Monday, March 2, 2015

Why This Week Matters

Kevin Lempa: a good one we let get way.

The next few days could very well be the most important test for new Head Coach Al Bagnoli's tenure at Columbia.

That's because Bagnoli will fill out his staff in the next 48 hours or so and it will be the staff of assistants who are most likely to give us an idea about just how quickly Columbia will begin to turn it around.

This is most critically the case with the coordinator positions.

The only 100% confirmed new hire we have so far is Jon Poppe from Harvard, but I have strong faith in the reports that Jon McLaughlin and Joe D'Orazio are joining the staff as well.

On the other hand, early reports that Yale's former Defensive Coordinator Rick Flanders and Union Head Coach John Audino are coming to Morningside Heights have failed to lead to any solid news yet.

But getting back to the importance of these hires, let's take a look at a few recent examples where good and bad coordinator hires really made an immediate impact on the Lions.

The most recent example was the hiring of Kevin Lempa as defensive coordinator by Pete Mangurian when Mangurian began his three years at Columbia in 2012. Lempa made the Lions defense a real force after a 2011 season when it underachieved despite great personnel like Josh Martin and Ryan Murphy. 

But for whatever reason, Lempa was out the door by 2013 and the team never recovered. It also never recovered from Mangurian's disastrous decision to hire Jaime Elizondo as the offensive coordinator. Columbia wasn't lucky enough to see Elizondo take a hike at any point under Mangurian. He stated all three years and oversaw an offense that was much more than inept, it was the football equivalent of an EPA Superfund site. "Toxic" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Under Norries Wilson, offensive coordinator Vinny Marino also stayed for his head coach's entire six-year term. This too was disastrous for many reasons, not the least of which was the lack of respect the players had for him.

On the other side, the very experienced and effective Defensive Coordinator Lou Ferari left Wilson's staff unexpectedly close to the beginning of the 2008 season. His loss hurt the team as he had energized the players nicely in 2006 and did his best to stop the bleeding during a very disappointing 2007.

There are more examples, but the key is this: Bagnoli looks like he's going to bring some very experienced and well-known successful coaches to his senior staff at Columbia. Most of the time when we hear about new assistant coaching hires, our first question is "who?" And then we find out they hail from colleges we've never heard in conferences and divisions we've never heard of.

With the new commitment from President Lee Bollinger to boost assistant coach pay and Bagnoli's proven ability to attract and keep top assistants, Columbia could go from having the worst and least experienced coaching staff to the best and most experienced in the league.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Poppe Pops In!


Jon Poppe

According to his Twitter feed, Harvard secondary coach Jonathan Poppe has switched to Columbia in the same position on Al Bangnoli's new staff.

You can read here about Poppe's strong record at Harvard.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. Poppe's dad Bill Poppe '70 was a player for the Lions as was his brother Will Poppe '00, who was a freshman contributor on the great 1996 Lions team.

Friends, doesn't it feel great to see our staff is being filled by names we actually know and names we respect? 

The next few days are going to be full of more moments like this as Bagnoli assembles the most experienced and accomplished staff in Ivy football history. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Making Room

We still don't have any official news on Al Bagnoli's incoming staff of assistants, but if you head on over to the "coaches" page on the football website, you'll see just about the entire staff has been wiped clean.

But I feel fairly confident continuing to quote the reports that former longtime Penn Offensive Coordinator and O-line coach Jon McClaughlin will be joining the staff here at Columbia along with former Penn star center Joe D'Orazio. 

Of course the speculation is still running wild about Rick Flanders, who recently resigned at Yale and many expect to come here. Same goes for  Union Head Coach John Audino who worked with Bagnoli at Union, was a Lions assistant  for four years and was reportedly a key player in connecting Bagnoli with the administration and helping a deal get done.

I'll keep my eyes open for any news as I'm sure many of you will as well.

I Couldn't Resist!

(Courtesy: an inventive reader at the Daily Pennsylvanian)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Open Enrollment Period

You know how at work you get a few months to change your health insurance, benefits, etc?

Al Bagnoli’s arrival at Columbia should serve as a broad “open enrollment” of sorts for former players still on campus who quit the team, recruits who were on the fence about Columbia but chose another school, and potential transfers who were recruited recently by Bagnoli and Penn and aren’t happy at the non-Ivy schools where they ended up.

Of course the same is true for potential assistant coaches, but I assume that window is closing very fast if it hasn’t already.

When players leave a team in the Ivies, whether voluntarily or not, there’s always a chance they won’t come back no matter how good they were on the field. Since the primary goal for every Ivy player is academic success, it’s often easy to just focus on your studies and not bother returning to the added burden of athletics.

But I have reason to believe that Columbia will enjoy the return of several strong players to help ease Bagnoli’s attempt to make Columbia relevant again.

At Tuesday’s news conference I saw DL Charles Melka looking ready to return to play. I have good reason to believe fellow DL Chad Washington may also be back in the fall along with LB Mark Cieslak. WR Isaiah Gross, who spent time in and out of Pete Mangurian’s dog house, may be returning as well.

I’m a believer that all the above-mentioned players would really upgrade the talent level of the 2015 Lions, particularly on defense where Washinton and Melka’s presence along with the returning star Niko Padilla could suddenly make our front line more than just relevant.

Obviously I can’t know or even comment much on potential transfers and recruits who could change their minds.

But let the word go forth: Columbia Football is now under new and excellent management!

Play Ball!

Columbia baseball begins its regular season tomorrow at the University of Houston. The Ivy champs are looking for a three-peat this year and the Columbia Spectator has a great preview of the season out today. 

Soccer Deal

The USL, which acts as a minor league to the MLS, has announced that the New York Red Bulls II team will play at the Rocco Commisso Soccer Stadium at the Baker Athletics Complex beginning this summer. 

I’m not sure how many of those games will be at night, but if they catch on in any way without any neighborhood protest they could act as solid proof that Lions football can host one or two night home games per season without destroying the epic beauty and silence of the Inwood neighborhood.

We’ll keep our eyes open for that.