Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Succeed at Columbia, (but you have to really try)

Let's get right to the big elephant in the room, because we're all asking this question: Is Pete Mangurian a bust?

I would think my answer would be extremely clear by now, but once again let me say that the answer is: "No. Not yet."

What I do think is that Mangurian has made the same mistakes that every new coach at Columbia has made since Buff Donelli. That is, they get convinced that 100% of what their predecessors did was wrong and thus everything has to start from scratch. 

As much as I was critical of the Norries Wilson regime, I always acknowledged that he helped raise the talent level of the team and I praised his ability to retain more of the roster than his predecessors. These were both very common themes in my writing over the years.

The problem was, even with that improved talent, Wilson didn't win. There was one .500 season and a decent 2009 campaign, (by Columbia standards). But that's it. Six years was enough time for a significant improvement in wins and he didn't get there. I have no belief at all that what I wrote led to his dismissal, (I'm not that important by a long shot), but I was glad it happened.

Now we have a new coach who clearly has swept aside too much of that veteran talent. This is nothing new and not exclusive to Columbia, (lots of new coaches do this), but it's hurting the team in 2012 and that all blew up at Harvard Stadium on Saturday. As soon as all the talk from Mangurian became about the new people he was going to bring into the mix and nothing about actually beating Harvard, I knew we were in for it. I'm not saying playing more freshmen lost us the game, but sending that message of throwing in the towel on the season, (which is how a lot of people read it), was a terrible mistake. 

Mangurian is also making the classic Jim Garrett "exploding head" mistake. After the Penn game, he actually got into the face of one fan who simply said we had that game for the taking and lost it. That was a simple fact. Mangurian heard the fan saying that and got in his face. Besides being pathetic behavior, it was also a total mis-read. I know the fan who said that very well, and he's a huge believer in this team. 

A week later, Mangurian's behavior at the Dartmouth postgame news conference was, er, erratic. There were some answers he gave that made no sense and his tone made everyone in the room uncomfortable. I'd call for AD Diane Murphy to work with him on his personal skills, but she needs a lot of help in that area too. A lot. 

But I really don't mean to sound overly harsh. Mangurian has a great football mind, and as soon as he learns the ropes for real at Columbia, he can be of great help to us. The question is: will he? He's already won more games than the Lions won last year and since we're all about wins, that's something. He's also done a great job developing stellar new talents like Marcorus Garrett and Connor Nelligan, who will both be back next year. And the move to push practice in the early AM was brilliant. 

So while it's not fair to write him off at this stage, it's also foolish to overlook the mistakes he's making that better be reversed now or he'll end up out of here like Jim Garrett. And thus, Garrett was never able make a lasting positive change. 

Here are three of pointers from someone who wants Mangurian to succeed. Take them, leave them, or shoot the messenger. Your choice:

1) Lighten Up Francis!

In the immortal words of Sgt. Hulka, from the movie Stripes: "Lighten up, Francis. One of these guys might save your life one day." Mangurian needs to stop acting weird in news conferences. Stop giving intense answers to the Spec and WKCR kids, and generally act like he loves the damn job. This, more than even the losing, will kill him here if he doesn't change. Coaching is a lot about P.R.

2) Always Make Winning Games NOW the top Priority... (or at least say you are).

We have just 10 games every season in Ivy League ball. So with every game you write off, you're writing off almost 3% of an entire career for any given player. Imagine writing off 3% of your wealth on a bad trade, etc. Same idea. Of course, the Lions staff should be auditioning and working with the younger players to prepare for the future. But they should just do it. Don't make that the headline of an interview on game week. 

3) Trickery is Better than System

Ever since Jacob used trickery to beat Esau out of his birth rite, being wily has always been a credible strategy. Trick plays, new formations, whatever Columbia needs to do to win games on Saturday is preferable to sticking with some system that may win games down the road. The fact that QB Sean Brackett is not being used on the option run this year is a testament to being stubborn. Institute the system you want after you've had more time to recruit more players that fit into it. Until then, win with the players you have. 

Once again, I assume writing this post will make me a terrible bad guy in the eyes of the administration and maybe the coaching staff too. 

Here's the thing: who cares?

If ONLY Diane, her minions, and the last few coaches cared as little about what I say about them as I care about what they say about me. Why are they all so thin-skinned? One can only wonder how unhinged these people would be if they were in a big time college program. Perhaps they came to the Ivies to avoid all criticism all the time.

But after the Giving Day results showed how athletics and football FAR outpace every grad school and more when it comes to loyalty, these people better be prepared for some fair-minded but impassioned criticism. 


WOF said...

Good stuff Jake

I'm old school so probably no shock I don't entirely agree with your three points but that is why you have this great blog!

The only area I agree with you is that he needs to be better in front of the microphones and cameras. I found an interview from last week prior to the Harvard game and although it was only sound it seemed like he was either trying to intimidate the poor kid from the Spec (or was it KCR?) or he just had no respect for him.

Either way, his attitude turned me off.

He's got to be surprised and frustrated at times this year but he has to keep his game face off in front of the public.

I wonder if that great administration of ours has not given him the support that he was promised. That certainly played a role in the way Coach Garrett came unwound....

Jake said...

Exactly WOF. He really is not communicating properly to the poor KCR kids who are not trained in journalism at all and are probably big fans of the team if not the biggest among the non-athletes. As for admin support, I think he's getting it for now but more losses like this will give lots of fuel to the tenured faculty who want sports out.

WOF said...

Yes, I really felt sorry for the kid interviewing him.

oldlion said...

Jake, please do not generalize about "the tenured faculty who want sports out". While there are some faculty members at Columbia and elsewhere in the Ivies who hate athletics, many are indifferent and some love Ivy sports. At homecoming I was sitting by some senior faculty people who were cheering their heads off. As far as Coach M, he had some pretty nasty things to say about the Tampa Bay organization, but I can only assume that Dianne carefully scrutinized why he was fired before offering him the job, since she has to realize that her job will be in jeopardy if she misses on her third football coach in a row. But I think that all of us are she'll shocked after the dismal performance last Saturday. How we play the next two weeks is the key question right now, for Pete, the team, the recruiting season and Dianne.

WOF said...

well put Oldlion!

Anonymous said...

Shoop was hired three years before Dianne was hired. She fired him - did not hire.

oldlion said...

I stand corrected on Shoop.

jock/doc said...

Calm down!
talk about coming unhinged
that was a bad game, but you have to give the guy enough rope
some of our "experts" hear think that AM practice is a terrible idea. You think it is great. I for one think that we need to give him at least another year to see improvement.

Anonymous said...

Jake, I could be way off here, but it seems like todays blog was a hard one for you to write. Sounds like you are very disappointed.

Jake said...

Yes, I am really heartbroken. This is the kind of loss that will be talked about by our detractors for many decades. It's a recruiting killer and it absolutely something that should never happen under a competent regime. Of course Mangurian gets more time to prove himself, I don't know how much clearer about that I can be. BUT I really suggest he take the advice posted above.

Anonymous said...

With respect to Dianne taking umbrage at any criticism, I offer this history lesson :

On June 29, 1991, the LA Times reported the retirement of Al Paul as follows :

"Al Paul cleaned out his desk Friday afternoon and left Columbia University after 17 1/2 years as athletic director. Given the football team's record of 20-140-3 under his tenure, one might have expected his departure to come a lot sooner. But then, Columbia is different."

Yes, indeed, Columbia is different. Only at Columbia can an AD survive 17 1/2 years while hiring such coaching "legends" as :

Bill Campbell (0.231 winning %);

Bob Naso (0.102 winning %);

Jim Garrett (0.000 winning %; that's 0.000 as in 0.000) who called his players "drug addicted losers";

Larry McElreavy (0.067 winning %) who was forced to resign when his OC, Doug Jackson, accused him of, among other things, "coaching under the influence"; and

Ray Tellier (0.307 winning %) who, although he would actually have a winning season in his 8th year (how he survived to his 8th year is another story), at the time of Al's retirement was 3-27.

How, you ask, did Al keep his job while hiring this football "brain trust"? Al told the LA Times how he pulled it off:

"I never even felt any second- or third-hand pressure from the university," Paul said, 'I never felt it from the alumni group.'"

The way I see it, Dianne is entitled to two more, maybe three more, disastrous coaching selections. Be patient.

As for those screaming for Pete's head, Ray Tellier survived 14 years with only one season above 0.500. Who among us can say that Pete won't go 6-4 nine or ten years from now? Be patient.

-- Androcles

oldlion said...

For those of you who follow Coach M on tweeter, today he tweeted "Focus on the D-Line!" Timing seems a bit odd.

jock/doc said...

please read the anonymous post just before oldlion to see where our CU football program has been living. Give the guy a chance and show up Saturday for the seniors

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a link to this apparently "erratic" press conference? Or for that matter, the radio interviews discussed above?

Anonymous said...

Jock/doc you ate absolutely right. I still stand by Coach M., always have. It is just saturdays game was so sad for the players. I will be there supporting the entire team. Two more to go Lions we are all behind you.

oldlion said...

What puzzles me is that Mangurian seemed so polished and media savvy when he was introduced to the Columbia community. When I met him last winter I was struck by his magnetism and eloquence. So why the sudden lack of communications skills? And why the 180 on winning now? I think a better game plan and more judicious use of our roster would still have resulted in a loss but not a complete blow out. Would that have been better for the program? I think the answer has to be yes, and it would certainly have been better for the seniors who could have avoided the burden of carrying this debacle on their conscious memories. Here's the point: it comes down to basic fairness.

Jake said...

I'll tell you what happened: the Lions lost some tough games and that always makes things harder. I don't want a coach who smiles through losses, but I'd like one who can be an example of dignified and coherent behavior for our players and non-athlete students. Lou Little wa a like that. Donelli was like that.

Anonymous said...

shoop was a disaster and had they spoken to anybody that knew shoop from Yale they would have known that, but they didnt and the Yale guys laughed at our hire.
We lost 69-0. on what planet is that acceptable? i must be from a different era where a team gets prepared, leaves it all on the field, and the coach accepts responsibility for his failure, which this certainly was.
as a friend from Princeton said after seeing the score..."but you guys are really intelligent.."
69-0 is a disgrace and i put a loss like that on the coach.
the problem at Columbia is that people have been accustomed to losing and when 69-0 drums up excuses there is a problem.

#1 Lion said...

Anonymous (above with the CU coaching history and Al Paul) - GREAT recap and find! "Pig Pen" is right, on what planet is mediocrity acceptable? The new chapter should start now! 3-7, 4-6 are also unacceptable! Look how quickly both Princeton and Dartmouth turned their programs around and they were beneath us just a few years ago. By year 3, Mangurrian, with all of his hype and promises should be 500 by year three. Anything else is unacceptable!!! McElreavy, Tellier, and Wilson all should have been gone after year #3. Why wait for the inevitable. With records like that, would any of you allow them to run your business beyond that point?

oldlion said...

Little known fact: Tellier hd a clause in his contract that awarded him a bonus if we won at least four games a year. That was the mindset of that era, where Ray, a terrific coach, was given zero support on facilities, recruitment, or just about anything else. Ray was and is a class act who was treated with great respect and given a tenured position after he was relieved of his coaching duties. If Ray had the 2009 roster he would have won the league.

WOF said...

I did a quick google, Lombardi's first season in Green Bay included a 56-0 loss.

I am sure there are plenty other examples of good coaches having dubious first seasons when taking over a team.

One game will not kill Mangurian and we will all know by the end of next season if M is for real or not....

The blame should not fall on the coach, anyway, its all on the admin.

Penn maybe was there or near us in the 50s, 60s and 70s but that is long forgotten. How sad is it that we have never been viewed as anything other than the worst program in the Ivies?

oldlion said...

Penn and Brown were worse than us through the 60s. We beat Yale in 1965. Dartmouth and Princeton were the powerhouses of the 60s. Here is what happened: the trustees as a group didn't care much about the College or about athletics. The student unrest caused in significant part by an administration and a board who regarded the College and athletics as an inconvenience created an atmosphere which led to the riots over the gym in the park in 1968. Read the Cox Report. Vietnam was just an excuse for a lot of the campus turmoil. While we have done an amazing job in recreating the University and even the College to Top Five status, we have never made athletics a top priority and will not do do until the West Side One World GS oriented board of trustees is replaced by a majority of College alums who care deeply about the College and athletics. So the real battle, the real call to arms, is to replace the board of trustees with a group of College alums who would become a majority and demand excellence.

Anonymous said...

i assume that everyone will dress-----how will you honor a senior if he is sitting in the stands?

Anonymous said...

I played in the 80's-played on probably the best offensive team we ever had with Wit, Lewis and Reggio. I also played on the 0-10 Garrett team. My point is to this day if anyone ever brings up or asks about CU football, it is quickly followed by " you must have been on that team that set the consecutive losing record" not a big deal and I spin it correctly in that the ones who were on those teams persevered, showed character etc. But I am never asked about some of the great things we did, setting several league and school offensive records that stand to this day.

Mangurian cant be given all the blame for Saturday's atrocity of a game, as the players need to execute on the field. But I will tell you ( as I was there) he had the ability to avoid the question all these players will endure " you were on that team that was the biggest loss in league history." thats a fact. He should have kept the upperclassmen in , specifically Brackett as he gave us our best shot to compete. I feel sorry that these kids were part of that but now it's time to show some character and stones and punch Cornell right in the mouth all afternoon. Go get em boys!

Anonymous said...

so now we are comparing the CU coach to Lombardi? seriously? i mean SERIOUSLY


WOF said...

not at all, but we really don't know how good or bad he is after one really bad game.