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Keeping Score

Keeping Score: Repair work

Good morning!

The Mark Whipple hiring got plenty of media coverage but credit the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley with getting the scoop on the new UMass football coach. The finalists interviewed at Bradley International Airport and everyone was sworn to secrecy, but Buckley had Whipple’s name on his newspaper’s website that same night.

“We will win championships,” the 56-year-old Whipple said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Winning a championship at the I-A level is the next goal. We’re here to get jewelry. We will recruit character kids here. Buckle your seat belt.”

This was two years and a month after Charley Molnar was introduced as the new UMass football coach at Gillette Stadium, but that grandiose scheme of playing in Foxboro is apparently coming to an end.

Perhaps stung by Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy’s remarks that the school’s decision to join the ranks of the FBS was a “colossal failure that may result in the death of football at UMass” the university rolled out its big guns, including UMass President Robert Caret and President of the UMass Board of Trustees Henry Thomas. Vice Chancellor John Kennedy read a prepared statement by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who was in India.

They spoke for nearly 20 minutes before Whipple took the podium, and 22 minutes later it was over. “That’s the easiest one I’ve ever done,” he joked of the rocking chair press conference.

Whipple was never pressed about how he planned to pull the football program out of its death spiral or how he’d deal with back-to-back recruiting classes that have been rated near the bottom of Division I by the recruiting websites. “I gotta find out what our guys can do,” he said. “I don’t even know who my tackle is.”

When the Berkshire Eagle’s Howard Herman asked him about in-state recruiting he answered, “It starts in Massachusetts and then we go to the Eastern Seaboard. ... We can go anywhere but it starts here with the high school coaches.”

Whipple was wearing his I-AA championship ring from when he coached UMass to the national title in 1998. During that six-year tenure, Whipple brought in Arizona State quarterback transfer Jeff Krohn and Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year quarterback Liam Coen, running back Steve Baylark from Florida, receiver Jason Peebler from California, and current Baltimore Ravens strong safety James Ihedigbo from Amherst.

Referring to his stint as the University of Miami’s offensive coordinator he said, “My time down there is going to open a lot of doors.”

Whipple’s final season at UMass was in 1998, and when the Recorder’s George Miller alluded to that year’s playoff loss to Colgate, Whipple suddenly interjected, “Were you there?”

“God bless you ...” It was a sore spot because he added, “The Colgate week was the worst week ... was the worst mistake I ever made as a head coach. I did not approach that game the right way.”

Shortly afterward Whipple became the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterbacks coach, a move he may have regretted considering an earlier remark that, “Sometimes you have to go away to find out where your home is.”

Whipple will be making $250,000 a year for five years, which according to USA Today is the lowest base salary of any MAC coach. Longtime Ohio University coach Frank Solich is the highest at $502,400 and University of Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn was the lowest at $325,000.

The MAC is an offensive-oriented conference that’s produced NFL quarterbacks Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington and Whipple’s one-time protege Ben Roethlisberger. He knows his top priority will be finding a quarterback, be it a junior college transfer or a backup from another FBS team, a la Jeff Krohn.

Playing in the FBS has its advantages: the talent upgrade, weekly pointspreads and bowl game opportunities. For local UMass fans who’ve been without a team the last two years, the best news was uttered UMass President Caret when he told interviewer Josh Maurer: “It’s critical we come back to Amherst. I’m a campus-based person and it’s critical for the students and alums that we have a presence here. We definitely have to be back in Amherst.”

Load up the bandwagon, the game’s back in town.

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Former UMass coach Jim Reid said that with the completion of the stadium upgrade and the return of home games to campus, the football program has turned the corner. “Any coach would like to be a part of that program,” he said. “I would.”

Reid was named the Division I Linebacker Coach of the Year by FootballScoop. “A four-win turnaround like what Iowa enjoyed doesn’t just happen. (Players) must go out and make it happen, the outstanding linebackers coached by Jim Reid and (fellow coach) LeVar Woods,” wrote FootballScoop’s Zach Barnett.

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Not only did the MAC go 0-5 in bowl games this year, it took a $150,000 hit by financing the University of Buffalo’s trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Toledo Blade reported that expenses were $475,000 and the bowl payout was $325,000. Four years ago when Bowling Green played in Boise, the school sold only 77 tickets from its 4,000-ticket allotment. ... On the topic of Idaho, former UMass broadcaster Bob Behler was named Idaho Sportscaster of the Year. Behler is the play-by-play voice of the Boise State Broncos.

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Tickets for the St. Louis Cardinals’ exhibition game against the Red Sox in Jupiter on March 5 sold out the same day they went on sale last week. Fans will see two or three regular players and a busload of minor leaguers, including perhaps Henry Owens, a 6-foot-6 left-hander whom SXM radio host Grant Paulsen projects as a potential call-up this season. In two seasons of pro ball, Owens is 23-11 with 299 strikeouts in 236 innings.

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Squibbers: My son Mat informed me that an hour of ice time at Fenway Park costs $7,500. OK, so 18 guys get together and decide to drop the puck in the shadow of the Green Monster, that’s $416 apiece. Goalies skate for free, gotta give Ed Sulda and Todd Boynton a break between the pipes. ... The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported that Miami QB Ryan Tannehill’s wife Lauren left an AR-15 in the back of a Nissan Rogue when she dropped it off at the rental agency this week. The next person to rent the car turned it in, and police said she hadn’t not violated any laws. That’s hard to do in the Sunshine State, violate gun laws. ... Yale beat Harvard, 5-1, in front of 15,524 fans at Madison Square Garden last Saturday, the 239th meeting of the teams. ... The biggest non-story of 2013 was Sports Illustrated’s expose that Oklahoma State’s football recruits were enticed by sex, drugs and money. No kidding, really?

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