Nov. 26 MVP: MassVarsity Pre-and-Post

Remember the good, learn from the bad.

As UMass enters its head coaching search, that is what the Minutemen and athletic director Ryan Bamford have to do.

First, the good should not be forgotten when it comes to recently fired coach Mark Whipple. When you look back at his legacy at UMass, it may be easy for some to dismiss his first stint as head coach in Amherst, but that would be off-base.

The fact that Whipple won a Division 1-aa or Football Championship Subdivision (call it whatever you want) national championship in 1998 cannot be overstated. Before that, Harvard, in 1920, was the last program from Massachusetts to win any kind of national championship in Division 1 football.

That's significant, and even when you look at Whipple's second tenure at UMass, there were some silver linings worth reflecting upon.

In the program's long-awaited return to the college game's highest level in 2012, UMass lost its opener to UConn, 37-0, under coach Charley Molnar. Toward the end of this season, UMass knocked off UConn, 22-17, in a game that serves real regional rivalry and recruiting purposes.

Whipple deserves credit for that, and for pushing the team forward from a competitiveness standpoint. Even though there were regrettable losses mixed in, UMass fans had to be proud of the way Whipple guided the Minutemen in certain games against Southeastern Conference foes. In 2017, the Minutemen lost games to Tennessee (17-13) and Mississippi State (34-23) that did not end up in the blowout fashion most would have predicted. Ditto the 2016 opener against a ranked Florida team, where the Minutemen pushed the hosts to a four-quarter game in a 24-7 loss.

Finally, by the time Whipple was fired, he had UMass playing offense at a level where you can build a winning team around. This year's Minutemen were ranked 41st in the nation in total offense, and featured a passing attack and wide receiver in Andy Isabella that could cause problems for just about anyone.

But, of course, the defense was not able to match that production, and the team simply never won enough 50-50 games for Whipple to keep his job.

So where does that leave the Minutemen going forward?

Well, if you are going to learn from past mistakes, the first thing UMass has to do is widen its search. The Minutemen do not offer as much as many other major college coaching jobs in terms of salary, fan support, and quantity of local Division 1 talent. That almost goes without saying, so there is a limit on which candidates will be willing to come to Amherst.

However, what UMass must do is make sure that it does not keep itself locked in the box of hiring someone with past ties to the program. That narrows it to too small a pool of worthy applicants, and it felt like when the Minutemen brought Whipple back, they fell under that spell of trying to recreate old glories.

UMass has to embrace the process of gradual, incremental steps forward in the unforgiving world of college football. If that means hiring a coach that will only use the job as a steppingstone to a bigger one, so be it. The task of the next UMass coach will be to get the program to a better place than it was before.

Whipple did that. The least Bamford can do for this next era of UMass football is find someone who can do the same.

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