Keeping Score: Afterthoughts on the aftershock

Friday, April 07, 2017

Good morning!

Now that the dust has settled it’s time to compare Matt McCall and Pat Kelsey, the coach who came and the coach who walked away.

The UMass basketball program has had eight winning seasons, and eight losing seasons and one .500 season since 2000-01. The 41-year-old Kelsey would’ve changed that culture of mediocrity if he wasn’t a late scratch with 35 minutes to post.

He won 102 games in five seasons at Winthrop University and had coached the Eagles to back-to-back conference titles. “He’s gonna rock it at UMass,” Winthrop beat writer Bret McCormick predicted before Kelsey’s change of heart.

He was more than the sum of his parts at Winthrop. He grew up a hoops junkie in Cincinnati and led Elder High School to the state championship. He played at Wyoming and transferred to Xavier where he captained coach Skip Prosser’s Musketeers to the A-10 title in 1998.

He was a Prosser disciple, reveling in his ability to quote Emerson and think beyond the court. He followed him to Wake Forest and helped recruit teams that made it to four consecutive NCAA tournaments.

Pat Kelsey was living the dream until that summer day in 2007 when his 56-year-old mentor collapsed and died in his office. ESPN reported that Kelsey saw the medics zapping Prosser’s chest and jumped in the ambulance, frantically pushing buttons and horns until an EMT touched his sleeve. “It was too late,” Kelsey realized.

“He still references Prosser in 86 percent of his public interviews,” said McCormick. “He has a bottomless barrel of quips borrowed from Prosser.”

Kelsey’s challenge at UMass would’ve been to rein in a talented but inconsistent team of free spirits and egos. “He’s ambitious, passionate, a great quote. And he’s connected,” said McCormick. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s at UMass shorter than he was at Winthrop.”

That was an understatement.

Less than a week after Kelsey backed out for “personal reasons” Bamford hired Matt McCall. At the podium, Bamford was the waiter who’d promised steak but delivered hamburger— the McWho.

McCall’s head coaching experience is composed of two years and 66 games at the University of Tennessee at Chattanoga. “Process driven, that really resonated with us,” said Bamford.

Say again?

The 35-year-old Ocala, Fla., native attended the University of Florida but wasn’t on the team.

Those who cannot play carry clipboards, and McCall was a student manager and team manager for coach Billy Donovan while Kelsey was out recruiting at Wake Forest.

He was Mike Jarvis’ assistant at Florida Atlantic when the Owls were 44-52, and he returned to Gainesville as Donovan’s full-fledged assistant for four years. A report on gatorsports.com said he made $165,000 in 2013.

McCall has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. The stars were aligned in 2015 when UTC’s Will Wade hopscotched over to VCU and McCall landed his first head coaching gig. He smiled at the media and said, “I’m a big fan of the shrimp and grits.”

The Mocs had returned most of their players from the previous year under Wade when they were 22-10. McCall rolled out the ball and let ‘em play an up-tempo style coined as “McCall Ball.” The Mocs ran off a 29-6 record and a trip to the NCAAs where they lost by 25 to Indiana. He was rewarded with a $52,000 bonus on top of his $180,000 salary, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This year’s Mocs were 19-12 and finished fourth in the Southern Conference. They lost their last five games to the likes of Mercer and Samford and bid adieu to five departing seniors.

McCall was in Florida when he got word to board a redeye for Boston. He arrived at 1:30 a.m., met Bamford in a Boston hotel at 9 a.m. and drove the Mass. Pike to visit the campus. “I figured they weren’t going to have me come to Amherst if they weren’t going to offer me the job,” he told his hometown newspaper in Ocala.

The Times Free Press reported that McCall used Skype to notify his players that he was moving on. He signed for $750,000 a year, $50,000 less than Kelsey.

He was introduced at the Champions Center where he talked about winning championships. He was bright, ebullient, energetic and most of all happy.

Indeed, he looked like a guy who’d just hit the lottery.

On a cool, cloudy afternoon 40 years ago yesterday at Fenway Park, the Red Sox lost their Opening Day tilt to the Cleveland Indians, 5-4, in 11 innings. The losing pitcher was Bill Campbell, Boston’s first big-money free agent.

Campbell had appeared in 78 games for the Twins in 1976, had a 17-5 record and made $23,000 according to baseball-reference.com.

The Red Sox signed him to a five-year contract worth $1 million and bumped bleacher seats from $1.50 to $2. Not everyone was happy. In center field, a young law student from Allston unfurled a banner that read, “SELL CAMPBELL BRING BACK $1.50 BLEACHERS.”

The signage was the work of Greenfield native Steve Kramer. “The bleacher tickets went up and he blew the game that day,” said Kramer. “He came in and took the loss in 11 innings. It was all over the Herald and Globe. He was a good sport. I read in the paper he wanted a photo but there weren’t any so I went to his hotel and gave him the sign.”

The story still makes the rounds. In 2008, the Globe’s Bob Ryan wrote that Kramer didn’t bring the sign until the day after the blown save. “Bill Campbell, the ballyhooed offseason free agent signee had blown his first save opportunity on Opening Day to the Indians, and the next day someone held the following sign.”

“Absolutely wrong,” said Kramer. “I'm no Monday morning quarterback. It was up on Opening Day before he had even touched the mound.”

Unlike a lot of free agents who flamed out after getting the big bucks, Campbell earned his money. He pitched 140 innings in 1977 and was 13-9 with a league-leading 31 saves.

“He was a terrific guy and a Vietnam Vet,” said Kramer. “I saw him at Fantasy Camp in 1998. They brought him in to pitch to me and he threw one behind my head, I guess that made us even.”

Former Major League Soccer executive Will Kuntz will be at Williams College on Thursday to speak at the 28th annual Frank Deford Award Ceremony.

Kuntz worked for Yankees GM Brian Cashman and is currently with the MLS expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

His talk will focus on decision making. “Twice he went with his heart and twice people said he was crazy,” said Williams Sports Information Director Dick Quinn. “Both times he hit the bullseye.”

Admission is free and the event will start at 7 p.m. in Lecture Room 3 at Griffin Hall. Look for the gold-domed building on campus and park behind the chapel. 

A Big Bad Bruin from the days of Orr died at his home in Lynnfield last month. Defenseman Gary Doak won the Seventh Player Award in 1976-77. He played 789 games in the NHL and was a classic stay-at-home defenseman, scoring 23 goals and racking up 908 penalty minutes. His son Ryan played at Northfield Mount Hermon School, where according to the Boston Globe obit, Doakie jokingly told his son “to keep your stick up.”

Bernardston’s Doug Weiss and his father Bob are bound for Slovakia, the site of this year’s Under-18 World Hockey Championships. “These towns we typically go to, we see the real people, not a lot of tourists,” said Doug, who is Team USA’s doctor. “We see normal people going to work and about their business, which is kinda nice.”

Greenfield’s Glenn Brown has been a UMass season ticket holder since 1984 and he disputes Bob Diamond’s recollection in last week’s column that Lou Roe stood on the scorer’s table after John Calipari’s team beat UConn. “It happened during the (Steve) Lappas era. Rashaun Freeman jumped on the scorer’s table while we were beating UConn with time still on the clock.”

SQUIBBERS: The University of North Dakota dropped women’s hockey this week to shave $1.3 million off the budget. The University of Buffalo also dropped four sports programs this week. The Fighting Hawks men’s hockey team averaged 11,505 fans at Englestad Arena, but the women’s team averaged only 808 fans. … The Double-A Hartford Yard Goats open the season at Dunkin’ Donuts Park this week against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, managed by former Red Sox catcher Gary Allenson. The new 6,000-seat stadium is located on Main Street about a mile off I-91. Tickets range between $12 and $19. … Leave it to shortstop Ronald Torreyes to hit the Yankees’ first home run of the season, only his second dinger in 164 career at-bats. … ESPN’s 30-for-30 airs “One and Not Done” on Thursday about John Calipari.  The show is required viewing for UMass coach Matt McCall, who might want to gather the team around a bowl of popcorn to see a lesson in do’s and don’ts. … Workhorse John Lackey is closing in on his 50th decision since being traded from Boston to the NL in 2014. Lackey beat the Cards on Thursday and is 28-21 in the Senior Circuit. … Monday’s opener at Fenway Park was 1,335 seats short of a sellout. The Dodgers had the biggest Opening Day crowd (53,701), Houston vs. Seattle was the shortest nine-inning game (2:27) and Cubs-Cards was the longest (3:33). … This year’s Masters champion will win $1.8 million. Hale Irwin won three U.S. Open titles but never came closer than fourth in the Masters. He said the pressure was unbearable: “You start to choke when you drive through the front gate.”

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.