Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New era underway

Two and a half hours after Tom Williams stepped behind the microphone for the first time as Yale's new football coach, there were still interviews left to be done.

Needless to say, it was an intriguing day at Yale on Wednesday as Williams became the first black coach in Yale football history. More importantly, the 40-day saga of one prime candidate after another opting to stay put ended with the hiring of the 39-year-old Williams.

The Varsity Room on the second floor of the Ray Tompkins House was packed with media, Yale athletic department personnel, a couple of current Yale coaches and even a future Yalie in Hopkins quarterback John Powers.

I understand why Williams interviewed well after watching him work the room during the press conference. He certainly does not lack in charisma, that's for sure.

Williams understands the task ahead of him and what would constitute a successful tenure as Yale's 33rd head coach.

"Let me state my goals for the program so there is no question where we are headed. The first goal we will have every year is to win an Ivy League championship, secondly we are going to beat Harvard. We have to turn The Game back into a rivalry, it's been a little one-sided these last few years. A rivalry is only a rivarly when there is some give and take and in the last few years there have been too much take. Those are all the goals that we need. A pretty short list."

Williams said he planned to meet with the current Yale assistant coaches in the "next 24 hours" to determine their fate. To me, this is the toughest part of the process. I spoke to Duane Brooks and Larry Ciotti today and they said pretty much the same things that Rick Flanders and Tony Reno did when I talked to them previously. Basically it is out of their hands, they all want to remain at Yale but whether they do or not, that is not their call.

"It's the nature of the profession," Ciotti said. "People outside of football look at it at and say 'oh my goodness, some may have been there and it is the nature of the profession. Hyman Roth said in Godfather 'Michael, it is the business we have chosen.'"

Both Williams and Yale's Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said that the process of notifying coaches that their services will no longer be required is the least enjoyable part of the process.

"I have seen this happen unfortunately more times than I would like to recall," Beckett said. "Coaching is a wonderful experience but this side of coaching is gut wrenching."

Williams plans to act quickly so the coaches know where they stand one way or another.

"That's as difficult a job as there is in this profession because I have been on that side too and I know what that feels like," Williams said. "What you try to do is be as professional as you can, try to be as prompt as you can so they can either move on or move on with you."

Since school is not in session, there were no current Yale players at the press conference. Hopkins quarterback John Powers, one of 13 players who have been admitted early to Yale, took in the proceedings.

"It was a turbulent time but at the same time it has been an exciting time for Yale football," said Powers, who projects as a safety in college. "I have done my homework, looked at his bios and it was nice having a snow day (at Hopkins) so I could come down here. He is an impressive candidate and an impressive person."

I made my way around the room to get people's opinion of Williams and the reports were encouraging (although I have never been at a coach hiring press conference where people say "what a terrible choice.") Word is Williams won over the Yale football players on the search committee and he considers communication his No. 1 attribute as a coach.

I thought it was interesting to hear that Williams received recruiting letters from Carm Cozza when he was a Texas high school football star.

"I got several letters from Coach Cozza in my closet back home in Texas. Going into my senior year I thought I was going to the Ivy Leagues to play football. My high school football coach after my first game senior year brought me a bucket of letters tha he was keeping and told me I had an opportunity to play at a higher level if I chose to. I did because I got a recruiting visit to Stanford, it was 70 degrees, Condaleeza Rice was one of the faculty members and a part of my recruitment. For me it made sense."

Williams' hiring came in the nick of time as Yale will welcome between 18-20 recruits to campus this weekend. Not having a coach in place would have made closing the deal on many of these recruits pretty difficult.

Williams was reluctant to state what kind of offense he was going to run but with the graduation of Yale's leading rusher and return of strong-armed quarterback Brook Hart, it seems likely that footballs will be flying at the Yale Bowl this fall.

"Here's what I don't want to do. I don't want to give our competitors a head start on studying. We will be multiple, it will be a fun and exciting brand of offense. It will be something that the players will enjoy going and obviously the goal is to score points. Defensively, they have been playing pretty good defense. Defense is a mindset, there are no bad scheme, all the X's and O's are good. It is all about fitting it into your personnel. I've evaluate our personnel and see it if continues to fit the guys we have and move forward or make a chance."

Yale's defensive line coach Duane Brooks said that McLeod, linebacker Bobby Abare and defensive linemen Kyle Hawari and Joe Hathaway are drawing interest from NFL scouts. Brooks said Yale hopes to host a "pro day" for NFL scouts in late March. Usually Yale schedules such combines within a day of UConn's "pro day" so scouts don't have to make two trips to Connecticut.

Another tidbit, converted quarterback Matt Kelleher is taking the spring semester off so he will have two more years of eligibility. Kelleher made an impact this season, his first as a defensive tackle. Tom McCarthy, the only returning starter on the interior of Yale's defensive line, is also considering taking the spring semester off either this year or next so he can receive an extra year of eligibility. McCarthy missed the entire 2006 season and could have two more years of eligiblity.

Yale is expected to name its captain (or at least announce it) in two weeks. While I don't have a vote, I would pick Paul Rice, who played cornerback in his first three seasons. With a new head coach, it's impossible to predict where the 225-pound Rice will line up next season but I think he would be absolutely incredible playing the same role Abare did the last couple of seasons. With the return of Adam Money and Drew Baldwin, Yale has enough depth at corner to allow Rice to change positions.

Speaking of Abare, he added two more awards to his growing collection


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had heard Reno was going to Harvard.

8:02 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Rice would be an excellent choice for captain, but so would two other outstanding juniors - John Sheffield and Larry Abare. Also, Rice is so versatile that he could probably replace McLeod at running back. It will be interesting to see where Williams puts him.
It would be too bad if they lose Reno before Williams has a chance to interview him. According to his bio, he lives in Sturbridge, so Harvard is probably attractive to him. Reno must be a very good coach, since he rose through the ranks very quickly.
Certainly, Coach Williams has a lot of work to do in a very short period of time.

11:54 AM 
Anonymous eli dad said...

Any word on the assistant coaches?

2:48 PM 

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