Whipple looks to regain winning culture at Massachusetts

Story posted September 20, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by Tyler Zulli

When the University of Massachusetts’ football team began its transition from an FCS team to an FBS one, the program expected some bumps and bruises along the way. After two full seasons playing alongside the top teams in college football, however, nobody expected it to be quite this bad.

Umass has just two wins in their first 27 games at the FBS level. There now seems to be a losing culture that dwells around the school. In 2014, however, the program, in an attempt to find some stability at the nation’s top level, took a step in the right direction with one signing.

In stepped Umass legend Mark Whipple.

Whipple, a 31-year coaching veteran, is back leading the Minutemen for the first time since 2003, where he departed with a record of 49-26, including just one losing season in his six years as head coach. He led Umass to three A-10 Championships and a Division II National Championship. He was voted National Coach of the Year in 1998, the same year his team was national champions.

Quarterbacks have thrived under Whipple in the past, and not just at the collegiate level. In the NFL, Whipple has aided the careers of more than a few quarterbacks.

He was the Quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-2006, working with Ben Roethlisberger, guiding the young quarterback to a Super Bowl in just his second season. Whipple transitioned from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, where he became an offensive assistant under Andy Reid. Not so coincidently, the year that Whipple spent in Philadelphia was the second best statistical season of Donovan McNabb’s career. Whipple helped take an average offense and guided them to an NFC Championship appearance.

Now, holding the reigns of the Umass offense once again, Whipple knows it will be an uphill battle for his Minutemen to compete. His team has played much better as of late, however, as they kept games close with Colorado and Vanderbilt after being blown out by Boston College in Week 1. Not surprising, the best aspect of the Massachusetts’ game through the first three weeks has been the offense. Marshall transfer, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel has been good enough to keep Umass in games.

Whipple, however, thinks a little differently. In his opening statement after the team’s lose to Vanderbilt, Whipple said, “Frohnapfel has to make some throws, you have to make a throw at the end of the game for a touchdown.”

He does believe that the team as a whole is headed in the right direction. “At times I thought we played a little bit better. It’s just something we have to keep growing through,” said Whipple.

A few plays in the opposite direction against Vanderbilt could have sparked Umass to their first win of the 2014 season. Whipple knows this, saying, “If we can just correct those things, but I thought some things we got a little bit better.”

Whipple will next lead his team into Happy Valley, as they prepare to take on Penn State, a team that, despite being 3-0, is still looking for their identity. It won’t be an easy matchup for Whipple’s offense, however, as Penn State has held opposing offenses to just 24, 3, and 10 points respectively in their first three games. If the Nittany Lions play as well defensively as they have in the first three weeks, it will be a long day for the Minutemen offense. If Penn State finds a way to get their offense going early, this game could become a blowout quickly.

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Tyler Zulli is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email Tzull34@gmail.com.