Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Calm before the storm

For those wondering why there haven't been updates on this blog regarding the search for a new Yale football coach in the last few days, I took the opportunity to head out of state to visit with my sister and her family without my computer, tape recorder, notebook.Now that I am back in Connecticut, I hope to start providing some info. I know this is a key recruiting time but with so many people away for the holidays, I'd say this is kind of a dead time in terms of identifying candidates and bringing them in for interviews.

My colleague Chip Malafronte did some digging with his Yale sources while I was away and came up with an interesting list of candidates

I know Dick Jauron is somebody who would be warmly received by many alumni, I question whether he would be an ideal fit. It's not just that he will turn 62 in the middle of next season (although that does make one wonder how many years he would stay at Yale if he got the gig) but he is an NFL coaching lifer who has never coached at the college level. Certainly playing for  guy who has spent part of 10 season as a head coach in the NFL would be appealing to recruits, it would surprise me if he opted to leave his job as the defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns to take over at Yale.

Bob Shoop was a name I heard as a possible candidate during the Yale/Harvard week. He has the basic qualifications I would think the committee would be looking for (previous head coaching experience, ties to Yale and/or the Ivy League). The defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt seems to be in a great spot right now but the former receiver on the Kelly Ryan-led Yale squads of the late 1980s is somebody to keep an eye on. I know he was just 7-23 in his stint as Columbia's head coach but I doubt too many people could have won games at Columbia during the time he was there.

The next two names (Brian Polian and Pat Graham) certainly have bright futures in coaching. Polian would concern me because he has not only never been a head coach but hasn't been an offensive or defensive coordinator either. Graham, just 32, would probably benefit from more seasoning before taking over a college program.

I would be shocked if former New Haven coach Tony Sparano has any interest in the Yale job. I think it is more likely he lands on his feet as an NFL assistant after getting let go as the Miami Dolphins head coach recently.

Now for some of my thoughts on other candidates.

Don Brown was a serious candidate back in 2008 before leveraging Yale's interest into a pay raise as the head coach at UMass. He then headed to Maryland as the defensive coordinator for two seasons before taking the same job at UConn. He certainly is qualified for the job with three head coaching stints in the Northeast. Brown was Yale's defensive coordinator from 1987-92 under Carm Cozza, whose input will be sought out during this process. Will he leave UConn after one season to take the job (if offered it) that he passed on in 2008? That remains to be seen. If he did, Yale would be his fourth job in five years so I'm not sure he is bringing the kind of stability Yale is looking for.

New Haven coach Peter Rossomando, who I've heard is interested in the job, is a pretty interesting candidate. He has done a remarkable job turning the once dormant New Haven program back into a national power. I know people will say his experiences as a scholarship Division II school may be a case of apples and oranges going into a situation where he'd have to recruit from such a small player pool but Rossomando is an outstanding coach that I think Yale should give serious consideration to during this process.

A name I am just throwing out there because I think Yale would be wise to get a gauge of his interest is South Florida assistant coach and New Haven native Vernon Hargreaves. Although he has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator or head coach, Hargreaves can count NFL stars Jon Beason, D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma as pupils of his during his eight seasons as the linebackers coach at Miami.

Another person with Connecticut ties who I would think the people at Yale should at least send out feelers to is Iowa assistant coach Ken O'Keefe. The Milford native began his coaching career at the University of New Haven in 1976-77. He has been Iowa's offensive coordinator for the last 12 seasons.

The name of Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore was a prominent one early on in the search for Jack Siedlecki's replacement three years ago before he removed himself from consideration. His name is always a popular one when an Ivy League job becomes available because of his time as a standout lineman and former Ivy League MVP during his playing days at Penn. I'm not sure of his interest level. I will put Hargreaves, O'Keefe and Gilmore on the backburner list until I get a sense that either they or Yale have an interest in the opening.

Naturally staff members on other Ivy League teams could emerge as candidates. Former Yale assistant coaches Joel Lamb and Tony Reno have been extremely successful at Harvard and I know some people who read this blog have thrown their names out there.

I would expect candidates to be brought in for interviews in early January and for Yale to move very quickly once that part of the process is underway. When this happened in 2008, the search began in late November. They are a full month behind in 2011 and will need to move quickly in order to minimize the recruiting impact.

As for what the new coach is walking into, Yale has a pretty solid nucleus of returning players especially on offense even with the graduation of record-setting quarterback Patrick Witt, leading rusher Alex Thomas and starting guards Gabe Fernandez and Colin Kruger. John Whitelaw is an untested but athletic quarterback who got some time working with the first unit during practice last season. He isn't blessed with as strong of an arm as Witt but will make more plays with his feet. Mordecai Cargill should be the go-to back next season although Kahlil Keys was a highly-touted freshman would likely would have received some varsity carries had he not missed all of last season due to injury. With the return of Chris Smith, Deon Randall, Cameron Sandquist, Allen Harris, Jackson Ligouri and others, Yale may have the deepest set of receivers in the league. Yale also returns nearly all of its tight ends, h-backs and fullbacks. James Talerico, who saw time at both tackle and guard last season, figures to be a top candidate to fill one of the starting guard spots. With three tackles returning who started games last season (Roy Collins, Wes Gavin and Ben Carbery) it would not surprise me if the new staff chose to move one of them inside (the extremely athletic Collins would be my choice) to compete for a starting guard spot.

It is on defense where I think the new coach will have his work cut out for him with five of the top seven tacklers off a team which struggled at times a season ago. No position will be hit harder by graduation than the front four as defensive tackles Jake Stoller, Reed Spiller and Pat Moran as well as defensive ends Matt Battaglia, Austin Pulsipher and Cliff Foreman are leaving. Defensive end seems to be in a little better situation with Allen Davis and E.J. Conway returning. There are some talented young defensive ends but it will be interesting to see which defensive tackles step up to join Chris Dooley in the rotation.

Replacing Jordan Haynes, Yale's top tackler the last two season, at linebacker as well as Drew Badwin and Geoff Dunham, three-year starters in the secondary won't be easy. Yale does seem to have options at those positions. Team captain Will McHale will be one of the best players in the Ivy League next season and a potential starting linebacking corps of McHale, Brian Leffler and Will Vaughan could be the most athletic group the Bulldogs have had in a while. A bunch of guys saw time at the corner position next to Baldwin (although that isn't necessarily a good thing considering how many big plays Yale gave up in the passing game). Kurt Stottlemyer and Collin Bibb drew starting assignments last season as juniors and I wouldn't be surprised to see them head into the spring as the starting corners although Yale brought in a bunch of talented DB recruits in the last two seasons. At safety, special-teams star John Powers could be ready to become a starter. Nick Okano, a starter as a sophomore, could emerge as the leader of the secondary as a junior.

It's going to be an interesting period for a Yale team with the potential to compete for an Ivy League title but also with enough question marks that if a new coach doesn't get the chance to hit the ground running, a second-division finish is also a realistic possibility.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's next for Yale?

When Jack Siedlecki "retired" in 2008, Yale still had time to go through the process, hire a coach and bring in a pretty solid recruiting class. Of course the process of finding Siedlecki's replacement began in late November. However, with the news that Tom Williams resigned on Wednesday puts the Yale program in a tough spot. This time it is late December and if the Yale administration doesn't act fast it could have some negative ramifications towards recruiting.

"We would like obviously to try and do this early, that is our top priority," Yale director of athletics Tom Beckett said. "We want to get as much feedback as we possibly can from all of our stakeholders in all of this I don't have a time line that I would want to identify at this point."

I asked Beckett if they are looking for somebody with previous head coaching experience as well as somebody with ties with the Ivy League and he said that is still to be determined.

"We are going to meeting with the committee, interested parties affiliated with Yale football in particular our student-athletes, members of the faculty, leaders of the institution, our alums," Beckett said. "We are going to be doing a very thorough analysis of that very question and at this point, I know we are looking at a tough timeline here with the recruiting issues staring at us in the face but we want to be thorough, we want to do our best to identify all of the priorities associated with the leadership of Yale football. There is a great pride and tradition associated with Yale football and we are confident that our search will help us to identify some outstanding candidates."

Beckett said that Williams' entire staff is remaining in place - for the time being. Beckett said he would be meeting with the staff today. When this happened in 2008, the assistant coaches took on additional responsibilities without a head coach in place with Tony Reno taking the lead in recruiting. Beckett said those decisions have yet to be made. In my opinion since he already has the title of recruiting coordinator, I would expect to see Kyle Metzler fill the same role that Reno did back in 2008.

"The members of the staff are working to help us in all aspects of the program, in particular the focus right now is communicating with the students and also their focus is on helping to recruit this class and they are continuing with those efforts," Beckett said.

"We are going to be talking to the staff later here and as we go through that process, we will be making those kinds of decisions and talking to everybody about what their roles will be."

I asked Beckett if the university will be changing the way they conduct background checks on applicants since Williams claims of being a Rhodes Scholarship candidate as well as a member of the San Francisco 49ers practice squad resulted in an internal investigation and ultimately the end of his tenure with the Bulldogs. However, Beckett said he could not comment on that.

One thing that surprised me is that the Yale players were apparently informed of Williams' decision after I was. One player said he found out about Williams by reading this blog and received a generic e-mail later in the morning. I also spoke to a player being recruited by Yale and he said the only coach he heard from in the last couple of days about the situation at Yale came from a member of the Brown staff. That's a pretty poor job, if you ask me.

Also, Yale's investigation into Williams' background is now considered closed.

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Tom Williams resigns

Tom Williams resigned as Yale's football coach on Wednesday.

Williams, who was hired back in 2008 off the staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars to replace Jack Siedlecki, had his claims of being a Rhodes Scholarship candidate investigated by Yale. Although the investigation results were never made public, Williams decided to step down and the resignation is effective on Dec. 31.

“I wish to clear the record,” Williams said in a statement. “On the Rhodes Scholarship issue, I was encouraged to apply by the Stanford Fellowship office, which identified me ‘as the kind of student who demonstrates the intellect, energy and commitment that the Rhodes selection committees seek in their applicants.’ I considered the opportunity, sought advice and was encouraged to apply by faculty members and my coach Bill Walsh, but I did not apply.”

“During the spring of my senior year, I was given an opportunity to attend a tryout camp with the San Francisco 49ers, and I participated in that three-day event. I did not sign a free agent contract with the 49ers or participate in their summer training camp for signed players.”

“I am extremely proud of my academic, athletic and coaching career. If there was confusion created, I take full responsibility. The timing of this inquiry has been difficult for everyone. At this point I believe it is in the best interest of my student-athletes and Yale University that I step down.”

Williams was quoted on multiple occasions, including by the Register, about his experience as a Rhodes Scholarship candidate when he was a senior at Stanford while Yale senior quarterback Patrick Witt went through the process. Witt eventually became a Rhodes finalist but chose not to attend the final interview because it conflicted with the season-ending game agaiinst Harvard. The New York Times had the Rhodes Trust check their records and they had no application from a person with the name Thomas Williams during the period when he was eligible to apply. Speaking two days before the Harvard game, Williams said it was just a misrepresentation and he was in contact with the people at Stanford to back up his claims.

“I was talking about making a choice of pursuing a Rhodes and pursuing an opportunity to keep playing football. That was all that was. We just have to make sure we clarify it," Williams told the Register on Nov. 17. "These guys (Yale spokesmen) are here to make sure it gets represented correctly, that is all it was. There is no intention to deceive. I never said I was a finalist for the Rhodes candidacy. The Rhodes shouldn't have any record of me because I didn't do it. I didn't go through the process; I pulled out long before it got to that point.”

While Yale never released the findings of the internal investigation, a source who was closely involved with the decision to hire Williams said his Rhodes Scholarship background played a role in him becoming such a intriguing candidate.

Yale's director of athletics Tom Beckett said the university would immediately begin a search for Williams’ successor.

Williams went 16-14 in his three seasons at Yale including a 7-3 mark in 2010. However, despite returning the majority of the 2010 squad the Bulldogs were just 5-5 and lost to Harvard 45-7.

Williams and his staff continued to go among their business as usual after the season ended, hosting recruits and making preparations for next season.

I have reached out to Williams for comment and obviously I will be providing updates on the resignation and the search for Williams' successor.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Army's Andrew Rodriguez wins Campbell Trophy

Army senior linebacker Andrew Rodriqguez was named the winner of the Campbell Trophy on Tuesday night in New York, beating out a star-studded field of top scholar-athletes including Yale senior quarterback Patrick Witt.

The other finalists for the award known as the Academic Heisman were Georgia kicker Drew Butler, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, Delta State quarterback Micah Davis, Navy guard John Dowd, Northwestern State linebacker Yaser Elqutub, South Dakota running back Chris Ganious, Colorado School of Mines quarterback Clay Garcia, Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, Kansas State defensive back Tysyn Hartman, South Florida offensive lineman Chaz Hine, Purdue linebacker Joe Holland, Washington State receiver Jared Karstetter, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Dubuque receiver Michael Zweifel.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Witt to receive Swede Nelson Award

Record-breaking Yale quarterback Patrick Witt will receive the Gridiron Club of Boston's prestigious Nils V "Swede" Nelson Award next month
Witt finished as Yale's all-time leader with 549 completions, 913 attempts and 6,033 yards in three seasons after transferring from Nebraska. He is a history major with a 3.91 grade-point average who was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. He is also one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, commonly referred to as the academic Heisman Trophy. That award will be presented on Tuesday in New York while the "Swede" Nelson Award will be given to Witt on Jan. 12.
New Haven native Floyd Little is one of the prominent players to have won the award. Witt will be the sixth Yale player to win the award and will join Brian Dowling as the second Yale quarterback to receive the honor.