Thursday, May 29, 2014

There’s No Joy in Morningsideville

Boretti and Mangurian 

The smiles and success that seem to surround everything about Columbia Baseball right now are the well-deserved spoils of hard and smart work by Coach Brett Boretti and his staff.

Tuesday’s article in the New York Times really focused on that joy and it emphasized how Boretti has tried to recruit players with good character overall.

It’s the latest example of how Columbia Baseball continues to be the opposite of everything Columbia Football has become.

And the dichotomy is getting worse.

For example, the only time I’ve ever seen a CU Baseball player Tweeting anything was the recent, “where’s the love?” Tweet from Jordan Serena as he implored the CU Athletics website to publicize more news about his team. That Tweet was clearly the work of a fired up and well-meaning player.

Contrast that to the 4-5 Tweets I STILL SEE EVERY DAY from CU football players on their PUBLIC ACCOUNTS that are filled with inappropriate comments, references to drug use, and racial epithets. It’s an undisputed disgrace that even after last year’s team-wide Twitter scandal, this is still going on. Either the players doing this are stone cold stupid or the Mangurian coaching staff hasn’t really cracked down on the problem like they promised they would.

Now, let’s focus our attention on our incoming recruits. Mangurian is talking about how he’s bringing in a “blue collar class” and these players were simply missed by the traditional recruiting process used by the other seven Ivy schools.

I don’t really know what makes a kid a “blue collar player,” but I assure you we’ve got plenty of white collar kids in this group and on the team already. Any coach who recruits and signs not one, but TWO, players from the soft and posh Norfolk Academy the same year should probably stay away from making “blue collar” boasts when in the company on non-sycophantic idiots.

The kind of prep school kids we should be going after are the PG players at Lawrenceville like Princeton’s Anthony Gaffney who’s going to go to the NFL. We continue to avoid even making serious visits to the Lawrencevilles, Exeters, and Andover of the world. Just to be clear, Norfolk Academy wouldn’t last one quarter on the field playing those New England and NJ preps. The final score would be something like 60-0.

And while I like the idea of getting 4-5 kids the other schools may have foolishly ignored, the fact that most of our players got no interest from other Ivies is a clear red flag.

And now with at least 10 veteran players leaving or getting kicked off the team, the importance of this questionable class has been multiplied several times. With no JV program to help them learn, we’re asking them to be varsity ready in a little more than 100 days. This is as close to a sure-losing bet as there is in sports.

And here’s another disturbing contrast: baseball over the last few year has been having fun, even when it’s not winning championships. Football has clearly become a humorless program devoid of joy. If you read this and the last few weekly updates from the football website, you’ll see exactly what I mean. These updates have all the emotion and joy as you might see in a manual for performing colon surgery. Whoever wrote this or dictated it sees football as a cold, boring and smile-free job. We should delete these articles immediately so we don’t accidentally attract refugees from a North Korean work camp to our program,

As usual, the Columbia administration is very much to blame. Because the successful road map on how to win and manage a good team at Columbia is being unfolded right in front of them! When was the last time the New York Times or anyone wrote a piece about how good a CU football coach was doing his job? (Probably 1996, when Ray Tellier enjoyed an 8-2 season, but that turned out to be a very ephemeral high point).  

Columbia athletics is now being dominated by a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Luckily, unlike the movie, we can get rid of one without losing the other. So let's do it before it's too late.

Lindy's, Sporting News Predictions

Head over to Bruce Wood's Big Green Alert for a look at how two college football magazines are calling the 2014 season right now. Of course, they both pick Columbia for last.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BREAKING: Washington, Hilinski and others off Roster

Chad Washington

Gone Baby Gone

The football roster has been updated and there are some major names no longer with the team.

The top loss is DL Chad Washington, who still had a strong 2013 season despite his legal issues last summer. It's possible he's left this time because of some kind of continuing issues related to that, but there is nothing confirmed on that end.

Another very hard pill to swallow is the loss of QB Kelly Hillinski. 

Other roster deletions are:

DL Charles Melka

LB Parker Tobia

OL Eric Kulinski

OL Rick Wolff

... and we already knew about the losses of:

WR Isaiah Gross

LB Mark Cieslak

TE Connor Spears

WR Jake Wanamaker

That makes 10 players so far who were on the roster for 2013 who are gone now. That's a big number compared to recent Columbia history and yet another disturbing trend we are now witnessing under the Pete Mangurian regime.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

NY Post Acknowledges CU Baseball

Nice piece in the Post today about CU baseball getting seeded 3rd, (instead of the traditional 4th for Ivy teams),  in the NCAA Regionals.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What They’re Up To

Michael Nebrich 

Every week for the next 10 weeks, I’ll be taking a quick look at what our 10 opponents for 2014 have been up to this offseason.

I’ll start with week one opponent Fordham and go on from there:

The Rams haven’t stood still since finishing their remarkable 2013 season at 12-2 and winning an FCS playoff game.

Well, that’s not completely true, because one impressive aspect of the 2014 Fordham team is how many amazing players are returning from last year.

Nowhere is that more evident than the wide receiver position where the Rams have not one, not two, but THREE returning WR’s who gained at least 1,000 yards each last season.

But the story at Fordham is not just about the returning players.

New York fans will likely be paying a lot of attention to a transfer named Josh Klecko, son of NY Jet great Joe Klecko.

Klecko transferred from Rutgers to Fordham early this year. He’s also the brother of Dan Klecko who won three Super Bowls in the NFL.

Of course, the Rams are okay on the D-line already when you consider that FCS All American Brett Biestek is returning for 5th year. He’s been named to the CFPA preseason watch list.

And you have to mention that QB Michael Nebrich is coming back after throwing for 4,380 yards, 35 TD’s and just 7 INT last season. Nebrich also ran for 513 yards and 9 TD’s.

With all the transfers and returning players, Fordham brought in an extremely small incoming freshman class, but one player from the class of 2018 who really stands out to me is All-State RB Chase Edmonds from Harrisburg, PA. That kid is dangerous.

A big moment for Fordham will come on Nov. 22nd when the Rams travel to West Point to play Army. 

The Comps

The bar is set pretty low

Being the head coach of Columbia football would really be a dream job...  if the job were starting this season.

That’s because the “comps” from last year are so easy to beat.

Here is the link to the 2013 stats, I suggest you study them well.

But the key stats are these: The won-lost record was 0-10. The points per game average was 7.3. The points allowed per game average was 40.2. The rushing yards allowed per game was 243.

It would be very, very hard to do worse than that in 2014. So, with Pete Mangurian miraculously and inexplicable returning for another chance this season, everyone has to expect that there will be some statistical improvement this fall.

Of course, the trouble is, Mangurian has been here going on three years now, so improvements over last year’s debacle  have to be kept in context.

But what are the numbers the Lions need to reach this fall for the staff, players and fans to really gain some level of confidence?

I’m going to throw out some very modest numbers and then show how not-so-modest they really are when you consider how much of a percentage jump they would require.

Goal #1: At Least Three Wins (% change: n/a)

Anything worse than 3-7 would still be an embarrassment despite last year’s 0-10 record. The trouble is that I don’t see which game Columbia has a good chance to win at this point, let alone three. Gun-to-my-head I’d say our best chance to win is the week nine game at home vs. Cornell. Other than that, I just don’t see a great chance.

Goal #2: At Least 15 Points Scored Per Game (% change:  +119%)

That’s right, to get to just a measly 15 points per game average, the Lions would have to enjoy a 119% increase in point production. That’s probably an unprecedented percentage gain in Ivy history. A massive 50% gain in points scored would still leave CU short of averaging 10 points per Saturday.

Goal #3: Keep Opposing Teams Below 175 Yards Rushing Per Game (% change: -28%)

This is the most attainable goal for 2014, but remember that allowing 175 yards per game on the ground is still a monstrous stat.

Goal #4: Hold Opposing Teams to under 450 yards Per Game on Offense  (% change: -12.4%)

This is also doable, but nothing to be too proud of even if it’s achieved.

Goal #5: Complete at Least 45% of Passes (% change: +10.2%)

The best way for the Lions to avoid furious bone crushing pass rushes would be to complete more passes and get more of the potential blitzers to drop back into coverage. CU didn’t even complete 41% of their passes last season and a 45% completion rate would still be horrific. But jumping 10% or more is rough in this category, and it would be impressive to get there.

These are the “comps” we need to see set this fall. And we all need to be results oriented and results specific when we talk about this team. I’m more than a little disturbed by the fact that the word “wins” never seems to escape Mangurian’s lips or appear on the digital pages of the official athletic department website.

But we we’re way beyond happy talk. These real goals need to be met in 2014. If not… well, Mangurian will still probably get a contract extension but we’ll all know that no real improvement occurred to make such a move worthwhile. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wasteful and Woeful

A few years ago, I blogged about the massive $60 million high school football stadium, that’s right high school, being built in Allen, Texas.

Well, now it turns out the stadium needs to be closed for the season because it’s not safe.

Everyone who was arguing about whether spending $60 million for a HS football stadium was ethical forgot to ask whether the money was being spent on a building company that was competent. 

Scoring? What's That?

Over at Bruce Wood's Big Green Alert Blog, Bruce lists the Ivy defensive scoring leaders for every year since 1990. 

In other words, he's listed the teams that gave up the fewest points in Ivy games over the last 24 seasons.

What jumped out at me were the 1997 Harvard Crimson who gave up just 6.4 points per Ivy game en route to their league championship that year. 

No other team in that period was able to crack the six point per game floor... but only if you don't count last year's Columbia OFFENSE. 

That's right, the 2013 Lions scored just 6.0 points per Ivy game last year; truly an incredible feat of futility. 

Not that the defense was much better, but the historically anemic numbers came from the offense and that's where most of the improvement --- starting with the woeful offensive line --- needs to happen. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two Must-Reads

No editorializing today, but I have to pass along two great stories.

First up is this piece from acknowledging Columbia baseball's dominance under Coach Brett Boretti. 

The second article is nothing short of a shocker.

Yale forward Brandon Sherrod, is taking next season off so he can travel the world with the famed Yale a cappella group the Whiffenpoofs!

This is not a joke.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

This is What a Great Class Looks Like

Cam Brate

I've written a few times on this blog about how it's hard to figure out how Harvard doesn't win the Ivy football title every single season.

The Crimson have such a recruiting advantage simply because of the Harvard name, and Head Coach Tim Murphy long ago learned how to make the most of it. That's in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Joe Restic, who's crazy on-the-field strategies and offensive game plans scared a lot of talented players away.

If you didn't already know that Harvard has a stacked class every year, you do now because a whopping four graduating seniors on the Crimson have signed NFL contracts this week! That's an amazing achievement for many FBS teams, let alone a non-scholarship FCS program.

We get excited, rightfully so, when even one member of the Lions gets invited to an NFL camp. Usually that happens every other year or so. Right now, we're all very proud of Josh Martin '13 who remains on the roster for the KC Chiefs after making an impact late in the 2013 season.

But Harvard just sent four guys from ONE CLASS to the pros! Even if none of them remain on a roster, that's super impressive.

In other words, THAT'S a great recruiting class folks. Don't start the hype about anything until you think you're incoming class has three or four NFL-bound guys.

But if you think this is some kind, "Harvard is so good and we'll be that great," laments, you're wrong.

One thing I do like about Head Coach Pete Mangurian is that he never publicly gives in to the loser mentality. He at least publicly says Columbia can compete with anyone.

My belief is that if Harvard is recruiting four NFL-bound kids per class, there's no reason we can't do that too. We have a super product to sell and we should stop negotiating against ourselves by talking about anything other than Columbia's amazing exclusivity and proximity to the greatest jobs in the world inside the greatest city in the world.

But until we actually do grab those top recruits, then someone has to be held accountable for why we aren't. And the coaches aren't the only ones likely to share the blame.

The thing is, we can't make excuses and we also can't fix the problem by declaring we "have a great class" and hope for the best.

We want results. We want wins. We want what Harvard has and more.

This is New York, we can do it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Living Legend?

Brett Boretti

It was an amazing Saturday for Columbia sports as the Lions baseball team won its second straight Ivy League Championship Series, and for the second straight time it happened at home.

And it’s great news that the men’s tennis team has advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.

But getting back to baseball, the legend of Coach Brett Boretti is growing in Columbia lore.

Boretti now has won three Ivy titles and four Gehrig Division titles.

He started at the helm of CU baseball in 2006 and the championships started rolling in in 2008. So over seven seasons, we have three outright championships and if you count the Gehrig Division titles, the Boretti Lions have made the postseason MOST of those year.

I decided to check back to see if any other coach of in Lion history has achieved that level of consistent excellence over that many years.

Lou Little

Lou Little’s best years were from 1930-36 and then from 1945-47. Little came to CU in 1930 and raced out of the gate with a record of 43-15-3 in those first seven seasons highlighted by the 7-0 win in the 1934 Rose Bowl. 

But even with Sid Luckman on the team in the years that followed, the only other consistent period of excellence for Little was 1945-47 which was highlighted by the huge win over Army in '47. 

So you have to look to Columbia soccer in the later 1970’s and early 1980’s as the high-bar standard for CU athletics.

From 1978 to 1985, Columbia men’s soccer won or shared the Ivy title for eight straight years. Their Ivy record was an untouchable 60-5-5 and the Lions won eight NCAA tournament matches during that stretch. The pinnacle of that period was 1983, when Columbia made it to the national championship game before losing to Indiana in double OT.

Since then, Columbia men’s soccer has won a grand total of just ONE Ivy title.

Dieter Ficken

The coach during that magical run was Dieter Ficken

Boretti is not yet at Ficken’s level, but he’s getting there.

Again, I want to discuss ways Columbia can retain Boretti and give him a more influential role in athletics as a whole. We need to keep this guy around and get more of our coaches to learn from him. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sovern’s Take

Michael Sovern today

Former Columbia President Michael Sovern’s book, An Improbable Life, about his years at CU has been out since March, but I only learned about it yesterday from my just-delivered copy of Columbia Magazine.

Naturally, I bought it immediately to seek out any comments on football and athletics.

Naturally, there was very, very little.

But what Sovern did write was illuminating.

The highlight is that he squarely blames the infamous 44-game losing football losing streak on the firing of Head Coach Jim Garrett, which he stilled called “the right thing to do.”

Sovern writes that Garrett could not adapt from his NFL experience to the strictly amateur Ivy League.

This is a knock on Garrett that I’ve heard before, and remains a big part of the ethos in the administration. In fact, it was used as a justification not to hire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he applied to be our head basketball coach in 2002.

Based on what we’re seeing with Pete Mangurian right now, I can see Sovern’s point... almost.

The difference is that 100% of the many alums I know who played for Garrett all tell me they completely believed in him and his system. They are quite sure the team would have started winning and winning consistently in a short time.

By contrast, almost all the current players I hear from either directly or indirectly either have no confidence in Mangurian or just aren’t sure right now. That's a big difference. 

So the question will always remain whether it was Garrett who wasn’t ready for Columbia, or if it was Columbia that wasn’t ready for Garrett. I suspect it was the latter.

Getting back to Sovern's book, it’s interesting that he openly admits that firing Garrett was going to sacrifice Columbia’s football future. He was half right about that. The strange thing is that while he acknowledges the fact that the team had hit hard times before Garrett’s arrival, he doesn’t note that the team already was in the middle of that record losing streak,  (we were winless in 13 straight coming into the 1985 season) and hadn’t had a winning record since 1971. 

There is no mention in the brief paragraphs about football of the decision to cut the land mass at Baker Field basically in half by building the hospital, (Allen Pavillion), on the north end of the site.  Few Columbia fans today realize that we used to have ample tailgating and parking room right on site.

As I read more of the book, I’ll have some more updates and thoughts but this should get us going for a while.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Success: Real and Imagined

David Speer

Baseball First

I realize that this is becoming more of a CU baseball blog, as we continue to strive to give praise to the praiseworthy!

But I really enjoyed watching the baseball team clinch the Gehrig Division championship on Saturday behind that great pitching performance by David Speer. 

Since 2008, Columbia has now won four Gehrig titles. It’s important to note that Coach Brett Boretti’s first season was 2006, so his turnaround program was quite swift. The progression of the Boretti-led improvement was also clear. Boretti inherited a last-place Gehrig Division team that had finished 5-15 in 2005. The team improved slightly to 6-14 in 2006, 10-10 in 2007, and 15-5 with a league title in year three.

Anyone here think Columbia football is winning a title this year or even going 5-5?

I am looking forward to continuing the amazing duel Columbia has established with Dartmouth in baseball when the Lions host the Ivy League Championship series at Baker Field this Saturday. This will be the fourth time since 2008 that Columbia and the Green will face off in the ILCS.

Class of 2018 Hype

As I always say, the young men who have signed on to join Columbia football for the coming fall are already winners in just about every category that counts. They have weathered a very tough and competitive road and given themselves a great chance for lifelong success.

But beyond that, those who insist that this is a great football class and some kind of great achievement by our coaches/recruiters simply make me sad. Because that kind of judgment can only be made on the field and these guys haven’t even taken the field for us once.

So again, we welcome and congratulate these young men for getting here. But the sane among us withhold judgment on your football abilities until we see you play in college.

Andrews Column

Senior Spec sports writer Peter Andrews wrote this piece today about how he might even be qualified to be Columbia’s head football coach.

It was tongue-in-cheek and fun to read, but I have to touch briefly on this quote:

“There is, sometimes, an unspoken animosity emanating from the athletic department toward those who cover the teams here. And while I think most of that is undeserved, I understand why it might exist.”

Peter is being very generous and understanding, but I am not.

I was guilty of excusing this once myself, when Norries Wilson really verbally attacked a Spec writer after the 2006 loss at Penn. Sadly, instead of nipping this in the bud, the Athletic Department has made hostility against any reporters, (students or not), it’s M.O.

Years before I came out publicly against the department, the daily pushback began from Dodge Hall against the most innocuous comments and points I made online.

It was maddening.

And every time I got one of those emails I had the same thought: “just think how much our teams would be winning if the department put as much effort into getting victories as it does on being so defensive and paranoid!”

In fact, despite Peter Andrews’ good-hearted thought, there is NO excuse for how poorly the department has dealt with the media in general.

One day, I hope somebody gets that. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

How to Build an Ivy Winner: Step 3

Teach the Basics

Anyone who’s watched Ivy football for more than just a few years eventually notices that even the best teams aren’t exactly fine-tuned machines.

We’ve all seen more than an excusable number of mistakes even from championship squads.

But the best teams obviously cut down on those fundamental mistakes, especially when it matters the most.

Dartmouth could have grabbed a share of the Ivy title last season if it hadn’t been for an incredible series of mistakes in the week three double OT loss at Penn that included a blocked chip shot FG, an inexplicable INT before that and lots of other mistakes too excruciating to mention here.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve all documented lots of reasons Columbia hasn’t been successful over the years. But sloppy play and fundamental failures have been a constant. I’m talking missed tackles, blown coverages, bad penalties, etc. No one is saying the Lions would be perennial champs if they just got the fundamentals down, but some very big losses over the years, every year, could have been avoided.

I’m not saying teaching and getting the players to really internalize the fundamentals is easy, but there are things a coaching staff can do to make the job easier.

Maintaining and promoting a good JV program is a big part of it. Why Columbia’s Pete Mangurian continues to spurn JV remains a serious mystery especially after last year’s Lions exhibited the worst fundamental football in Ivy history.

I know it sounds like hyperbole to the perennial happy talkers out there, but the continued lack of a JV program is a serious example of coaching malpractice and is really grounds for Mangurian's dismissal every single day that he continues not to form it. 

Recruiting players from programs with established programs is another key to success in this area, and I don’t think Mangurian and company are doing that enough.

While I can somewhat forgive Mangurian for trying to institute a pocket passing offense, (I suppose it was worth a try), and I absolutely DO NOT blame him for the financial challenges the CU administration isn’t fixing for him, I strongly condemn this serious mistake he continues to make in proper player training.

All the work and talk about body weight, weight training, and pictures of players doing inexplicable drills like tug of war in the snow really burns me when you see players dropping passes, blocking cluelessly, blowing coverages, and missing tackles time and time again on game day.

The 2013 Lions were the worst prepared team in Columbia history, and that is really saying something.

Getting the basics down in this league goes further than other conferences in college football because of the reduced practice time and the fact that our players are actually interested in going to class.

When Columbia loses, and really when just about every Ivy team loses, you can almost always point to a series of very bad plays as opposed to some super highlight moment from the winning team.

That’s how you win in the Ivy League; you avoid the boneheaded plays and you’re already way ahead of the game.