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‘This is home.’ Don Brown, Massachusetts man, unveiled as UMass football coach

Don Brown will try and revive the struggling UMass football program in his second go in Amherst.Tony Ding/FR143848 AP via AP

At his introductory press conference as the next UMass football coach, Don Brown was right at home.

Taking over the Minutemen for the second time, having led the team to the Division I-AA national championship game in 2006, the Massachusetts native returns to the struggling program looking to turn things around after three difficult years under Walt Bell.

“This particular opportunity, it was just the right time, and I’m fortunate that I was in the right place,” Brown said. “The challenges that are in front of us, I’m just excited about. The one thing I feel strongly about is my passion for the University of Massachusetts and its players. Sunday, my wife and I flew back from Tucson, got in rather late - got up Monday morning, and started recruiting Massachusetts. And it’s amazing how many people [said], ‘hey coach, we’re glad you’re back in Massachusetts.’”

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It’s an important hire for athletic director Ryan Bamford, as the program has failed to clear the four-win mark since moving up to FBS in 2013 and hit new lows after winning two games combined over the last three seasons.

“College football needs more Don Browns,” Bamford said, “and UMass is happy to have him back here at home.”

Brown has built a reputation as an aggressive defensive coach, most recently serving as the defensive coordinator at Arizona after a five-year stint in the same role at Michigan. His Wolverines ranked in the top five nationally for four consecutive seasons from 2016-2019 in total defense, as Brown dialed up blitzes to generate pressure for one of the country’s best defenses.

UMass, conversely, posted one of the worst defensive seasons in history in 2019 and didn’t improve much in the subsequent season and a half; something Brown won’t be diving too deep into.

“I’ve got to be honest with you: I will not watch a game,” Brown said. “Wherever I’ve gone, I have not worried about what’s gone on behind me. I worry about what’s in front of me. I’ve got a cute little nickname, and I used to get aggravated with it, now I just kind of welcome it - ‘hey, what’s Dr. Blitz got going this week?’

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Don Brown spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Arizona.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

“I can tell you this, I have a philosophy: We solve our problems with aggression. Not only on defense, which obviously is natural, but on offense as well and on special teams. That’s the sign that’ll be across our offices. Solve your problems with aggression. It’s a high priority to make sure our guys are playing on the balls of their feet and not on their heels.”

The motto could be found all over the walls in his last two stops in Ann Arbor and Tucson, and will return to Amherst, where Brown served as the defensive coordinator from 1998-1999 and head coach from 2004-2008. He has a bigger job ahead of him 13 years after his departure with the Minutemen in a new world in FBS, struggling to be competitive at a higher level while trying to navigate years of conference realignment that has left UMass out in the cold as an FBS Independent.

But in his first press conference back at the helm, Brown, 66, still had all the energy that fueled the Minutemen to one of the most successful periods in program history during his initial stint.

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“I’m a challenge guy,” Brown said. “I love challenges. With this one, and with me having such a strong passion for the university and on this campus ... This was a place that I feel very strongly about, and obviously I feel like I can make a difference. No one was going to stop me from doing it, and after a couple days, I know I made the right decision.

“I think the passion I have for UMass, and the opportunity to be a head coach again, was too much to pass up.”

Throughout Wednesday’s press conference, through questions about schemes and transfer portals and expectations, it all kept coming back to Brown’s return to the place he first honed his craft, to his home state, where it all began.

“This is home,” Brown said. “This is what it’s all about for me. I’ve kind of gone full circle.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go away, a long way from home, to realize where you belong.”


Amin Touri can be reached at amin.touri@globe.com.