There's no way of sugar coating it, the last two months have been perhaps the most trying and humbling in the proud history of the Yale football program.
The removal of Tom Williams as the head coach over issues surrounding the accuracy of his credentials, back to back days when Yale lost to Harvard in the junior varsity and varsity games by a combined score of 82-13 and concerns among alumni who the process of finding a new coach was handled has resulted in some frayed nerves and discontent for some parties.
The good news is that Tony Reno, who was named the 34th coach in Yale's illustrious history, could be the type of galvanizing figure to help Yale put the recent checkered past in the rear-view mirror.
You could see the relief in the faces of the returning Yale players who were in attendance at the press conference now that he have a head coach. The players have been thrust into a situation not of their making. Yesterday was the first time I saw any of them since the end of the season but people I've spoken to who run into them on campus say that they have been understandably downtrodden. Hopefully last night's team meeting with Reno helped perk up the returning players. McHale, who got a know Reno a little bit when he was being recruiting as a high school senior, sounded fired up about the ability to move forward with Reno at the helm.
"I firmly believe he is the right guy for the job, he has everything we are looking for and more," McHale said. "He is a dynamic leader, he's a motivator, an excellent recruiter. I really couldn’t be more excited."
On the other end of the spectrum is the fate of former head coach Tom Williams. Former head coach Jack Siedlecki was welcomed back for the press conference and Carm Cozza would have been there had he not headed down to his place in Florida for the winter.
Williams, who was forced to resign, was obviously not there. The only staff members I saw where the holdovers from the Jack Siedlecki regime as the rest of the coaching staff watched the live stream of the press conference from the Yale football offices.
"It is tough that something like that happened," McHale said. "We are all appreciative of what Coach Williams brought to this program but at the same time what's done in done and we need to look forward."
Reno is walking into a difficult situation. Those two months without a head coach came during a pivotal time in recruiting. Other Ivy League coaching staff have been circling around Yale recruiting targets (just as Yale would do if the circumstances were reversed). They've lost out on some kids as a result of the uncertainty including Cheshire's Sebastian Little, who committed to Harvard. Although Reno, who helped the Crimson secured Little's commitment, can't talk publicly about a recruit like Little I am sure he sees the irony in how things worked out in that situation and how his efforts as a key recruiter at Harvard cost Yale a prized prospect. That being said, when I spoke the assistant coach Rick Flanders yesterday he thought Yale was not too bad off in terms of recruiting the class they were looking to secure before Williams' ouster.
"It’s trying but it probably more trying for the recruits, their parents," Flanders said. "But 90 percent of the kids who were on the board are still on the board. They are looking at Yale for the right reasons and it had to do more with the institution and opportunity (to earn a Yale degree) than a specific person. Tony will salvage a great class and we will get this group that is coming back off and running."
At both Reno's press conference and Williams' there have been the standard "how are you going to beat Harvard" question. I know the 45-7 pounding Yale suffered at the hands of the Crimson in November is still fresh on people's minds but in my opinion Yale is not as far behind Harvard as some people might think.
People remember the ill-advised fake punt on 4th and 22 late in the 2009 game which set up Harvard to win the game but neglect to recall that the Bulldogs were in position to win that game before the fake punt ended up six yards shy of the first down which would have enabled Yale to run out the clock. In the 2010 game, won by Harvard 28-21, Yale outgained Harvard 337-178 and possessed the ball for nearly 38 of the 60 minutes.
Yes, there are some holes to fill especially on defense. You don't lose guys like Jordan Haynes, Geoff Dunham, Jake Stoller, Drew Baldwin (all multiple-year starters) and not miss what they brought to the table. However, Reno vowed to have an aggressive, attacking mindset in offense, defense and special teams. It is sorely needed on defense. Too many times the combination of a lack of a pass rush and soft zone coverage enabled teams to pick the Yale defense apart.
McHale leads a talented group of returning defensive starters which includes sophomore safety Nick Okano and speedy defensive ends Allen Davis and E.J. Conway.
Before Reno begins coaching the Bulldogs, he needs to add to the talent pool. The next two weekend there figures to be close to 30 prospects (somewhere in the vicinity of 15 each weekend) on Yale's campus. Some of them will be the 10-15 commits who have been approved for early admission to Yale and the Bulldogs need to make sure those players are still in the fold while also trying to lock up pledges from the uncommitted players on their radar.
When Yale begins spring practice in April, the focus will be on putting together a team capable of making a run at the Ivy League title.
"Nothing has happened over the last two months that has taken away from our goal of winning an Ivy League championship next year," McHale said.
Labels: Tony Reno, Will McHale