Keeping Score: Bamford spares the coach

Friday, December 08, 2017

Good morning!

Perhaps it was the holiday spirit that kept UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford from firing football coach Mark Whipple after last week’s 63-45 loss to FIU in Miami.

Bamford could’ve swung his terrible swift sword at Whipple just as he’d axed hockey coach John Micheletto and basketball coach Derek Kellogg.

More than a dozen FBS coaches were fired this season — including at Florida, UCLA, Tennessee and Nebraska — early dismissals that cost millions in buyouts.

If Bill Parcells is correct saying that you are what your record says you are, then Whipple isn’t very good. He’s popular, the fans like him, he’s an offensive genius and even a good golfer, but his four-year record at UMass is 12-36.

Does anybody care? During the Old Dominion game one fan walked behind the UMass bench holding a “Whipple Out” sign, a solitary protest against an aura of indifference.

In August, The Boston Globe ran an article by Bradley Polumbo, a UMass student whose in-state tuition had risen $500. Polumbo wrote that students were shouldering the burden of wasteful spending, and noted that over 75 percent (a whopping $28 million) of the 2015 athletics budget was state subsidized.

Not all of it was for football, but even a losing program has to pay for recruiting, travel and payroll.

Attendance was down 22,187, plunging UMass closer to the bottom in the 128-team FBS. Despite the 0-6 start, the small crowds weren’t all on Whipple. The the whole setup was off-kilter. Fans on the loop now paid $10 to park, season-ticket holders had to arrive four hours before kickoff on band day, and the hip hop music was a turnoff for the fans who listen to “Chatahootchie” and “Casanova Cowboy” in the pickup truck.

The band had to play with its back to the UMass side of the field to entertain the bigwigs in the press box, now called the “Martin and Richard Jacobson Football Press and Skybox Complex.”

Whipple came to Amherst four years ago saying he’d “bring back the jewelry” but returned from Miami holding the kumquats. “Looks like we came down here for a vacation,” he had griped to a sideline reporter at halftime.

In the radio booth afterward, Josh Maurer and Pete Brock tried crowing about the team’s 4-8 record. It’s their best-ever in the FBS they said, but their tone inferred if wasn’t much to be proud of.

This week, Whipple told the Gazette’s Matt Vautour he was working on improving the team. “The response we’ve gotten in recruiting really speaks volumes where we’re headed,” he said.

Boasting about incoming players is the last vestige of a losing program. Toot Cahoon survived six straight losing seasons on tomorrow’s talent, and three of the five recruits from Derek Kellogg’s acclaimed recruiting class from two years ago are gone, as is Kellogg.

Four years is enough time to know the truth. Whipple’s misdirection play is an end-around, and Bamford’s carrying the ball.

HOT STOVE NEWS: Steve Phillips speculated that the Houston Astros lost out on Shohei Ohtani by trading Nori Aoki to Toronto. “If you trade a Japanese player or if you send them down to the minor leagues, they take it as an insult,” said the former Mets general manager. “Back in the day, and Bobby Valentine warned me, I traded Tsuyoshi Shinjo to the Giants. He told the newspapers, ‘I will make it my life challenge to slay the New York Mets every opportunity I have for the rest of my career.’” … Phillips added that new Marlins owner Derek Jeter’s not getting rave reviews from his peers. “He doesn’t know anything about owning a team. He’s not prepared for that. It doesn’t appear he has a really good plan about how they’re going to get better.”

Tyrod Taylor’s turnover at the goal line against the Patriots on Sunday was the sort of morale-crushing blunder that must’ve prompted Bills’ coach Sean McDermott to use Nathan Peterman two weeks ago.

The Bills had gone 66 yards in 11 plays and were first-and-goal when Taylor coughed it up. Peterman was a disaster in his start against the Chargers, but McDermott can’t be faulted for trying the young rookie from Pitt.

Tony Romo chuckled after Joe Webb threw his first pass of the season and barely missed a wide open target at the Pats’ 10 yard line. “You know what? When you only throw one ball (all season), it’s hard to be perfectly accurate on a 30-yarder.”

Romo gets a solid “B” for his first year with play-by-play voice Jim Nantz, who gets an “A” for not strangling the Chatty Cathy of NFL announcers.

Tom Brady called it “just football” but CBS’s Boomer Esiason said it was Josh McDaniels’ critique of Brady’s previous pass that set him off. “Josh McDaniels is basically saying, ‘Hey, look man, the guy is wide open just hit him over the middle,’ and the fact that you can say that to Tom Brady right in the middle of a game is why you’re gonna get that reaction.”

Heritage Auctions’ full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times included the current bid for Derek Jeter’s scouting report.

Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions told ESPN: “It’s just a one-of-a-kind item like when we sold Curt Schilling’s bloody sock (for $92,613.)”

The scouting report filed by Dick Groch on April 8, 1992, summarized: “A Yankee! A five tool player will be a ML All Star.” Bidding opened at $12,500 and had reached $50,000, but framed copies of the report are selling on Amazon for $119 plus shipping.

Why is next year’s Harvard-Yale game being played at Fenway Park? Harvard Stadium is a 117-year-old landmark that is one of just four sporting arenas designated a National Historic Landmark. The easy drive, ample parking and outstanding sightlines can’t be matched.

The Fenway Park marketing department is selling Fenway as a go-to venue, but the Gridiron Series bombed at the box office. It was built for baseball, and any other sport is trespassing.

The game will draw well at America’s most beloved marketing venue, but fans will be wishing they were across the river in the horseshoe.

UNH and Boston College are New England’s two teams standing. The Wildcats are in Brookings, S.D., today to play South Dakota State (10-2) in the FCS quarterfinals (ESPN3 at 3 p.m.). Last week, UNH forced four turnovers to upset Central Arkansas, 21-15. They’ll be underdogs again today against the No. 6 Jackrabbits, who’ve won six straight games.

The Eagles got off the canvas after three straight losses to Notre Dame, Clemson and Wake Forest by a combined 80 points. They won five of their last six games to finish 7-5 and will be a three-point underdog against Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 27.

SQUIBBERS: Yankees slugger Aaron Judge got 10 write-in votes to be the mayor of New York. …  Stay-at-home defenseman John Richardson is denying reports he’ll be the new Greenfield skating rink manager.  … The Red Sox outrighted Henry Owens this week following his disastrous stint in the Arizona Fall League. A strikeout artist with control issues, Owens gave up 24 hits and 13 walks in 21 innings. The 6-foot-6 southpaw was the 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft and is said to be on the Tigers’ radar. … Trey Ball is another Red Sox first rounder who’s eligible for next week’s Rule 5 draft. The seventh overall pick in 2013, Ball was 29-42 with a 4.67 ERA in five years on the farm. …  New Mexico State is headed to its first bowl game since 1960. The Aggies play Utah State in the Arizona Bowl in Tuscon on Dec. 29. KVIA-TV reported 2,200 ticket sales in two days, which is good by Las Cruces standards. … Crime writer Michael Connelly dedicated his 2016 book “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” to Vin Scully. “With many thanks,” he wrote. … Felger & Mazz put the over/under on Alex Cora at 18 months. “A season-and-a-half,” said Michael Felger. … The upside of watching UMass football is seeing outstanding talent like Nathan Rourke, the Ohio quarterback who rushed for the third-most touchdowns (22) in the FBS, including a 17-yard run in Amherst. … “God gets you to the plate,” said Ted Williams, “but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.