Newburyport Clippers Football '07

Ben Laing, Staff Photographer

Captain of the ship

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Thursday, November, 01 By John Shimer
Staff writer

The Walt Whitman poem, "O Captain! My Captain!" draws comparisons to the way the football players of Newburyport High School have felt about their coaches for nearly a half century.

For the last 21 years, Ed Gaudiano has been at the helm of the Clippers ship, producing greatness along the way: four Super Bowl appearances, including victories in 1995 and 1997, and numerous Cape Ann titles.

However, come tonight against winless Ipswich, Gaudiano stands on the verge of eclipsing the pinnacle of Clipper lore. With a win, Gaudiano will reach 127 victories as the Clippers' coach, surpassing his predecessor and legendary coach Jim Stehlin as the school's all-time wins leader.

"Ed has made a profession here as a football coach over a good majority of his adult life and done very well for himself," said Stehlin on the passing of his long-time record. "Records are made to be broken, and Ed has put his time in there. It was something that I enjoyed, but what was most rewarding was the amount of players I got to work with over the years."

The journey was not an easy one. Gaudiano was hired in 1986 by a retiring Stehlin. Stehlin amassed an incredible career, going 126-64-3 (Gaudiano stand at 126-89), while winning two Super Bowls in three tries, eight CAL titles and having two impressive winning streaks of 20 and 38 games.

"He is the legend at Newburyport," said Gaudiano of his mentor. "During his tenure, he motivated kids at a tough time in the late '60s and early '70s, and brought the program up to prominence in the area."

Gaudiano's ability to always remain modest, not only about his own accomplishments but also his players' accomplishments, perhaps stands out as his greatest coaching strength.

"I don't like being in the limelight. If you compare me with Jim, I just hope to be half the coach he was," Gaudiano said. "I just try to work hard at what I do. We sell the kids on that same important message: 'If you work hard, you can solve your problems,' and it seems to have worked." Referred to as "an old-school man's man" by one former player and "a classy coach" by another player, Gaudiano has become a beloved figure among many former and current players.

"He is not a man who was easily impressed, which in turn brought out the best in his players," said Brett Bashaw, the third all-time leading rusher in Newburyport's history (1,839 yards) who played under Gaudiano from 1993-95. "He knew how to get the best out of his players because he never praised mediocrity, and his players loved him for that." Another endearing characteristic of his coaching style has been the fortitude to stick with his guys, the players he says are program builders.

"I have always tried to build program players, kids that have come up through our freshmen and JV programs, because they know our system and help the varsity," Gaudiano said. "Those kids may not necessarily have played in the youth programs, but they are athletes we think can develop through our system, and win with."

An example of one program player would be this year's star quarterback, Joe Clancy, who only a year ago went through a tough sophomore campaign.

"It would have been real easy for coach to abandon or give up on me after my Thanksgiving performance last year," said Clancy of the man he calls a life teacher and not just coach. "He worked with me all summer on the things it takes to be a great quarterback: being a leader, being vocal, taking pride in yourself, and your community.

"He just really works great with individuals and he has made not only myself, but also my brother and my other relatives that have played under him better people," Clancy said.

And when needed, Gaudiano is extremely gifted in delivering motivational speeches, often producing electric atmostpheres before the game, according to Bashaw.

"My senior year was very emotional because my mom was very sick, and so the night of our Ipswich game coach told the whole team about my mom's struggles," said Bashaw of the speech that touched his heart. "The message was that there is more to life. This woman had something taken away, but she continued to fight hard and that we needed to fight through life in that same manner.

"He then told us how we need to run through that tunnel for her, gave me the game ball to give to her, and off we went," said the tailback, who would eventually lead his team to Gaudiano's first Super Bowl championship later that season. "To pay tribute to her in that way my senior year really meant a lot to me personally, and that was the way Coach was my entire career. There could be a million football games going on that night, but he always made you feel like yours was the only one or the most important one."

The era of the user fees in high school sports in Newburyport has made it harder on the football program, according to Gaudiano. But there are other more important things to him than his legacy.

"Obviously, the years in the '90s were good years -- it was my 15 minutes of fame -- but those have come and gone," Gaudiano said of the glory days. "The best thing about my job is to come in and work with amazing kids, which is why I have lasted so long.

"We have a short-term memory here, though, and I am excited about this season," Gaudiano said of the 2007 prospects. "After a tough year last year, we once again have a shot to win the Cape Ann Small."

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