Beck: Top-five greatest coaches in UMass history

Looking at the most prestigious coaches to ever come through UMass

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

By Ryan Beck, Collegian Correspondent

There have been several head coaches at the University of Massachusetts over the years who have been extremely successful and are widely recognized for their accomplishments in their respective sports. I decided to take a closer look at them to rank the top-five head coaches in UMass history across all sports.

The ranking in this list is by no means definitive and is based on my opinion about who the greatest head coaches in UMass history are. When forming my list, I took these three main factors into consideration:

Overall Success: Here, I analyzed factors such as winning percentages, championships and other titles in relation to their longevity as head coach at UMass.

Impact: How good was their respective program during their tenure? Was it noticeably better, or was their success merely a product of the players they had?

National Recognition: This puts their coaching ability on a broader scale, recognizing their achievements outside of UMass. How well are they regarded in the pantheon of their respective sports?

Now that I have defined the criteria for my rankings, here are my top-five head coaches in UMass history.

No. 5

Vic Fusia – Football

Starting off the list at number five is Vic Fusia, who was at the helm of UMass during one of the program’s most successful decades (1961-1970). He led the Minutemen to five Yankee Conference titles and compiled a 59-32-2 record during his 10 years as head coach. Boasting a winning percentage of .645, Fusia reigns as the winningest coach in UMass football history.

Despite his time as head coach being shorter than others on the list, his impact on the program was immediate. He coached some of the Minutemen’s finest, including Greg Landry and Milt Morin. In his most impressive season, he led UMass to their first ever postseason appearance in the Tangerine Bowl of 1964. While his status as one of the greatest coaches in UMass history is obvious, his short tenure leaves him with fewer accomplishments than those above him on the list.

No. 4

Dick Bergquist – Baseball

Coming in at number four is the late Dick Bergquist, the all-time winningest coach in UMass baseball history. During his 21 seasons as head coach, he compiled a record of 392-321-5 (.546)  and led the program to seven Yankee Conference championships, two New England titles, one Atlantic 10 championship, five NCAA Tournament appearances and perhaps most impressively a trip to the College World Series in 1969.

As the all-time winningest coach, Bergquist had a significant impact on the baseball program, setting a precedent for future success following his retirement. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame, and his effect on the baseball community transcends his time at UMass. Bergquist is a local legend in Amherst lore, and is fully deserving of a spot on this list.

No. 3

Dick Garber – Lacrosse

Lacrosse legend Dick Garber is the third greatest head coach in UMass history. During his 36 years as head coach at UMass, he compiled a record of 300-142-3 (.674), and is the winningest coach in college lacrosse history. Garber led UMass to nine NCAA tournament appearances and 13 New England Championships.

During his last 18 seasons, UMass was ranked in the top 15 nationally 17 times, reflecting the dominance of the team during his tenure. Moreover, Garber led the Minutemen to its only undefeated lacrosse season in 1969, with a record of 10-0. A member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Garber’s ability to achieve continued success cements him as one of the greatest to ever do it as head coach for UMass.

No. 2

John Calipari – Basketball

UMass men’s basketball has never reached as great a level of success since John Calipari, the second greatest head coach in UMass history, was at the helm. In his eight seasons as head coach, Calipari led his squad to a 193-71 record (.731), the best winning percentage in school history and the second most wins. After only going to one NCAA tournament in the first 81 years of the program, Calipari brought UMass to five straight NCAA tournaments from 1992-1996, including its only ever Final Four appearance in the 1996 season. During that famous season, his Minutemen went 35-2 overall and spent 10 weeks ranked No.1 in the nation; resulting in a National Coach of the Year award for Calipari.

A future hall of famer, Calipari is currently head coach at Kentucky who is always in the discussion as National Championship contenders. Calipari also coached an incredible number of current NBA stars in their college days, including Anthony Davis, Devin Booker and Tyler Herro. Calipari’s star-producing reputation and impact on the men’s basketball program at UMass is undeniable, but his short tenure keeps him from earning the number one spot on the list.

No. 1

Pam Hixon – Field Hockey

Pam Hixon is the greatest head coach in UMass history, and here’s why. In her 17 years as head coach, she led her team into the postseason every year. She brought the Minutewomen to four NCAA Final Four appearances, including a second-place finish in 1981, a year she was recognized as National Field Hockey Coach of the Year. Hixon never had a losing season, with an overall record of 272-75-18 (.768), and led UMass to four Atlantic 10 conference titles. Her legacy surpasses the collegiate stage, as she was the head coach of the United States National Team and the 1996 Olympic Team. She is recognized as the most successful coach in U.S National Team history, leading them to a top-three world ranking.

As if her success in field hockey was not enough, Hixon took over the UMass women’s lacrosse team for nine seasons, achieving a remarkable 91-30-2 (.748) record. Hixon’s remarkable winning percentages across multiple sports is unmatched by any other on this list, and her national achievements separate her as the greatest coach in UMass history.

Honorable Mentions: Jack Leaman (Basketball), Kalekeni Banda (Soccer)

Ryan Beck can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @rybeck__7.