Returning to UMass football a ‘full circle’ moment for new coach Don Brown

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, answers questions after being introduced by UMass Amherst Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford, left, at a press conference in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, answers questions during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, addresses about 70 people gathered in the James and Helen Hunt Hospitality Suite of the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center for his introduction on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, left, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, is presented a Minuteman jersey by UMass Amherst Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, listens to his introduction by Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford during a press conference at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, answers questions during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, answers questions during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, answers questions during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Brown was defensive coordinator on the Minutemen's 1998 Division 1-AA national championship team. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, visits with the audience after a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford introduces Don Brown as the new head coach of the football program during a press conference at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2021 7:56:12 PM
Modified: 12/1/2021 7:56:04 PM

AMHERST – Don Brown knows how to turn the UMass football program around.

The Minutemen’s newest head coach, introduced at a press conference Wednesday in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center, first arrived in Amherst as a defensive coordinator in 1998. UMass went 2-9 the year prior, and he and Mark Whipple guided UMass to the Division 1-AA national championship.

“This is home. This is what it’s all about to me,” said Brown, beginning to tear up. “I’ve kind of gone full circle. What a beautiful – how many people wish that they could go full circle in their professional life.”

Brown left in 2000 to be Northeastern’s head coach in 2000 then returned to Amherst to take over UMass in 2004. Over the next five years, Brown led the Minutemen to 43 victories, its most ever in a five-year stretch, and never had a losing season. They played for the 2006 FCS national championship, falling to Appalachian State.

Since 2009, he’s been a defensive coordinator at Power 5 programs (and UConn from 2011-12) from Boston College to Michigan and Arizona, spending this past season in Tuscon, Ariz.

Brown was announced as the Minutemen’s 13th head coach last week but still had to close the season with the Wildcats. They finished the campaign 1-11, same as the Minutemen.

“Sometimes you got to go away, a long way from home, to realize where you belong,” Brown said. “It was just the right time and I'm just fortunate that I was in the right place. The challenges that are in front of us, I'm just excited about. The one thing that I feel strongly about is my passion for the University of Massachusetts and its players.”

Brown’s enthusiasm for the Minutemen, his place in the UMass football family and his unparalleled recruiting track record in New England made him an easy target for UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford.

Former coach Walt Bell was fired after the Minutemen lost to FCS Rhode Island on Nov. 6. Bamford said he planned to call Brown later that week, Thursday or Friday.

“Once I talked to him about the opportunity, about what we were doing, our investment in the program, I gauged his interest,” Bamford said. “I said to him ‘let’s continue to have a conversation.’”

They met on Zoom and either talked on the phone or texted almost daily for the next week or so discussing recruiting, fundraising and other peripheral details. Brown also remained focused on preparing his Arizona defense to face the likes of Utah and Washington State.

“I wanted to be respectful of Coach Brown and (Arizona coach Jedd) Fisch and make sure he was doing what he needed to do because he’s a loyal guy,” Bamford said. “But it materialized over the course of a week or two.”

The UMass program Brown is taking over now presents radically different challenges than the one he arrived to help rebuild in 1998. The Minutemen are 2-23 over the past three seasons. Their last winning season was in 2010 as an FCS program.

As an independent program, UMass has to work on its own to put together schedules and negotiate television contracts.

But Brown doesn’t like to look at the past, bad or good. He said he doesn’t even watch film of previous games.

“I have not worried about what’s gone on behind me. I worry about what’s in front of me,” Brown said. “I got a cute little nickname. And I used to get aggravated with it, but now I kind of welcome it. What’s Dr. Blitz got going this week? We solve our problems with aggression.”

He plans on hanging that on a sign in the football offices. Brown also emphasized the importance of a well-conditioned team. He’s already looking forward to winter workouts and being in the “mat room.”

“That’s when I’m in heaven, when I’m chasing guys around the mat room, I feel pretty good,” Brown said.

Brown also emphasized playing sound fundamental football, i.e. not turning the ball over, gang tackling and avoiding penalties. He didn’t detail any goals beyond winning the first game, preferring to keep his focus on the immediate future.

Brown, 66, will turn 67 in July and will be one of the oldest FBS head coaches next season. He signed a five-year deal with UMass.

“You can see his passion. He’s got a lot of energy to build this thing, and he’s got a lot of pride in our program,” Bamford said. “We’re gonna take advantage of that to build back a winning program that we all want.”

Brown knows what UMass looks like as a winning program. He’s made it his mission to get the Minutemen back there.

“It’d mean a lot. I’m going to work tirelessly to make it happen. I have no doubt we’re going to get there,” Brown said. “What is the ultimate for us? Wouldn’t it be nice to be playing in a bowl game? That’s the beauty right there, we get ourselves into a bowl game and we bring our first bowl trophy home at this level. It would be a special moment.”


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