AMHERST — Liam Coen couldn’t say yes fast enough.
The former record-setting quarterback at the University of Massachusetts had always hoped his coaching career would some day land him on a staff led by Mark Whipple and would some day bring him back to his alma mater. The chance to fulfill both was an easy decision.
“It couldn’t have been a better situation,” Coen said.
It seemed like Coen was always destined to eventually work with Whipple.
Coen was Whipple’s prized recruit at UMass in 2004, but Whipple left to become the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback coach before ever coaching the Newport, R.I., native.
Still, they stayed in touch. Whipple called when Coen’s mother died. Coen hosted Whipple’s son Spencer on his recruiting visit at UMass. The contact became more regular when Coen got into coaching at Brown University, Whipple’s alma mater.
Coen visited Cleveland Browns minicamp twice when Whipple was there and Coen hosted Whipple, who led a clinic for Brown’s staff last year.
Whipple was impressed with Coen’s initiative.
“He has a thirst for improving himself,” Whipple said. “I think that’s important.”
When Whipple was hired to replace Charley Molnar at UMass last month, Coen was one of his first hires.
“I thought he was a natural. It wasn’t just that he went to UMass. I thought he brought a lot to the table,” Whipple said. “He’s always had a passion for the game. That’s important with all the studying. He loved the place and had an unbelievable career. He always wanted to come back. He enjoyed Brown, but it was a chance to have a little more on his plate. I thought he would be a good fit.”
Coen’s enjoyed the homecoming, especially seeing the improvements to McGuirk Stadium.
“It’s pretty cool being in the stadium with the lights on and the facilities building in the background,” Coen said. “Going to Berkshire Dining Hall and being hugged by a woman that’s worked their for 30 years. That kind of stuff has really been pretty cool. Seeing guys like (strength) Coach (Bob) Otrando, (team) Dr. (Pierre) Rouzier. People who were really influential to me has been great.”
Many assistant coaches who start new jobs in the middle of recruiting need a crash course about the school that hired them to be able to effectively sell the program. Coen could hit the ground running.
“It’s been very easy for me to recruit to this university. I know the university academically, socially, from a football standpoint and the community. I tried to put myself into the university as much as I could while I was here so I would have this opportunity someday,” Coen said. “Now that I have it, I want to be the best ambassador for UMass that I can. I feel like I have a lot to give to these kids in terms of my knowledge of the university and the program, and the excitement I have for it.”
With recruiting behind him, he’s trying to give UMass’ current quarterbacks the experience he enjoyed as a Minuteman.
“I’m learning what makes A.J. (Doyle), Todd (Stafford) and (new walk-on) Andrew Verboys tick. What motivates them? How do they learn? Are they visual? Are they repetition based? How do they lead? Are they rah rah? Are they quiet?” Coen said. “I need to find out so I can cater my teaching and my coaching toward their strengths and also try to bring some of their weaknesses to light so we can make those stronger.”
Coen, who has been to several basketball games since being hired, sees Derek Kellogg, a former UMass standout athlete coaching the program he played for, and hoped to some day be the football version of Kellogg.
“I’d love to stay at UMass as long as I can. I think so highly of the place, the university and the community. My goal ultimately is to be a head coach someday. I see Derek’s passion in the way he coaches and the way he carries himself and the way he’s imbedded himself into the community. That’s something I’d like to emulate,” said Coen, who quickly added he could be waiting a while. “Coach Whipple said at a team meeting that he’s going to coach til he’s 80.”