Updated: Dec 6, 2018
AMHERST — In a maroon suit fitting of his new team, Walt Bell was at times emotional in his opening press conference to be introduced as the new coach at UMass.
The 34-year old spoke plenty about how he's a lover: both a giver of tough love and someone who can deliver that same emotion for a job well done.
But, when it came right down to it, what athletic director Ryan Bamford said sold him on the former offensive coordinator at schools like Arkansas State, Maryland, and Florida State was the detail-oriented approach Bell brings to the table.
"I think, honestly, he had the absolute best plan of attack for us," Bamford said. "He was one of the only people that came in and said, 'I don't care that we're independent. I've looked at your schedule. I've looked at your roster.' He had it broken down by ratio and percentage of, 'So and so's from here, and we're getting so much percentage from Florida and Georgia and Washington, D.C. and (Philadelphia), and all these different areas.' The fact that he said within a six-hour radius of this place, we need to recruit, and that needs to be a good portion of where our talent base is coming from."
With a slight tone of self deprecation, Bell said that mindfulness to minutiae was a bit of obsessive compulsive disorder. But when asked specifically about that six-hour radius to recruiting, you could see the inner workings of that mental process. And, listening to him talk, it was obvious why he is considered such an ace recruiter.
"I think for me, having been the guy that ran recruiting at North Carolina, just different places, I think when you set your footprint, it's got to be based around two things," Bell said. "It's number one, where are the areas that people are in terms of just population density? And then, number two, how many of those are within a six-to-eight-hour drive of campus? Because the number one name of the game in winning in recruiting is getting them on campus. And not just getting them here once, but getting them here two and three times. And so, a 10-12-hour car ride, that's hard to do. But, you know, four, six, eight hours, that can be done.
"So I think when you start setting what you consider your footprint is really based on a car drive, and how can we get them here repeatedly. And then, past that, where are direct flights to those same population centers that we talked about, because one hour at the airport, a two-hour flight and a one-hour drive, that's still four hours in terms of commute time. But I think it's just making sure your feasibility in terms of getting them on and off campus, and then just making sure that you're going places where there's enough bodies to validate the time that you're spending."
As far as the program's spending on Bell, Bamford confirmed that it would be a five-year contract at $625,000 annually with four retention bonuses after each year. He also said there were bonuses tied to performance, academic performance, with the "normal termination language for him and for us."
Bamford also noted that the salary for assistants would go up. Bell said he had in mind who those assistants would be, but would not divulge names.
One theme, too, was setting and hitting goals, and what constituted meeting expectations at a program that has yet to win five games since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2012.
"Getting to six-to-eight wins is a goal," Bamford said. "Once we do that, I'd love for it to be a problem for our fanbase when we're going 8-4 and they're saying, 'Why aren't we 9-3? Why aren't we 10-2?' That's a good thing."
Said Bell: "A winning football program, and not only a winning football program in terms of wins and losses, because we all know, ultimately, we could have the greatest APR in the world, have the greatest graduation rate in the history of college football, but if we don't win games, they're going to pat me on the butt on the way out the door. They may do it with a smile on their face, but, to me, it's a winning football program and a culture that does things the right way. We show up to class. We're good citizens. We do all the things that we need to do to make sure that our university community, not just the football fans, are proud of what we do.
"Are we going to have mistakes? Absolutely. Are we going to be perfect? No. We're dealing with 105 18-to-22-year olds. There's going to be mistakes made. Everybody here has probably made a mistake when they were a young man. So just a winning football program, but more importantly, just a winning culture. The quicker that we can get that done, the faster the wins will start coming."
And when it came to that, getting those wins in a unique place like UMass and its independent schedule, as opposed to places like his last stop of Florida State, Bell did not draw distinctions.
"No. I think that's pretty cut and dried," Bell said. "You've got to win more than you lose. And then, ultimately, once we do that, we'll go win more games. And once we do that, we'll go win more games. To me, winning is all the other things, and once we can do all those other things well, we'll win."
With the early signing period coming up on Dec. 19, Bell said he's not in panic mode to get a certain number of players on board for that deadline. He stressed culture-building as paramount.
"The most important thing that we do, is that once we're done in February, that we have student-athletes that want to be here, that have a chance to be successful here, and can make our football program better for the long term," Bell said. "If that means we sign all of them for December 19th, or it means we sign none of them there, it's just when fall camp starts, we've got to have the right people to help do what we need to do."
Eager to get started, Bell was asked what it would be like to compete in a region where there aren't that many FBS programs.
"I smile because I could give you guys a lot to write about, but I'm not going to do that right now," he said. "I'm really excited to be where we are. I'm excited about the brand of football we're going to play. I'm excited about the brand of offense we're going to play. I'm excited about how our kids will be treated on a day-to-day basis in comparison to the other programs in the New England area. So I look forward to competing against those guys in recruiting."