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Windsor coach shines in 'extended job interview'

The job posting for a new head football coach at the University of Windsor is there for anybody to see on the school's website, including current coach Joe D'Amore.

It is kind of odd considering D'Amore, in his first season as the Lancers "interim" head coach, has done what has to be considered an exemplary job: turning around a squad that went 2-6 a year ago, helping make it one of the surprise playoff contenders this season in Ontario University Athletics.

It is sure to make him a front-runner for division coach of the year honours, a plaque that would look nice hanging on his office wall at the university, should he still have an office at the university next season.

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So far there's been no guarantees D'Amore, 35, will be invited back.

"I hope it's all been enough for me to get the opportunity to continue and take that interim tag off," D'Amore said Friday. "That's out of my hands right now."

Of a more immediate concern to D'Amore is getting his Lancers prepared for Saturday's OUA semi-final game against perennial powerhouse Western Ontario Mustangs at TD Waterhouse Stadium in London.

The Mustangs went 7-1 this season and are ranked No. 3 in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, while the upstart Lancers, fresh from a 50-33 upset victory over the Ottawa Gee-Gees last weekend in quarter-final play, received just 18 votes in the weekly poll and could not crack the top 10.

The playoff victory was Windsor's first since 2003. The Lancers posted a regular-season record of 5-3. "And we were very close at going 7-1," D'Amore said. "We lost two games by a total of four points."

No matter what happens Saturday, it has been a satisfying journey for D'Amore, who was a Lancers wide receiver from 1996 to 2000.

From there, D'Amore's love of the game took him to Munich for a couple of years to play for the Fursty Razorbacks in a German semi-pro league. After which there was a stint in the Arena Football League with the Carolina Rhinos (although he never made it off the practice roster before being cut).

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D'Amore returned home to Windsor, Ont., where he worked in the automotive sector for about six years while coaching football at the amateur level.

For the 2010 OUA season, D'Amore was added to the Lancers coaching staff of Mike Morencie as the recruiting co-ordinator and receivers coach.

Morencie was let go following the season, and a university job search for his replacement dragged on until the administration finally approached D'Amore in April, asking if he would consider coaching on an interim basis for one year.

"I said to them I would do that as long as I had an opportunity to earn the job [full time] and they agreed," D'Amore said. "Rather than look at it as a one-year gig, I looked at it as an extended job interview."

Windsor athletic director Dave Grace said D'Amore's work this year will make him a leading candidate for the full-time position.

"I think Joe has shown his goods here, that's for sure," Grace said.

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Grace said he hopes to make a formal announcement on the new head coach by early December. That way, he added coyly, it won't detract from the Lancers' trip to play in the Vanier Cup national championship in Vancouver at the end of November.

Windsor's success Saturday will hinge largely on the throwing arm of second-year quarterback Austin Kennedy, who earned CIS offensive player of the week honours after his performance against the Gee-Gees (25 of 34 for 429 yards and five touchdowns). Kennedy also rushed for a team-high 86 yards and a touchdown.

"We're going to need him to continue to play that way," D'Amore said.

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