budget – we don’t have what other schools spend so I think we have to be creative and I think we have to surround him with support systems that allow him to have success and our program to have success,” added Bamford. “But [Whipple’s] been a pleasure to work with and I’m fully supportive of him moving forward.”

UMass hopes to earn some momentum of its own when it hosts Charlotte this Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium and will look to join a movement within the athletic department that, according to Bamford, is trending in the right direction.

(Editor’s Note: The Collegian’s interview with Ryan Bamford occurred on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, before UMass football’s game against FIU.)

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.