Minutemen raise curtain on McCall
AMHERST — The podium was set in front of the back wall instead of the right wall this time, but everything else looked the same.
Like last Thursday, UMass cheerleaders greeted visitors and media at the doorway to the Champions Center, and there were maroon and white balloons — maybe even the same balloons — hanging all around. The band was there again, and there was even a carpet — just like last week — for the occasion.
This time, though, there was actually a basketball coach in the building. And the placard on the right side of the table on stage displayed: Head Coach Matt McCall.
As McCall and athletic director Ryan Bamford walked through the doorway together, making their way to their seats on the stage, there was a sense of relief. A week after a bizarre happening in this same site, when Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey took the job, only to back out 30 minutes before his scheduled unveiling, McCall was all in as he was formally introduced yesterday.
A week after being “disappointed” and “hurt,” Bamford cracked a joke about last week’s fiasco, thanking his facilities staff and calling it a “dress rehearsal” for yesterday’s event. For UMass, it was all about moving forward.
“It’s truly a blessing and an honor, and I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity as we embark on this journey going forward,” said the 35-year-old McCall, who will be the program’s 22nd coach and the successor to Derek Kellogg, who was fired earlier this month after nine seasons.
After Kelsey left them at the altar, the Minutemen had to reset, and adjusted their sights on McCall. Bamford said the second-year head coach at Chattanooga was on UMass’ radar during the first goaround of the search, but timing got in the way of setting up a meeting.
This week, Bamford made sure McCall stayed in his sights. McCall was on a recruiting trip for the Mocs in Florida on Monday when he got a call asking if he could make it to Boston for a 9 a.m. meeting on Tuesday. He did, and after a visit to the campus on Tuesday night, it didn’t take long for the two sides to be sold on each other.
“When I came in here on Tuesday night, I was blown away,” McCall said. “I was blown away with the infrastructure, with the facilities and I knew that this was a special place.”
When UMass made its offer, McCall dialed up his wife Allison, who didn’t need much convincing to move north after growing up on Long Island. Soon, she was packing with their two daughters.
“I can tell you I’m extremely happy with where we ended up a week later,” Bamford said. “This is for us a great, great hire. Matt brings a lot to the table.”
McCall said he doesn’t see himself as the backup plan.
“This business is all about timing,” McCall said. “It was the right time for me to be the head coach of this university. I don’t look at it that way at all. I look at it as an opportunity and I’m really, really excited for this opportunity. I can promise you that.”
McCall is now charged with turning around a UMass program that’s missed three straight postseasons after making the 2014 NCAA tournament, and he believes there’s “no question” he can build success quickly.
A big part of that will rest on McCall’s ability to keep together a talented roster, one that includes a nationally rated recruiting class, which Kellogg assembled. Rashaan Holloway and C.J. Anderson both said yesterday they expected everyone to be back next season.
“Every place, he’s won,” Bamford said of McCall, who spent 11 seasons under Billy Donovan at Florida and posted a 48-18 record at Chattanooga. “You can’t say that about every coach in this country. And I think he’s going to bring that winning here.”