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Bell’s Southern twang right at home at UMass

  • Walt Bell, front right, who has been hired as the new UMass football head coach, enters a press conference with his wife, Maria, and Athletic Director Ryan Bamford, left, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Walt Bell, the new UMass football head coach, speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford introduces Walt Bell as the new football head coach during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Walt Bell, who has been hired as the new UMass football head coach, speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Newly hired UMass football head coach Walt Bell, right, shakes hands with Ryan Bamford, the athletic director, during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Walt Bell, who has been hired as the new UMass football head coach, speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Walt Bell, left, who has been hired as the new UMass football head coach, receives a jersey from Ryan Bamford, the athletic director, during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center at UMass. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Thursday, December 06, 2018

AMHERST — Walt Bell’s first public words as UMass football coach poked fun at his background.

Bell, a Tennessee native, opened his introductory remarks Wednesday by putting an emphasis on his vernacular. He exaggerated his Southern twang and word choices in his first message to the UMass fan base.

“To start, let’s get something out of the way. How are y’all doing,” Bell quipped to a chorus of laughter from the UMass dignitaries assembled at the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center. “I know I sound funny, but not nearly as funny as you guys.”

Bell’s Southern charm might be out of the place in New England, but the 34-year-old wasn’t going to let location interfere with finding the right program to lead. He has turned down two FBS job offers in the past two years, but he said he found the ideal fit with UMass.

He said the success of the Minutemen’s other programs in addition to the rising academic profile of the school checked all of the boxes for what he was looking for in his first coaching opportunity.

“It’s like I told (my wife) Maria, home is where the ball is,” Bell said. “Really simply put, it’s a really great opportunity to work for a great university that the thing that makes this place so special right now is that everybody seems to be moving in the same direction with the same mission. It just so happened to be in Amherst, Massachusetts, but we’re excited to be here and excited to make this place our home.”

Bell is currently the second-youngest FBS coach behind Kent State’s Sean Lewis. Bell is used to be one of the youngest after getting his first coordinator job at the age of 30 and facing questions of whether he was ready for the responsibility.

He said he doesn’t think his age helps him connect better with recruits or his players than his older counterparts. He said what makes him an effective recruiter is that he is true to himself and honest with the players.

“I probably get that question at every job that I’ve ever gotten, and my answer as I get older changes a little bit more each time,” Bell said. “I think what makes you relatable as a human being is that you’re authentic. You are who you are, you’re not trying to be a second-rate version of somebody else, you’re just you and being the best you that you can be.”

STAFFING THE PROGRAM: Bell said he has an idea of who he wants to hire to fill out his staff and he expects those assistants will be hired in the next few weeks. As an offensive coach taking over a team that struggled defensively in recent years, Bell’s choice for defensive coordinator will be heavily scrutinized.

The coach said he wants his defenses to be multiple but simple to allow his players to play fast and not think on the field. He said he also wants his unit to have an aggressive and physical edge to them.

“Defensively for me, the most important thing is we’re fundamentally sound,” Bell said. “What you emphasize in football is what you get. That we tackle well, in modern college football, not only do you need to tackle well, you need to tackle well in space. The ability to tackle well in space is built on two things, the physical act of tackling and effort.”

THE SUIT: As he showcased Wednesday, Bell already has enough maroon items in his wardrobe to hold him over until he gets a chance to go shopping. The new coach wore a maroon suit to his introductory press conference, a likely holdover from his season at Florida State whose garnet is similar in shade to UMass’ maroon.

“The debate this morning was do you go presidential — blue suit, white shirt, school color tie — or do you have fun and wear what you want to wear,” Bell said. “They don’t call it (maroon), but we won’t mention that. I was lucky it was in the wardrobe and it fit the school well.”

RODGERS RETURNS: Junior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers announced on Twitter on Tuesday night that he would return to UMass for his senior year after talking to Bell. He said in his tweet that the conversation he had with his new head coach played an important role in his decision to forgo the NFL Draft.

Bell said his message to the cornerback was about the culture he wanted to establish at UMass and how he thought it would benefit Rodgers.

“I told him what the team culture was going to be,” Bell said. “I told him that we were going to work harder than he’s ever worked in his life and we were going to have more fun doing it than he’s ever had playing football. If you want to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life with a little bit higher expectation level than you’ve had placed on you in terms of how you perform on the field as well as off it, then this is the place for you. He seemed like that was something he wanted to do.”