In the FCS Huddle: Coaching changes may tighten Ivy eventually
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director/Senior Editor
(Sports Network) - They are the gold, silver and bronze standards of Ivy League football.
Some may argue whether Harvard or Penn gets gold or silver over Brown, but there's no Russian judge disputing how those three programs have separated themselves from the other five programs in the Ancient Eight.
This despite all the coach speak in the league that there's parity from week to week.
No, it was not surprising Tuesday when Harvard was installed as the league's preseason favorite ahead of Penn. That made it four times in five seasons for the Crimson.
The media members in the poll don't always pick the eventual champion correctly, but they usually are not far off by making Harvard or Penn their choice.
Those two have had a hand in all but three of the last 15 Ivy titles - six apiece. During that time, Brown has been the third-most consistent program, breaking through with an outright title in 2005 and two shared titles, including one with Harvard in '08, as well as title contention in other seasons.
The disparity has forced Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale into head coaching changes in recent seasons to try to close the gap on the Big Three.
Penn's Al Bagnoli, who has guided eight Ivy champions, is the dean of league coaches, entering his 21st season. Harvard's Tim Murphy, who has six titles, is in his 19th season. At Brown, Phil Estes enters his 15th season with the three crowns.
Dartmouth reached into the past in 2005 to bring back Buddy Teevens for a second stint as coach. Meanwhile, Kent Austin is in his third season at Cornell and Bob Surace has been playing catch-up at Princeton during that same period.
This year, Tony Reno has returned from Harvard, where he was an assistant to Murphy, to become Yale's new coach. His hiring follows offseason change at Columbia, where the Lions also reached into the past to bring in former Cornell head coach Pete Mangurian.
"When you have an influx of new coaches, that means new ideas are coming in and there's always the unknown of what they are going to do offensively or defensively," Estes said. "I think as they get to know their teams, that will influence them on what direction that they go. There are some that are defensive-minded, some that are offensive-minded, but all have proven to be great coaches.
"I think the one thing about the Ivy League is it's never vanilla. There's always a lot of unexpected that's going to happen game-in and game-out."
"It keeps you on your toes," Bagnoli added, "because every time there's a coaching change, there's a newness and a little bit different philosophical approach, so you kind of go into every season a little guarded on to what's going to happen at that school."
The extra energy and focus is needed at the other five schools. Coaches have come and gone while saying they are changing the culture. They have struggled to sustain consistent results to prevent the same ol', same ol' in the league.
Last season, Harvard went 9-1 overall, 7-0 in the league and won the Ivy title by three games. This year, the Crimson return such senior standouts as quarterback Colten Chapple, running back Treavor Scales and tight end Kyle Juszczyk on offense and defensive tackle Nnamdi Obukelu and cornerback Brian Owusu on defense.
If there's a team that could play havoc with the running Ivy storyline - and there's usually one candidate each preseason - it's Cornell.
The Big Red haven't had a winning record, either overall or in the league, since 2005, but record-setting quarterback Jeff Mathews led them to wins in three of their final four games last season, including one over Penn, and returns for his junior campaign as a Walter Payton Award candidate. He threw for an Ivy-record 3,412 yards in 10 games a year ago.
Optimism is so high that Cornell gained two of the 17 first-place votes in the preseason poll to finish third, ahead of Brown.
Still, Austin admitted his team has to back up the expectations with results.
Even in his short time in the league, he's learned that change in the title race is slow.
"I think a lot of us have some tremendous improvements facility-wise, expansion and expenditures from a recruiting standpoint. It's leveled the field a little bit more," said Teevens, who won Ivy titles at Dartmouth way back in 1990 and '91,
"I think some of us had a great distance to improve and (Harvard, Penn and Brown) have been very, very solid, very, very consistent over time, (with) guys that have been leading the programs for many, many years. And I think that's something we're all working toward."
IVY LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
1. Harvard (13 first-place votes), 132 points
2. Penn (2), 111
3. Cornell (2), 100
4. Brown, 84
5. Yale, 66
6. Dartmouth, 52
7. Columbia, 36
8. Princeton, 31
08/07 15:08:46 ET