UMass: A springtime look at the program from Coach Brown’s point of view

NEWTON – Don Brown could have been anywhere he wanted to be on Wednesday afternoon, a rare option for football coaches.

With head coaches unable to go out on the road with their assistants during this recruiting period, Brown has had some rare downtime from the end of spring ball until the start of camp in a few months.

Instead of relaxing at home or golfing at the Charles River Country Club on an absolutely perfect day to go play 18, he was proudly wearing a grey UMass sweater, shaking hands and talking football in the clubhouse at the beautiful course in Newton. Brown was part of the Coaches Caravan panel along with athletic director Ryan Bamford, head basketball coach Frank Martin, head women’s basketball coach Tory Verdi, head hockey coach Greg Carvel and radio/TV broadcaster Jay Burnham.

Prior to lunch being served and the hour-long event beginning in front of about 75-100 alumni, Brown sat down with us out on the patio for a bit, more than happy to talk about his team as we creep closer towards the official start of his second era with the program.

“The biggest thing in this profession is relationships,” Brown said. “It’s given me a chance to get reacquainted with some tremendous people that I’ve had great contact with over my years as a coach. Just kind of establishing those relationships, quite frankly, to some degree, it’s like I never left. The support is important. There’s nothing that I’d want to see more than for our players to have success and obviously for the stadium to be filled.

“It’s been a long time since that’s happened, we need to make that happen.”

When Coach Martin’s name was mentioned Brown’s eyes immediately lit up and a grin came across his face. The dynamic duo getting paired back up has been great for both of them and should be great for the university. Throughout the panel discussion, each coach acknowledged that having the others around is pushing them to be better in the hopes that more championships and electric atmospheres will be returning to Amherst.

“He’s quite a character,” Brown said of Martin with a laugh. “Also, being with Greg and Coach Verdi, we’ve just got great people. Ryan’s done a great job of trying to connect with all the alums and support, so it’s all good.”

Just because there’s some downtime doesn’t mean Brown isn’t still thinking about football though.

“When spring ball ended, obviously as an FBS coach you’re not allowed out on the road, so I spend my time on finalizing early game plans,” he explained. “That, and finishing up the concepts that we’ll utilize in our playbook and just kind of going back through that and making sure we’re good to go when August comes.”

When August does come, there is a particular format that the Minutemen will be using to comply with NCAA rules.

“We go with a two-hour, six-hour deal,” Brown said. “There’s several kind of formulas we can use, but we like the two and six. Meaning, we get two hours of film, or, individual, or on the field activity, but it can’t be 11-on-11, but you are allowed to use a ball and you are allowed to be out there. You can knock off some alignment type stuff in that two-hour block per week.

“We have six hours in the weight room with running and lifting. That’s a weekly deal until we hit July, then we’ll go to an eight-hour straight lifting, running, getting in peak condition so when the end of July comes and we bring the guys back August 4 to get started, we’re ready to go.”

As for the roster itself, it’s close to being finalized, but in these Wild West times of the transfer portal, there’s always an eye out there.

“We are very close to being set,” said Brown. “With the new rules that are in place without the initial counters, the good thing is you’re allowed to keep your rosters numbers at the maximum level, which is a big deal for us.

“We’re staying on the portal every day and we’re just trying to make sure our guys have all completed their academic semesters, so just making sure they’re set for summer school, workouts and all the things that are important here as we look at this next phase.”

Brown couldn’t golf on Wednesday, but it is in the future plans. He might have an iPad for film in the cart with him at some point or he might be planning a new scheme on the 14th fairway, but there will be at least a few non-football related activities for the hardest working man in Massachusetts football.

That and some sleepless nights. After all, you can take football away from a coach, but you can’t take a coach away from football.

“I’ve gotta do a little golf and I’ve gotta spend some time with the grandkids for sure,” he said. “Football’s never far though. The notebook is with me, the stuff’s with me and you’ve always got to make sure you’re ready to go. It’s funny, you wake up some nights at two in the morning and you end up sitting up for half an hour writing notes.

“It’s just who I am and how I roll.”