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Perfect for the job

After scandal, Greener returns Walpole’s focus to football

Coach Barry Greener and the Walpole High School football team. (Stan Grossfeld / Globe Staff) Coach Barry Greener and the Walpole High School football team.
By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / November 6, 2009

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WALPOLE - The coach who led them to a Super Bowl victory last year is in jail after pleading guilty to statutory rape. The star quarterback transferred to a prep school. Thirty-seven seniors graduated, including the entire offensive line and secondary. And the team captain - who could finish as the leading scorer in Massachusetts history - injured his shoulder playing lacrosse in the summer and then his ankle this season.

So how are the Walpole Rebels 8-0?

“They picked the right guy,’’ said Millis football coach Dale Olmsted, referring to new Walpole coach Barry Greener. “I live in the community and he’s well respected. I think he’s a perfect fit for the job. You’re talking about a guy that has dedicated the last [37] years to the program.’’

Greener arrived in Walpole 1972 as an assistant coach. Short in size and humble in stature, he’s 61 years old and still at his University of Maine wrestling weight of 162 pounds. He lives in a remote part of North Walpole, where he listens to the coyotes howling at night and not the critics.

He’s a middle school gym teacher who has successfully steered his team away from the scandal that rocked this town last December when coach Danny Villa, a former New England Patriot, resigned amid allegations of inappropriate conduct with a 15-year-old student-athlete.

“I cocoon myself,’’ said Greener, smiling broadly, denying he has seen any of the anti-Villa venom posted on the Internet. “See, I’m a non-computer guy. You send me an e-mail. I send back a reply with one finger, no capitals. No punctuation. Facebook, I couldn’t even define it for you. Twitter, I don’t even know what that is. I can’t even text in my phone.’’

Greener was shocked on that December 2008 day not long after the team’s Division 2 Super Bowl victory when some college scouts recruiting Walpole players came to see Villa, but he had mysteriously disappeared.

“I thought that Danny’s father was sick in Arizona and he was headed home to the Nogales area,’’ said Greener. “I said, ‘Geez, I hope Danny’s father is OK.’ ’’

Greener soon discovered that Villa was being sought by police in Arizona after the girl’s father discovered more than 500 text messages from Villa on her phone.

“Didn’t have a clue,’’ he said. “No. None. Zero. Nothing. I got blindsided.’’

Villa, now 45, surrendered to Arizona police, was arrested and returned to Massachusetts. He pleaded not guilty, but changed his mind because he said he did not want the girl or her family to be further victimized.

At his sentencing in Norfolk Superior Court in late August, a tearful Villa repeatedly apologized to the victim and her family and his family. He also had a message for his championship team: “I know you placed your trust in me and I am sorry that I let you down. I want the kids I coached to take from this situation that with every decision that one makes - good or bad - one must pay the consequences for those decisions. I am paying the consequences today for bad decisions that I have made. I am thirsty for a clean conscience.’’

‘I don’t think of him at all’
Villa received a two-year sentence and seven years probation. The former NFL lineman, who spent half of his 12-year career with the Patriots, must register as a sex offender and is banned from working with children under age 16. He could be eligible for parole in August, according to his attorney, Heather Baer. Villa declined requests for an interview, and a letter sent to him was unanswered.

Villa began his sentence at the Dedham House of Correction but was soon transferred to the Barnstable County Correctional Facility because of concerns for his safety, according to a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the case.

Villa is vilified in Walpole, and his former players have nothing to say about him.

“I don’t think of him at all,’’ said running back Ryan Izzo, the scoring leader. “He did something bad. His name never gets mentioned, unless someone’s joking around.’’

After Villa’s conviction, Greener didn’t say a word to the team about the situation.

“I didn’t tell ’em anything,’’ Greener said. “I just didn’t think it was necessary. I said, ‘Well, it’s just time to move on.’ For me to play it up big would have been counterproductive. It wasn’t an issue. He was gone and it was time to move on.’’

Dan Romaine, whose son Nick is a senior middle linebacker, agreed.

“That’s all behind us,’’ he said on an October Saturday afternoon at Turco Field as Walpole faced Brookline. “Nobody talks about it. They are focusing on the football season and getting into colleges. We’re not going to let the actions of one person bring them down.’’

As for Greener, “The boys like him,’’ said Romaine.

Greener motivates the players by treating them with respect. He teaches, he doesn’t yell. “I tell them tradition doesn’t graduate, that they are the caretakers of the program,’’ said Greener, a reference to the team’s 20 league championships and seven Super Bowl victories.

Reflecting on a scandal
Walpole has made 12 Super Bowl appearances, and Greener was involved in each one.

He left the program briefly in the early 1980s to become the head coach at Dover-Sherborn High School, but he remained at the school as a history teacher. After a two-year stint, he returned to the Walpole team to serve as both offensive and defensive coordinator. He also coached wrestling.

Villa, who also served as athletic director, had taken his team to two consecutive Division 2 Super Bowls and went undefeated last season.

“I’ve talked to him twice since, but we don’t go there,’’ said Greener. “He called at the beginning of the season and wished us luck. He said, ‘Go get ’em’ and stuff like that. He was very, very gracious. It was all football talk, but I know he feels lousy. I could detect it in his voice. He had a great family, his kids loved him. He had a great marriage. It just went poof.’’

Speaking about the scandal in depth for the first time, Greener said, “There’s two families that got screwed here. The Villa family and the family of the victim.’’

He said Villa was “a phenomenal coach,’’ who is paying dearly for “a serious mistake.’’

He paused, then chose his words carefully.

“I certainly don’t condone it,’’ he cautioned. “But it doesn’t mean that he’s a total 100 percent lousy guy, either. He’s got another side that’s good, but he had a bit of evil in him that he’s paying for.’’

Inside job all the way
In the aftermath of the scandal, Greener, who never sought the top job because he wanted to spend more time with his family, was chosen head coach.

“The kids, community, and staff didn’t want an outsider coming in,’’ said Greener. When Super Bowl quarterback Sonny Mastromatteo transferred to Cushing Academy, Greener named Peter Bowes, a tall, talented wide receiver, as QB.

“He hasn’t played a down at quarterback since he was a freshman,’’ said Greener, laughing out loud. “But he’s all we had that resembled a quarterback, and he’s been terrific.’’

On game day, Greener is predictably nervous. He’s surrounded by big, beefy assistant coaches, more coaches than any other team.

“Our Gridiron Club pays five of them. The town pays for seven. That’s why we do golf tournaments and all kinds of fund-raisers,’’ he says.

The self-deprecating Greener keeps steering the interview back to the other coaches. “I could go to Bermuda for the weekend and we’d still win the game,’’ he insisted.

After beating Brookline, 35-0, he told the Rebels to “forget about football for 48 hours.’’

But he never forgets to plug his supporting cast.

“The secret to this program is the coordinators, the position coaches,’’ he said. “I’m really the smallest factor in the bunch. All my coaches were four-year college players. We all played, most of us were MVPs or captains. We’ve been together for years. We are Danny Villa’s staff, that’s who we are.

“The only guy not here is Danny.’’

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.