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Keeping Score: Reversal of fortune


Friday, March 24, 2017

Good morning!

How quickly things change at UMass. One moment Pat Kelsey’s about to be introduced as the school’s new basketball coach, the next moment he’s westbound on the Coolidge Bridge en route to the airport.

Patrick, we hardly knew ye.

Kelsey joins the parade of coaches who came and never won, or won and quickly left, notorious characters like Charlie Molnar, Tom McLaughlin, Travis Ford, John Micheletto, and now the stranger from South Carolina.

He wasn’t the first to see fool’s gold and run for the hills. Former athletic director John McCutcheon thought he had Rand Pecknold sealed and delivered to coach the hockey team before the Quinnipiac coach turned tail to Hampden, Conn.. It took McCutcheon four more tries before he signed Micheletto, who turned out to be the Rosie Ruiz of college hockey.

Jon Rothstein of FanRagsports cites a source claiming Kelsey got “cold feet,” and now athletic director Ryan Bamford’s consolation prize will be holding Kelsey’s feet to the fire. The five-year deal that Kelsey signed on Tuesday included a $1 million buyout clause for opting out before two years.

It would seem reasonable to make Kelsey responsible for all subsequent costs related to finding another coach.

Many believed Kelsey wanted to coach in the ACC or at Xavier, his alma mater. Leaving UMass was a given, but after two days? When Bamford recounted what had happened to the media, he was a man recalling the moments before a tsunami. “We had lunch with coach (Kelsey). We had staff meetings from morning through lunchtime. We left him for two hours and at 3:25 p.m. he called. I had absolutely no indication this was on the horizon.”

Kelsey cited personal reasons, and what could be more personal than realizing he was making a big mistake. Within 24 hours of hitting town something had gone awry.

Kelsey hails from York County in South Carolina, which voted Republican, 58-36 percent in the November election. His father and brother own a Chevrolet dealership. During the campaign Donald Trump had spoken to a packed house at Winthrop Coliseum.

My God, do you suppose Kelsey voted for Trump?

Had the cabbie dropped him off at Hampshire College?

Maybe AyAnna Hickman — she of the $75,000 civil suit against the UMass basketball staff — sat next to him at Judie’s and whispered, “Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you everything.”

The 41-year-old Cincinnati native was quadrupling his income by leaving Winthrop University — a former teacher’s college with an enrollment of 5,091 undergrads. The Eagles had reached the NCAA Tournament and were quickly eliminated by the Butler Bulldogs, 76-64, but Kelsey had punched his meal ticket. In five seasons he was 102-59, becoming the fastest Big South coach to hit triple-digit wins.

The introductory press conference was to be streamed live on Facebook which isn’t part of my social media repertoire. When I asked UMass media relations manager Molly O’Mara if there was another way to watch or listen she blithely responded, “We’ll do quotes.”

UMass has two media relations directors on its payroll who earn a combined $151,000 to serve one fulltime beat reporter, Matt Vatour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Bamford hired O’Mara to replace John Sinnett who was relegated to tennis, soccer, women’s basketball and the like. Sinnett earned $75,556 last year, $100 less than O’Mara according to massopenbooks.org.

Rather than wait for the quotes or drive 50 miles to hear how thrilled everyone was, on Tuesday I contacted beat writer Bret McCormick at The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C. “Tell me something the readers don’t know,” I asked.

McCormick characterized Kelsey as a “type-A guy, but it’s hard not to be won over by his passion. He’s a good guy but he’s also a self-promoter and he’s tightly wound. The veins will start popping when he gets going. He’s very emotional.”

Maybe Kelsey realized the road to the NCAA Tournament is a lot easier going through the Big South than the A-10.

He likely couldn’t be leaving to take a better offer because UMass already had his signature inked on a contract. Leaving now would be unethical wouldn’t it? Or could this be a new low in college basketball? For now, Kelsey’s retreating to the school and team he abandoned. He’s lucky they took him back, but maybe he called to be sure.

So what happened? Maybe Kelsey picked up the Boston Globe and saw his name on of the back of sports section at the bottom of the scoreboard page.

Maybe he thought he could do better, or that UMass had a higher profile.

Maybe he visited Northampton and asked the barista to break a buck for the parking meter, and the barista said “You need to buy something for us to open the register.”

Maybe he wasn’t in the mood for a $4.65 white chocolate mocha and pointed to the tip jar for quarters and the barista said, “We’re not allowed to make change from the tip jar.”

Maybe he got a parking ticket and went to the clerk’s office and saw the sign that reads, “Please form all questions in the form of a compliment.”

It could’ve happened to Kelsey because it happened to me, and I couldn’t leave that town fast enough.

It was cold. The wind was whipping and maybe the only people looking him in the eye were holding cardboard signs asking for money.

Maybe Kelsey noticed the basketball team’s practice facility is called the Champions Center and wondered why when it hasn’t won any championships. Maybe he looked at the football, hockey and women’s basketball teams’ losing records and wondered if the problem was systemic.

“Maybe he wasn’t feeling the vibe,” said McCormick.

Indeed, and maybe the embarrassment of backing out was better than making the mistake of a lifetime.

When Greenfield’s Sharon McGuinness isn’t working in circulation getting The Recorder delivered, she’s coaching the Westfield State softball team. The Owls recently returned from a 10-game road trip to Florida that was capped by a 5-0 win against Plymouth State. “Our first home game is tomorrow, but…”

The cold weather has resulted in a string of postponements, including Wednesday’s twin bill against the Sage Colleges of Albany (Russell Sage) and yesterday’s double feature at WPI. They’ll try again Wednesday against Western New England, or maybe budget another trip to Florida.

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SQUIBBERS: CBS profiled Renee Caupain for a halftime segment during last weekend’s NCAA Tournament. Caupain lives near Richmond but drove to Cincinnati to watch all of her son Troy’s home games. “It’s 538 miles but I’ve made it in 7½ hours,” said Caupain. “When people hear that, they just tell me I’m a road dog. ‘Ain’t no stopping you.’” … Details of the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial reminds me of Brendan Koerner’s description of the former tight end in a New Yorker magazine article, calling his behavior the “arrogant personification of the human id.” …The NBA suspended DeMarcus Cousins for one game after the Pelicans’ power forward got his 18th technical foul. Who knew 18 was the magic number? …The NY Post’s Kevin Kernan reports that former NBAer Steve Mix is passing the time as an usher at Mets spring training games in Port St. Lucie. The 69-year-old Mix played most of his 13-year career with the 76ers. … Greenfield’s Joe Charron tracked me down outside Big Y on Thursday and chided me for not including him with JJ Kells, his brother Jerry and everyone else who played in the first men’s hockey league at the Greenfield skating rink. Joe played for the Green team or maybe it was the Blue team, I’m seeing colors. … Happy 69th birthday to Bobby Orr. “God just patted you on the head kid,” an usher told my son Mat when No. 4 passed him in the hallway of the old Boston Garden. … Barry Bonds was named special assistant to San Francisco Giants’ CEO Larry Baer, in case you missed it. …Belated congrats to UMass hoopster Hailey Leidel, the A-10 Rookie of the Year and second-highest scoring rookie in the country. … Fran Togneri got the royal tour of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches while he was in Florida. The head of security carted him around the complex but wouldn’t let him take batting practice. …Michelle Wie is 90th on the LPGA money list with only $9,005 in earnings this year. Another LPGAer, Brooke Pancake, is deserving of Garry Brown’s list of favorite names. … Adrian Beltre needs 58 hits to reach 3,000, and Albert Pujols needs nine dingers to reach 600. … Actress Joanna Krupa told TMZ she’s “bummed” that Rob Gronkowski isn’t helping to promote “You Can’t Have It” which opened in theatres last week. The Warsaw cover girl added that Gronk had trouble keeping his eyes on the script. “He was too busy focusing on the hot girls, probably why he was the only person we had to do re-take after re-take for his one line.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.