Designated Hitter: The path forward for UMass after Kellogg firing

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Derek Kellogg is gone as the UMass basketball coach.

Admittedly, his firing on Thursday caught me a bit by surprise.

Athletic Ryan Bamford had fired his women's basketball and hockey coaches after the 2015-16 season, and I thought firing a third coach — the highest-paid public employee in Massachusetts — was going to be a bit too much to bite off.

But fire Kellogg he did, and now the search begins for a replacement.

Much like when Bruiser Flint was fired at UMass, this is disappointing. Not so far as the records are concerned, because as Bill Parcells says, "You are what your record says you are."

But much like Flint, Kellogg was a tremendous coach to deal with. He spoke honestly to reporters in postgame press conferences and in one-on-one interviews. He was always accessible, and reporters liked him.

I've known Kellogg since he played at Springfield Cathedral, which is a long time. For his cooperation, he will be missed.

But that doesn't win basketball games.

There are three roads Ryan Bamford can travel now: He can go the way of a Power 5 conference coach who got fired. He can hire an up-and-coming head coach from a mid-major program. He could also hire the "hot" assistant from a Power 5 league.

Bamford told me during a Friday conference call that he didn't have a leaning as to which direction he'll take.

"There's a big universe out there of quality coaches," he said. "We will look at assistant coaches. We will look at head coaches. I don't want to limit ourselves to any one category.

"We'll really look at the whole field and see who will be a good fit for us and take us to that next level."

What kind of person fits that bill? The UMass athletic director elaborated.

"We want, going down the list, we want probably what every A.D. in the country wants," he said. "Somebody who's a talented recruiter, can build a quality staff that can recruit and develop talent. Someone who can build a program that is focused not only on the basketball piece, but can bring in student-athletes that are going to succeed in the classroom.

"I want somebody with energy, who's going to build our UMass basketball community."

So, where does UMass go?

I am certain that Bamford had a list of potential names in his desk drawer. He wouldn't be an athletic director worth his salt if he didn't.

If you read message boards or Twitter feeds, some of the usual suspects come up. I have read names like Vermont coach John Becker, Iona coach Tim Cluess, Albany coach Will Brown, among others.

Dalton's Pat Duquette, the head coach at UMass Lowell, could be a candidate.

If UMass wants to hire a coach with Northeast ties, there are a couple just off the usual suspects list that should be seriously considered.

My first choice, were he to be interested, is current Towson coach Pat Skerry.

Skerry, a Tufts graduate, coached there, at Stonehill and at Rhode Island, so he has a New England background. He also assisted Jamie Dixon at Pitt before going to suburban Baltimore in 2011.

In his first year, Skerry's team was 1-31, which included a 30-point loss at UMass. Since then he has had four winning seasons in five years, and two 20-plus winning seasons.

Another off-the-radar choice that I wouldn't mind seeing considered is Boston University coach Joe Jones. He has been at BU for three years, putting together three .500 or better seasons. He came to BU from Boston College, where he worked for Steve Donahue. Jones arrived at BC after being the head coach at Columbia. Jones is part of the Jay Wright tree, as he assisted Wright at Hofstra and Villanova.

A name I hadn't thought of was brought up to me by former Villanova and UMass coach Steve Lappas. Lappas, who is a CBS network analyst, gave me the name of Jamion Christian of Mount St. Mary's in Maryland.

Christian has taken his team to the NCAAs after winning the Northeast Conference. His pedigree is pretty good as well. He worked for Shaka Smart at VCU, was at William & Mary and started his coaching career with Division III Emory and Henry.

Bamford said that he hopes to have someone hired before April.

Now the fun starts.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253, hherman@berkshireeagle.com or @howardherman.


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