When UMass fired Charley Molnar after Christmas, it didn't take long for rumors to begin swirling about potential replacements. With two abysmal years in their rear view mirror, the process of rebooting UMass football began, and in that, the Minutemen faithful began looking towards some familiar faces to rebuild and start the arduous task of making their program something resembling a team attempting to be respectable.
Two faces in the crowd for UMass should and do rise above the others - Mark Whipple and Don Brown. The duo won the Division I-AA national championship in their first year in Amherst, taking the Minutemen to the 1998 crown. Whipple, the offensive architect, paired almost identically with Brown, the defensive mastermind, after coming from Brown, where they laid the groundwork for an Ivy League championship.
In the years since they've left Amherst, both ventured close to but never actually landed in the big time. Whipple won Super Bowls as a quarterbacks coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, eventually landing as an offensive coordinator and associate head coach with Miami. But he's never resurfaced seriously as a head coaching candidate since nearly scoring the Boston College job that went to Jeff Jagodzinski.
Don Brown, meanwhile, is the defensive doppelganger of Whipple. Since leaving UMass to become the defensive coordinator at Maryland, Brown's established himself as a mastermind of the X's. But he's never been seriously discussed as a head coach. After leaving Connecticut for BC, he's primarily the man credited with the turnaround on the defensive side of the ball for a team that went 7-5 with essentially the same core that went 2-10.
Recently, multiple reports surfaced where Whipple is moving closer towards potentially becoming the UMass head coach once more. Now a coaching free agent (he coached last year with as the QB coach for the Cleveland Browns, who just cleaned house), he has the link and the availability to come back to Amherst and finish the business he never got the chance to start at BC or elsewhere.
If Whipple goes to UMass, the top candidate to return to Amherst as an assistant is Don Brown. Obviously, Brown has a good thing going with Boston College, and there's no indication he's unhappy. But the 58-year old Brown would be right at home with the 56-year old Whipple, and the feeling would be that the "gang is getting back together." A proven Division I bowl subdivision assistant, he would give instant credibility to a team sorely lacking in that regard.
There's added incentive for Whipple to take the UMass job and immediately court Brown. UMass cannot possibly match the Boston College salary; the Minutemen are too busy paying off roughly $2 million in salaries of ex-communicated coaches, including Molnar and Toot Cahoon. But the university can entice Brown with the promise of a state pension; he's coached seven seasons for UMass already, meaning Brown will qualify for the state pension plan in less than five years. University of Massachusetts policy states that any full-time employee can qualify for the pension plan if they have 10 years of service and are over the age of 60. That means Brown would be eligible for the plan when he turns 61.
While the pension plan idea is great, I don't think it would really apply in this scenario. UMass would have to offer Brown a salary somewhere remotely close to BC so Brown could qualify for a pension that resembles a real salary. If he has 10 years in at the state level, and his highest yearly estimate for his final three years is only $100,000, then he'll only make $23,000 or thereabouts in an annuity. Charley Molnar only had a salary paying him about $400,000 per year, and he was a head coach.
I think the greater threat is the opportunity to coach once again with Whipple. There's no way UMass can touch the money BC can offer, and even if UMass wins a conference championship, the MAC is still being relegated to the Group of Five that gets one slot in the College Football Playoff. By the time UMass left for a bigger conference if they ever somehow got into the ACC (which, let's be honest, if UConn couldn't get in, UMass isn't) or with an expansion of the playoff somehow, it would probably happen well after the Whipple/Brown era ended. The only reason Brown has for leaving is to coach again with Whipple, but then again, that could be just enough when you're talking about the coaching fraternity and the way some relationships develop.
If Brown doesn't leave, I hear there's a defensive coordinator with a mustache hanging out in suburban Massachusetts that's got availability. #Spaz4UMass