How UMass Should’ve Spent Their Back-To-Back Bye Weeks

UMass enjoyed their scheduled bye week last week, and this week, will enjoy another one, as their game against #18 USF has been cancelled due to Hurricane Irma-related scheduling conflicts. There’s a chance UMass will play FIU in a separate game later in the year, but that depends on whether FIU plays in their conference championship. It’s weird, but whatever.

Since this scheduling change has been known since September, it’s obviously no surprise. Any week this Minutemen team doesn’t play might as well be considered a win, as they’re 0-6 on the season.

Despite their record, and the fact that they are still the worst-ranked college football team, it’s not like the Minutemen have been blown out… quite the contrary, actually. I say it literally every time I write about UMass because it continues to be true. All six of UMass’ losses this year have been by 10 points or less; they could’ve conceivably won every one of their games.

That’s playing the “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” game though. Ultimately, it doesn’t push the UMass football program forward to be 6-0 in terms of moral victories. They’ve struggled mightily since returning to the FBS level, going 9-47. This brings me to my point…

They should’ve used their gift of two weeks off in the middle of the season to fire Mark Whipple.

I’m fully aware that this, in all likelihood, does not save their season. I’m also fully aware of the impact Whipple has had on the UMass program, dating back to their FCS days. In his first stint at UMass from 1998-2003, Coach Whipple was 49-26. He even won an FCS National Championship.

But yesterday’s trophies don’t win today’s games.

Whipple hasn’t improved recruiting. The proof is in the pudding, in that their two best players are transfers whose careers weren’t heading the way they expected them to in Power 5 Conferences (Andrew Ford and Alex Breneman, from the ACC and Big 10, respectively). They left the MAC, which already sucks, and they have no clear direction to a conference.

While I’ll give the program credit that they schedule difficult games, both at home and on the road, it doesn’t matter unless you win one once in a while. “Almost beating Tennessee” and “hanging for three quarters against Florida” doesn’t mean anything.

If I were king of McGuirk Stadium, and lord of all the UMass football land, I would’ve used this two week transitional period to put defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham in charge of the team. Two weeks is hardly as much time as you’d get in the preseason, but it’s manageable in the middle of the regular season.

Pinkham was on PJ Fleck‘s staff last year at Western Michigan. His defensive unit gave up less than 20 points per game, in last season’s 13-1 campaign, losing by only one possession to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. While this season’s statistics don’t look as good as last year’s (410 yards per game, 32.8 points allowed per game, 2 total turnovers), I believe in his ability as a defensive mind. He is working with far less talent, after all.

Giving Pinkham the keys allows to see what you have in him as an interim head coach. If it doesn’t work, you start the look for someone else. There’s a good chance, whoever UMass would hire, Pinkham would stick around as a defensive coordinator regardless because of his past success.

If he works, and even wins a couple of games, it reflects well on him. He can recruit guys who are going to fit his system defensively. On the other side of the ball, you’d still have Ford and Marquis Young with another year of developing the offensive line.

If UMass wants to move their football program forward, there’s no sense trying to capture magic from over 15 years ago with a coach who doesn’t have FBS success. Roll the dice. Make a change.

 

Cover photo from Daily Hampshire Gazette.

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