Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Late Additions

Tre Gabriel

I'll admit I'm mostly excited about some of these reported late additions to our incoming freshmen roster because of the very fact that they exist. They prove the new coaching staff is not throwing in the towel on this 2015 class just because it came into the game so late.

And the window should still be open. Remember that great players like Owen Fraser, (a great DT for us before his injury), came into the Columbia fold as late as April.

I am convinced that two or three eligible players are still out there who could make a significant impact on the team. As long as the word gets out that the door is still open at Columbia, the Lions at least have a fighting chance to grab them.

Also, remember that there are more chances to take the SAT and ACT before the summer. Several players have a chance to raise their Academic Index scores and thus become eligible at the higher bands. Columbia is in the best position to find a spot for a player like that because we have the most slots available and open right now.

Here's a little more on last night's confirmed new commit Tre Gabriel.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting on some kind of confirmation that the "hard-nosed" player Associate Head Coach Mark Fabish was tweeting about on Sunday was Tyler Schonewolf .

Here's our confirmed list of incoming freshmen as it is:

1) Brock Anglin TE 6-6, 240 lbs. Episcopal School Dallas, TX

2) Adam Armesto OL/TE 6-6, 235 lbs. Canton HS Canton, MI

3) Kyle Castner QB 6-2, 211 lbs. Ben Davis HS, Indianapolis, IN

4) Patrick Eby C 6-3, 220 lbs. Loyola Blakefield HS, Towson, MD

5) Calvin Falkenhayn LB 6-2, 230 lbs. Loyola Academy, Wilmette, IL

6) Lucas Faria RB 5-10, 190 lbs. Sparta HS, Sparta, NJ

7) Treman "Tre" Gabriel SB, WR 5=7, 160 lbs. Oxbridge Academy, West Palm Beach, FL

8) Ryan Gilbert DB 6-0, 178 lbs. Bellevue HS, Bellevue, WA

9) Connor Halm DT 6-7, 270 lbs. Langley HS McClean, VA

10) Michael Hinton DE 6-4, 221 lbs. Reynolds HS Winston-Salem, NC

11) Danny Hong QB 6-4, 215 lbs. Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas, NV

12) Brandon Krcilek WR 6-2, 185 lbs. Hamilton HS Chandlerm AZ

13) Cole McDonough OL 6-2, 290 lbs. Bel Air HS Bel Air, MD

14) John Riley McLaughlin CB/WR 6-1, 192 lbs. Alcoa HS Alcoa, TN/Phillips Andover Academy Andover, MA

15) Luke Melsop DE 6-5, 220 lbs. St, Francis de Sales HS Newark, OH

16) H.T. Minor RB 5-9, 175 lbs. Woodberry Forest HS Woodberry Forest, VA

17) Ryan Suitt QB 6-1, 175 lbs. All Saints Episcopal HS Fort Worth, TX

18) Peter Szymanski OL 6-6, 275 lbs. Maine South HS Park Ridge, IL

19) Jason Vravick LB 6-2, 225 lbs. Stevenson HS Lincolnshire, IL

20) Sean "Jimmy" White DB 6-3, 220 lbs. Friendswood HS, Friendswood, TX

Job Changes

Spring practice finally begins tomorrow and there are a lot of reports of position changes for a number of players. Much of the tweaking I'm expecting is in the linebacker corps, but much more could be on the way. In any event, the usual 3-4 position shifts we see each spring could be more like 9-10 this time around. So be ready to adjust your scorecards.

What I think we're going to start to see during the spring scrimmages are some signs of an offense that uses rollouts, options, and just a lot more movement out of the QB position. I know that mean fans will be focusing even more on the QB position, but remember that an offense like that really relies much more on the pulling guards and tight ends. So position changes in some of those positions will be telling.

Bios Available

Extensive bios of the new coaching staff are now up on the official GoColumbiaLions.com website. There's lots of good reading there.

Monday, March 30, 2015

BREAKING: Gabriel Commits to Columbia

We have identified the "play maker" Associate Head Coach Mark Fabish Tweeted  about earlier today. 

He is an extraordinary speedster and all-around athlete named Tre Gabriel. Read his scouting report here: http://www.espnwestpalm.com/common/more.php?m=49&post_id=41651

The new coaching staff under Al Bagnoli appears to have achieved its first true recruiting triumph. 

Is this the New Lion?

INew Associate Head Coach Mark Fabish Tweeted out a tantalizing message yesterday welcoming a new player to the Lion pride. 

But it did not include any names, possibly for regulatory reasons. 

There is one well-regarded high school player who favorited and re-Tweeted Fabish's message. And he did the same when Offensive Line Coach John McLaughlin posted the message too. His name is Tyler Schonewolf, a DE who was committed to Army last we heard. 

It's not at all clear that Schonewolf is the player in question. It's possible he made a big deal out of Fabish's Tweet because he has a friend or relative who is the person the coach is talking about. But Schonewolf makes sense on a few levels, especially since he reportedly had almost perfect SAT's. And he is a prime recruit that Fordham jumped all over with a complete offer in November. He'd be a great addition. 

We'll keep our eyes open on this one. 

UPDATE: Coach Fabish has just Tweeted that another "dynamic play maker" has joined Columbia football. Sounds promising that we are beefing up our incoming class. Remember when we all used to hate it when Al Bagnoli and his staff used to grab those late commits? Well, now Al's Army is doing it for us!

Yale Transfer

But one name we do know is Bo Hines. He is the NC State WR who has transferred to Yale. That should help ease some of the pain from losing Deon Randall and Tyler Varga on offense. http://portal31nhr.blogspot.com/2015/03/nc-state-freshman-receiver-bo-hines.html?m=1

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Bagnoli Way

Earlier this month I wrote that one of Al Bagnoli’s great attributes is that he always seems to adjust his team strategy to match the talent levels of his current roster. Sometimes that meant using a running QB set, sometimes that meant using a pro-style passing attack. Defensive units under Bagnoli were more consistent in their looks during the Bagnoli era, but we saw some radically different formations from the Quaker “D” from time to time.

But you don’t have to be a long-time Penn fan to know that the two priorities Bagnoli has always stressed for his teams have been a tough defense and a strong offensive line. As long as Penn had those two things, Bagnoli and his players always knew they had a good chance to win games, which they usually did.

Now making that a priority doesn’t make Bagnoli a genius, but the fact that he achieved it just about every one of his 23 years at Penn does.

So as we now are just five days away from the start of spring practice and the real beginning of the Bagnoli coaching era at Columbia, the real question is can he meet those priorities here?

Long term, I think the answer will be “yes.” But can he do it now?

As far as a tough defense is concerned, I think the chances are better. Led by seniors Niko Padilla and Toba Akinleye,  I think the D-line is the strongest unit on the team. There’s talent in the linebacking crew as well and hard work should make the secondary good enough to not stand out as a weak link. I’ll be really surprised if the Columbia defense isn’t stronger than the Columbia offense in 2015.  

Bolstering the offensive line and molding into a real strength is going to be a lot harder. For one thing, creating a solid offensive line is probably one of the hardest things to do in all sports. You need all five players on the line to be good enough individually and in synch to do even a passable job. Meanwhile, one really good WR or RB can make up for a lot of weaker links at the position. You get the picture.

Making matters even tougher for Bagnoli, Offensive Coordinator Mike Faragalli and Offensive Line Coach Jon McLauglin is the fact that the way the offensive line was managed under the Pete Mangurian regime was a case of gross malpractice. Player weights were messed with in a way no other coaching staff in the nation would ever do. The new coaching staff has a lot of damage to fix and it’s probably just as much mental as it is physical. But there’s reason to be optimistic here too. If we believe the previous coaches did such a bad job with this unit, new management might be more than half the battle.

I don’t know how much evidence of real improvement for the defense and the O-line we’ll be able to see at the two public scrimmages on April 19th and the 26th at 4pm. But I do think we’ll see some real joy and excitement on the field and in the stands. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

This Just In: The Team is Excited!

Rising junior Justin Aimonetti’s latest column in today’s Columbia Spectator serves as the best proof yet that the Lion football players are just as excited as the fans are about the arrival of new Head Coach Al Bagnoli.

The column also makes a case for the entire spring practice process from the player’s perspective. But honestly, this is a crucial period for member of this very new coaching staff that needs to see and judge these players for themselves.

Spring practice begins in just six days on April 1st.

The big question is whether there will be any big changes in the depth chart after these practices and scrimmages. And if so, how much of that info will become public?

Maintaining the fan excitement over this offseason with almost six months still to go will be a challenge, but hopefully those active Twitter accounts maintained by the new staff will keep everyone interested for a long time.

More Excitement

Could Inwood soon become an urban tech hub like Silicon Alley further downtown in Manhattan?

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez wants to transform the mostly undeveloped property from 207th to 215th street on the east side of Broadway.

It’s probably a long shot that anything this grand in scale will happen soon, but the fact remains that the area around the Columbia athletic complex is already hotter than any of us ever thought it could be. And a major commercial development in the area to go along with the residential and small business revival  would likely affect the game day experience in a positive way.

I expect to see more parking garages, added transportation options, and lots more restaurants and attractions. I also believe our high school recruits will become more excited about playing in the area when they see it on official visits to Columbia. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Busy Wednesday

Matt King

After a slow return of the news cycle after spring break, we have a good rundown of updates to get through today:

New Staffer

The now-wonderfully Columbia Football Twitter feed announced the hiring of a new "Speed and Athletic Performance" coach. That man is Matt King, who had the more traditional title of "Strength and Conditioning Coach" at Maine. Here's his bio from UMaine that will surely be deleted soon, so click soon!

The Twitter feed goes on to say another staffer will soon be added to the general strength and conditioning staff to make a total of three people working in that vital role for football.

But I can't wait for King to get here so he and I can swap stories about living in Bangor!

And I'm still overjoyed by the expansionist approach the administration is taking to football with all these added hires.

Speaking of hires, at least the pictures of our new staffers now appear on the coaches' page of the football website. The bios should come soon.

Baseball Begins

You'll have to forgive the umpire at today's Columbia baseball home opener against Army if he yells: "P-P-P-Plaaayyy  B-B-B-Balll! in this sub-45 degree weather. That is, if the game does get underway at all. Rain is expected in the NYC area later today. The game was already moved from West Point because of bad field conditions up there.

But the Ivy League schedule starts this Saturday against Columbia's arch-nemesis Dartmouth. The Big Green happen to remain the team with the best chance to stop the Lions from a three-peat of Ivy baseball titles after falling to Columbia in the last two Ivy League Championship Series.

By the way, the weather is expected to be even colder on Saturday.

Just for Laughs

A funny joke article in today's Daily Pennsylvanian "reports" that just-fired Quaker basketball coach Jerome Allen is also coming to Columbia.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Lessons from "Concrete Charlie"

Stay down, Frank!

Penn and Eagle great Chuck Bednarik died Saturday morning at the age of 89.

He was possibly the toughest football player ever, and certainly was the toughest Ivy League football player of all time.

And today, there are two very important things Columbia football can learn from Bednarik's life.

He played for Penn before the formal formation of the Ivy League and at a time when the Quakers were a national power and looking to cash in on a major TV contract. Penn reached such heights and started drubbing its traditional rivals so frequently, that the school finally got cold feet and pulled back. It was that pullback that led to de-emphasis of big-time football for the new Ivy League and the eventual creation of the ban on athletic scholarships for its members.

None of that affected Bednarik, as he was already deep into his professional career when the League started business in 1956. But in an weird twist, Bednarik played his pro ball on the same Franklin Field turf where he made an impact as a collegian... even as his college was drifting further and further away from him and from competitive football.

And "drifting" is a kind word for it. From 1956-81, Penn was a very poor relation in the world of Ivy football. In fact, the Quakers and Columbia were basically the best bet to come in last every year.

Then in a shift I've written about here several times before, the Penn administration under then-President Sheldon Hackney decided to get serious about making Quaker football as competitive as the basketball program had become years before.

In the early days of that turnaround effort, then-Quaker Head Coach Jerry Berndt and his new staff put together one of those football alumni golf outing fundraisers that everyone does these days. When putting together the guest list, Berndt and his aides were surprised to see that no one at Penn had really reached out to Bednarik for years. Word was that "Concrete Chuck" had pretty much given up on Penn football years before and would be a very tough sell. Nevertheless, Bednarik did agree to come.

Former Columbia Head Coach Larry McElreavy was on Berndt's staff, was there that day and he told me this story about what happened:

"Bednarik and many of the Penn alumni were very bitter about the past and skeptical about the program's turnaround rhetoric for the future. But the round of golf went well, and then we got to the dinner and the time when they asked for financial support from the alums. And at that moment, Chuck came right over to Berndt and presented him with a Mrs. Paul's frozen food coupon."

Now the postscript to this story is that when Penn did started winning, Bednarik became very much involved in the program financially and in other ways.

The other postscript was that after a one-win first season under the new regime, the Quakers next four seasons under Berndt were championship seasons.

The point for today is that if Columbia alumni think that we're bitter and that our administration has made egregious errors in the past, they're right. BUT, the same was true for Penn. And Penn has become the best football program in the Ivies since that era of Jerry Berndt and the Al Bagnoli years that followed a decade later.

I don't begrudge the Columbia football alumni who may still be as bitter and skeptical as Bednarik was at that golf outing. But I am happy to see so many very truly abused and ignored football alums not succumbing to that bitterness and apathy. The long-time fans know that the hiring of Bagnoli alone doesn't absolve all the past wrongs, but we know that it and the efforts to put together his excellent new staff are the first significant moves for football by this administration for football in many decades. And we know that it's been the lack of that kind of commitment from the top that is the single biggest reason for the team's failures on the field.

There's one more lesson for today that Columbia in particular can learn from the life of Chuck Bednarik.

Remember, he was a soldier in World War II well before he became a college football player. And you know where I'm going with this line of reasoning: America today is filled with good and even great quality football players who also happen to be returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Can Columbia field a team filled with these veterans? No. But the Lions can find one or two of these still young men who can make a difference on the field right away and can enroll today at Columbia for free in the School of General Studies via our exemplary "Yellow Ribbon Program."

I can tell you now that the new coaching staff is fully aware of the GS option, especially for veterans. I can't say, and neither can they, that the staff will be able to rope in any players via this route. But I can tell you they will try.

And it's an effort worth trying, because I wouldn't be surprised to learn there's another Chuck Bednarik out there, willing to prove he can be just as tough in the classroom as he is on the battlefield and the field of play.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Here Comes the New Look... and the New Pitch!

The new uniforms with an entirely new look for the Columbia football team have been ordered.

Judging by what Head Coach Al Bagnoli said about the light blue color at his introductory news conference, I think we can expect to see a lot less pure light blue in the new look unis.

Ever since I was an undergraduate from 1988-92, I've heard fans clamoring for a black uniform with light blue lettering and trim. That means probably something like the Carolina Panthers home uniforms below:

In fact, I'm going to make a wild prediction that this is a lot like what we're going to see when the uniforms are finally revealed.

But you don't have to wait to find out just what Columbia's recruiting pitch is already sounding like to potential players.

Offensive Line Coach Jon McClaughlin has been tweeting a lot of statements, complete with links to back it up, about the very diverse student body and faculty at Columbia.

Here are some samples:

"Columbia has the highest black freshman percentage for the top-ranked national universities" - the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

"Columbia University's commitment to diversity, creates the Nation's ideal environment for elite student athletes"

"Gentrification is turning all of NYC into the hottest and hippest urban environment in the world"

Recruiting is all about sales, and while McClaughlin didn't go to an Ivy school himself, he's been coaching this league for a very long and knows how to sell it.

Mark Fabish and Joe D'Orazio were stars at Penn and they are more than informed and bought-in. Jon Poppe didn't go Ivy, but he played at an elite academic school and had a brother and a dad who played right here at Columbia.

It's in this aspect of the game that this staff really is a major upgrade from what we've seen in the past. And I sense real energy from these guys as they begin the long process of recruiting the 2016 freshman class.

Of course, there's a tremendous amount of focus on the coming season and ending this 21-game losing streak. But the long game is really in motion and I like the aggressive but sagacious recruiting effort we're seeing now.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Twitter Happiness

Remember when the words "Twitter" and "Columbia Football" used to make all of us wince in pain?

No more.

These days the very active new assistant coaching staff actively tweets out good and informative stuff all the time.

The @columbialionsfb account, which spent months frozen with a tweet about Brown going into victory formation back in November, has also suddenly come to great life.

Some of the coaches used Twitter today to post the great weightlifting video here.

Via Twitter we also got a second notice of the sessions for spring practice and the open scrimmages for all to see on April 19th and 26th. 

And the Twitter accounts are also telling us about the Columbia Lion football camps for high school recruits this July 8th, 9th, 12th and 13th.

The key Twitter accounts to follow in addition to @columbialionsfb are:

And there will be more to come. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Deepest Commitment

Mark Fabish

I know we've known about who was filling Al Bagnoli's coaching staff for a few weeks now.

But yesterday's official announcement, along with Bagnoli's own take on each hire was simply a delight. And it was more than that. I believe the assembling of this staff under Bagnoli is every bit as much a sign of the massive administration increase in commitment to Columbia football as the hiring of Bagnoli itself.

That's because it took money, perseverance and smarts to get a staff filled with this many experienced experts and up-and-coming phenoms.

Mike Faragalli and Paul Feraro are very hardened coordinators who have seen it all and done it all. They are not here to become head coach or jump to another program in the FBS. I don't even think recruiting will be a major part of their jobs. They're here to focus on what the team does on Saturdays. The overall program improvement and its image are somebody else's job. These guys are going to crunch the X's and O's and they have the gravitas to push their ideas to Bagnoli as hard as they need to.

Based on what my sources tell me, these are the kinds of coordinators consultant Rick Taylor prefers. That is, guys who are not necessarily looking to move up the coaching ranks but are simply very good craftsmen at the art of creating offensive and defensive schemes.

Thus, I believe the hiring of these guys may have been influenced in some way by the Taylor Report, but I am only guessing about that.

The real up-and-comers on this staff are Associate Head Coach Mark Fabish and Secondary Coach Jon Poppe. (Contrary to the reports I received, Poppe will also act as Recruiting Coordinator as opposed to Columbia creating a stand alone RC job. I'm not sure if someone changed their mind about that or if it was never actually in the cards).

Fabish and Poppe are considered to be two of the best, if not the best, recruiters in Ivy football. Just getting one of them would be a coup, but getting BOTH is beyond fortunate. In fact, that's the point. Getting them wasn't about luck, it was about hard work and a strong sell.

Another coup is getting long-time Penn OC and O-Line coach Jonathan McClaughlin simply to focus on the offensive line. The emphasis Bagnoli has always put on having a strong O-line cannot be overstated. So anyone who was able to remain on his staff at Penn as long as McClaughlin did has to be good. And he is. This is a tremendous pickup for a team that needs offensive line help so bad, the Red Cross was almost ready to set up blood donor stations at the games for our skill position players last season.

Joe D'Orazio is another Bagnoli acolyte in the mix and that speaks volumes about his ability to keep players and coaches loyal and "bought in" to his methods.

Darin Edwards, Todd Gilcrist, and Justin Stovall are also all "for real." I particularly like the Edwards hire as we continue to show the wisdom of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

This isn't just a good staff. It's an all-star staff that took a lot of work to put together. And by "work," I mean the mental work to come to a place where the Columbia leadership was able to make the emotional commitment to the program.

Make no mistake, we are off to a roaring start.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

BREAKING: Coaching Staff Officially Announced

Every single one of the confirmed assistants I reported here has now been officially named to Al Bagnoli's staff: http://m.gocolumbialions.com/mobile/ViewArticle.dbml?atclid=209966690&DB_OEM_ID=9600&

One piece of news I was not at liberty to report has also now been made official: WR Coach Mark Fabish has also been given the title of Assistant Head Coach. 

This is a stellar staff the likes of which Columbia has never seen for football. 

Our (Apparent) Stars

Assessing the personnel

When you lose 21 straight games and all but two of them aren't even remotely close, it sure is hard to really assess a team's talent.

That's the challenge that the new Columbia coaching staff is undertaking right now and we'll leave them to it. But I do want to point out the names of a few returning players who seem to have the most potential, or at least seem to have done so from a fan's perspective, despite the brutal numbers on the scoreboard.

One player who is unquestionably at the top of his game is senior DT Niko Padilla. Padilla is the biggest reason why Head Coach Al Bagnoli has been quoted saying that the D-line is Columbia's best strength right now. But don't sleep on senior DE Toba Akinleye, who actually led the Lions in tackles last season He also led the team in sacks and tackles for a loss. And I'm also excited by the expected return of DE Chad Washington, a true force on the outside. The D-line also has help from senior DT JD Hurt and hopefully-returning sophomore DE Charles Melka. The front four under new DL Coach Darin Edwards could really be special this fall. (And I do believe the Lions are going back to a 4-3 defense).

Don't look now, but the linebacker position under Coach Justin Stovall isn't a weakness either. Junior Gianmarco Rea was the second-leading tackler on the team and I like everything I hear about his spirit and leadership skills. Fellow junior Keith Brady had a solid 2014 season as well. But the real potential star in my opinion was sophomore Alexander Holme. At 6-4, Holme cast a huge presence as a freshmen last year and he also recorded 31 tackles with four tackles for a loss in just seven games played. He showed the real ability to be a disrupter into the offensive backfield. Finally, I think the expected return of Mark Cieslak will be a big help to this unit too.

The secondary is much more a mystery for this team and it's good that a super talent like Jon Poppe is going to be in charge of this unit. My favorites on the back line are seniors Travis Reim and Trevor Bell and junior Brock Kenyon. I found the rest of the unit very hard to assess because of all the points Columbia seemed doomed to give up in 2014 and 2013 for that matter. We could see some real changes here.

All in all, I think the defense has more known impact players than the offense. So my "stars" on the other side of the ball are more of a leap of faith to be sure.

Thank goodness Coach Jon McClaughlin is bringing his unique O-line building talents to the Lions. I have a real hard time assessing the best talents on the line, but I still think junior Kendall Pace and sophomore Charlie Flores looked good enough last year to hold out hope. The bottom line is Columbia won't get competitive until the offensive line is at least passable, so finding the talent here and developing it is job 1.

Senior RB Cameron Molina was a real workhorse last year and one can only wonder how effective he could have been had Columbia had some other go-to offensive weapons.

At QB, I was one of the many fans who was encouraged by the play of sophomore Anders Hill at the end of his freshman campaign. He can throw and run and has good size. But the QB position still seems very wide open right now.

A year ago, Columbia seemed deep at the WR position. But injuries and reality set in last season and now a lot of that receiving talent has graduated anyway. If Connor Nelligan can come back healthy and get approved for a 5th year, he could be a big help. After him, the returning receiver I like best is sophomore Marcus Briscoe who has a lot of key tools to have a big impact season in 2015. WR Coach Mark Fabish is the right guy to find the best talent here for Ivy competition, so I like the management here especially.

Coach Joe D'Orazio's tight ends are another challenge. I did like a bit of what I saw from sophomore Zach Dansby in his freshman campaign of 2014. But will senior Nick Durham follow up on the promise he showed in his freshman year?

The best special teams star may have been junior Cameron Nizialek who was forced to punt a massive 69 times last season. But he did a fine job and was a calming figure. I liked the way sophomore Noah Zgrablich performed on PAT's, but he only attempted six FG's and missed four of them.

Spring practice begins in 15 days.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lining it up Right

Why was Brackett under center in this game from 2012?

It's not always about recruiting.

It's certainly a huge part of the story, but Columbia football fans know very well that even during the brief periods where we've seen superior talent on the field, it hasn't always been used properly.

The basic problem seems to be that several of our most recent coaching staffs have either misdiagnosed our talent or they came into each season too closely married to a specific system no matter the player personnel.

We saw this in 2012, when Pete Mangurian decided to put speedy and resourceful QB Sean Brackett '13 into a pro set despite the fact that his talents and track record screamed for a read option strategy like the Pistol formation.

Before Magurian, Brackett wasn't exactly used 100% properly by Norries Wilson and his offensive coordinator Vinny Marino either. It was colossal example of waste as the best overall QB this program has seen in 25+ years was held back from doing the kind of damage he should have been able to do for four years.

Reason #215 why the hiring of Al Bagnoli is such a relief and a rallying point for some many of us long-suffering fans is this: the overwhelming lesson you get from Bagnoli's long successful career is that he is always ready to change his system based on who he has on the field.

We've seen Bagnoli win titles with running QB's like Billy Ragone. We've seen him do it with pro-style passers like Gavin Hoffman and Matt Rader, etc.

If there is one constant in Bagnoli's career it's that he always seems to sacrifice most everything else in order to have a strong defense and good offensive line. But that's not something that I can see ever being the wrong thing to do.

These last two years of Columbia football have made the job of assessing our best talent very hard. When you go 0-21 and lose every game by buckets of points, it's really impossible to feel confident about ratings our strengths and weaknesses. Everything just seems like a weakness.

But I'm quite sure Bagnoli and his staff will assess this team based on what it is, not what they think every team should be. And based on that, I do think we'll see an offense that calls for using a mobile QB a lot more often. And I do think that under Jon McClaughlin we'll build our O-line the old fashioned way, instead of slimming down our incoming freshmen and putting them well behind the 8-ball before they step foot on campus.

As Bagnoli and his staff fix things, I predict they're going to come to a realization that the previous staffs and the administration did not fail because they had bad luck despite good and honest best efforts.

They're going to find that Columbia football has failed in the past because of stubbornness in the face of failure, defiance in the face of fair criticism, and self-assurance that everything possible was being done in the face of better and more extensive efforts by everyone else around them.

The overall problem of making Columbia football a championship program won't be easy. But making it a lot better is something that's already on the way because a proven competent staff is in place.

And we're about to see how that staff starts to use the players the right way.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Bagnoli-Fabish Memory Lane

Let's hope he hoists at least one more

Does it tell us anything that new assistant coach Mark Fabish played a big role in both of the only two games Al Bagnoli ever lost to Columbia?

Scratch that.

Those two games were two of the ten most important Columbia wins of the last 25 years.

And it's not like Fabish had bad games in those contests. On the contrary, he was a force in both games and the Lions simply found a way to win in spite of him.

The first game was on a rainy October day in 1995, when Columbia ended Penn's tops in the nation 24-game winning streak with a 24-14 win at Wien Stadium.

Because of the extraordinary turn of events here over the last month, two things from that game now stand out in my memory: 1) Fabish's 40 yard TD catch to give the Quakers their final lead of the game and 2) Bagnoli's really classy responses to questions about the loss and Columbia's overall effort in the game.

Everything went south for Columbia not long after that win when star QB Mike Cavanaugh broke his leg against eventual league champ Princeton. But that was a special day for the Lions.

A year later, Columbia was 3-0 coming into Franklin Field for the rematch. But the Lions were banged up and playing without starting QB Bobby Thomason. Now Thomason was no John Elway, but he was very smart with the football and he knew how to make the efforts of Columbia's then-dominant defense hold up.

Without Thomason Columbia's offense struggled more than usual and suffered from bad turnovers, including a 93-yard pick six by Penn's Joseph Peila. But the Lions fought back well enough to force a 13-13 and send the game into OT.

That's where Fabish ran a perfect pattern to catch a near perfect pass on a 3rd and 2 to set the Quakers up for a 1st and goal at the one.  Penn score on the next play and it looked like the Lion luck had run out. But the PAT was blocked and Columbia had an opening.

And after two incomplete passes, Thomason hooked up with WR Dennis Lee for the tying TD. The Lions Matt Linit hit the extra point for the incredible win.

That was the last time Columbia beat Penn in a football game. Yep, it's been 18 straight wins for Bagnoli and the Quakers and... well, you know the rest of the story.

Now Bagnoli and Fabish are in our corner and it's great to have them.

Come Home Boys!

It’s certainly not easy for a new coaching staff to come in this late in the game and have to evaluate nearly 75 players all before spring practice begins in four weeks.

But that’s what Al Bagnoli and his assistants are taxed with right now.

And to make matters even more difficult there are some players currently off the roster that the coaches have to decide what to make of without the benefit of firsthand knowledge of their abilities and history.

The good news is that I still believe standout defenders Chad Washington and Mark Cieslak will return to the team at least by training camp.

Simply as a fan of their skills, I’m still holding out hope to see both WR Isaiah Gross and DB Devin Williams find a way back onto the roster. I don’t pretend to know the details of why they’re not on the team now and I place no blame for it on anyone. But both players actually showed what they could do on the varsity field. In addition, Williams may have been the most sought-after recruit from last year’s freshmen class so it would be a super shame to lose him.

The past decade of Columbia football hasn’t been all bad, and one of the best developments of this period has been better player retention. Giving credit where it’s due, former Head Coach Norries Wilson was most responsible for this. I think he helped build real camaraderie on the team and no one wanted to let his teammates down. But the value of getting a chance to continue playing college football is something that has to be repeated to young students who may not realize this is a chance that doesn’t ever come back.

There’s a reason why men in corporate positions and in your neighborhood bar are often caught lying about having played college football: it’s something people respect. And while a Columbia degree will get most people pretty far, a Columbia degree with the added strength of the former player network that comes with staying with the team is totally priceless.

And finally, things really are changing for the better. Every player should be jumping at the chance to learn from Bagnoli and his incredible staff of older and younger coaches. This isn’t just a once in a lifetime opportunity to play college football, but a once in a century opportunity to play football for a Columbia program finally under proper management. 

Craig Haley's Pre-Spring Roundup

I think TSN's Craig Haley hits all the right points in this article previewing the big story lines coming into spring practice time in the Ivies.

Of course, he leads with the big Al Bagnoli coming to Columbia news and puts it in good perspective.

The other good piece of info is he lists the spring practice dates for all eight Ivy teams.

Columbia's practice period is April 1-29.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BREAKING: Fordham's Edwards to coach DL

Darin Edwards

In another good poaching from a Columbia opponent, FootballScoop is reporting that Fordham defensive line coach Darin Edwards is coming to the Lions to coach the same position.

You can read Edwards soon-to-be-deleted bio here.

No one has to tell Columbia fans how fearsome the Ram defensive line has been, but of course Edwards and Fordham have the luxury of athletic scholarships to work with.

The bulk of Edwards' resume comes from his very good years at Sacred Heart, a program that's been on the rise for a while now.

BREAKING: Fabish Coming to Columbia

Mark Fabish

Early this morning, former All Ivy WR and Penn Receivers Coach Mark Fabish removed all the Penn coaching info from his Twitter bio.

That helps to confirm what I've heard from multiple sources: Fabish is joining Al Bagnoli's staff here at Columbia.

I do believe he will also be the Lions WR coach, but it's possible he will have a slightly different title.

You can read Fabish's bio here... or at least until it's deleted from the Penn website.

I consider Fabish to be a prime jewel from the Quaker staff and it's a real coup to get him. He, along with Jon Poppe from Harvard, are two of the best recruiters in the Ivies and now they will be working together at Columbia.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BREAKING: Columbia about to Make Ivy History

Within the next few days, Columbia will become the first Ivy school to create the position of Recruiting Coordinator for football. This coordinator will not be an on-the-field coach, but dedicate his entire time to recruiting for Columbia.

I have only one source telling me who this coordinator will be, so I am holding off on publishing that name here until I get more confirmation. But I am encouraged by what information I do have on that score.

The financial and philosophical commitment required to make this move is almost as significant as the financial and philosophical commitment it took to bring Al Bagnoli to Morningside Heights.

The other Ivy schools will soon follow to be sure, but Columbia is making a great statement by being first. And if we hire the person I believe we're hiring, our competitors will have a hard time catching up.

I've written here many times that the days when Columbia fans pat themselves on the back for simply catching up with our Ivy rivals must come to an end. The Lions won't get a winning program until they start eclipsing the other schools at least in some key aspects of the game.

And I believe that have done just that with the establishment of this position and the person they're likely to put in the job.

REJOICE! Bollinger Channels Sheldon Hackney

The good news just keeps rolling in when it comes to Columbia football.

In an interview with the Columbia Spectator yesterday, President Lee Bollinger uttered the following words about football to a University-wide audience that we've been longing to hear from every Columbia president since Eisenhower:

“You cannot have a program, especially one that’s highly visible, that everyone thinks is uncompetitive, that is losing so much. It’s not good for the players, it’s not good for the University, so we really need to overcome that and be supportive.” 

Sure, Bollinger said as much to the football fans at the Rick Taylor event and the introductory news conference for Al Bagnoli last month. But saying this to the Spectator means even more and is eerily similar to the message then-Penn President Sheldon Hackney made in 1982 that I've written about so many times here. And that message is: in the end, winning in football costs a lot less for an Ivy League school than losing. The University's image improves, alumni engagement and donations improve, and more.

Not only has Bollinger backed up this sentiment by doing and spending what was necessary to bring Bagnoli and his new staff here, but it's also significant that he is finally communicating and communicating well with the students and alumni. His message was clear and genuine, (unlike the disingenuous message he made last year in support of Dianne Murphy and Pete Mangurian), and finally answers the question many people ask about why you need a competitive football team at an Ivy school in the first place.

It's important to remember that while Columbia football hasn't won a thing on the field yet, some of the most important off-the-field battles are finally being won. A key part of the administration is getting it.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Check it Out

Need some inspiration for your early morning workouts? 

The new Columbia Lions football coaching
staff has already provided some for the players with this video: 

New Week, New Names

Todd Gilcrist

Twitter has become the reliable source of choice these days for confirming news on recruits and new coaches.

Thanks to Twitter we now know that Todd Gilcrist, who played at Pitt and had been coaching at Carnegie Mellon, is coming to Columbia to coach the running backs.

I'm also hearing that a major up-and-comer from the Penn staff who was also a star player for Al Bagnoli, is close to joining the Columbia staff. I'm searching for more confirmation before I publish his name here, but he's probably the one guy on Bagnoli's old Penn staff I covet the most.

Patrick Eby

We all missed this one a few weeks ago, but long snapping specialist Patrick Eby committed to Columbia back on February 4th.

Based on several combine ratings, Eby is one of the top-ranked long snappers in the country.

According to my LionFeeders database, Eby will be the third documented graduate of Loyola Blakefield HS in Towson, MD to come to the lions. Kyle Stupi '12, was the most recent player to come here from that school.

You can see a video of him here.

That brings our number of known incoming football freshman to 19, (but we know there are two or three more out there):

1) Brock Anglin TE 6-6, 240 lbs. Episcopal School Dallas, TX

2) Adam Armesto OL/TE 6-6, 235 lbs. Canton HS Canton, MI

3) Kyle Castner QB 6-2, 211 lbs. Ben Davis HS, Indianapolis, IN

4) Patrick Eby C 6-3, 220 lbs. Loyola Blakefield HS, Towson, MD

5) Calvin Falkenhayn LB 6-2, 230 lbs. Loyola Academy, Wilmette, IL

6) Lucas Faria RB 5-10, 190 lbs. Sparta HS, Sparta, NJ

7) Ryan Gilbert DB 6-0, 178 lbs. Bellevue HS, Bellevue, WA

8) Connor Halm DT 6-7, 270 lbs. Langley HS McClean, VA

9) Michael Hinton DE 6-4, 221 lbs. Reynolds HS Winston-Salem, NC

10) Danny Hong QB 6-4, 215 lbs. Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas, NV

11) Brandon Krcilek WR 6-2, 185 lbs. Hamilton HS Chandlerm AZ

12) Cole McDonough OL 6-2, 290 lbs. Bel Air HS Bel Air, MD

13) John Riley McLaughlin CB/WR 6-1, 192 lbs. Alcoa HS Alcoa, TN/Phillips Andover Academy Andover, MA

14) Luke Melsop DE 6-5, 220 lbs. St, Francis de Sales HS Newark, OH

15) H.T. Minor RB 5-9, 175 lbs. Woodberry Forest HS Woodberry Forest, VA

16) Ryan Suitt QB 6-1, 175 lbs. All Saints Episcopal HS Fort Worth, TX

17) Peter Szymanski OL 6-6, 275 lbs. Maine South HS Park Ridge, IL

18) Jason Vravick LB 6-2, 225 lbs. Stevenson HS Lincolnshire, IL

19) Sean "Jimmy" White DB 6-3, 220 lbs. Friendswood HS, Friendswood, TX

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sources: Faragalli tapped for OC

EMultiple sources tell me the extremely experienced Mike Faragalli will be the new Columbia offensive coordinator. 

Faragalli has been an OC at many schools, and even was a head coach briefly in the CFL. His years as OC at Lafayette when that team was scoring big points and winning championships are most encouraging. 

For obvious reasons, I will now honor Roman tradition and refer to the team of Bagnoli, Faragalli and Ferraro as "The Triumvirate."  

New LB Coach

Justin Stovall, a star linebacker and team captain at linebacker for Laffayette, is joining Al Bagnoli's staff as linebackers coach. 

Stovall has been coaching pretty much since he graduated in 2007. Many of his coaching bios have been deleted, but he has been at Lehigh, Villanova, and most recently at Valporaiso. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Worlds are Colliding

New Head Football Coach Al Bagnoli's decision to quickly get out of "retirement" is something millions of recently retired Americans wish they could do too.

I decided to play up the retirement angle and make Bagnoli the focus of my CNBC.Com column today.

Retirement finances are a big issue for our viewers, but I learned from my dad that the biggest challenges of retirement often have nothing to do with money.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Era of Good Feelings

I received many reports today that last night's John Jay Awards Dinner was a great one for the many former Columbia athletes who were there.

Head Coach Al Bagnoli was in attendance and he continues to infuse everyone he talks to with a new spirit of optimism and enthusiasm for the future of Columbia football.

We've experienced optimism about Lion football in the past to be sure, especially in the weeks after we hire a new coach.

But this time it's different. It's optimism combined with relief, with a "wow we finally had a V-8!" moment thrown in.

We're still waiting to officially hear the names of all the incoming assistant coaches. One crucial question is whether Jon McClaughlin will be both the offensive coordinator and the offensive line coach or just the offensive line coach.

But the reported hiring of Paul Ferraro as defensive coordinator and the arrival of highly-regarded Jon Poppe from Harvard prove that Bagnoli and the new salary packages are attracting wide-ranging interest from top quality coaches.

Now the real test is whether Columbia will be able to attract wide-ranging interest from top quality players. The recruiting process for the 2016 freshmen class is underway and something tells me that is a higher priority for Bagnoli than almost anything else.

Speaking of good feeling, I must say I really enjoyed seeing Connor Nelligan's name appear on the roster page when it was republished earlier this week. Nelligan is an excellent wide receiver who has had bad luck with injuries over the past two seasons. He's graduating this May, but his status is listed as "graduate student" on the roster and I hope that means he will be allowed a medical 5th year this fall.

Another player I hope to soon see return to the roster is rising sophomore DB Devin Williams. Devin was a great recruiting "get" and he jumped out at me for his excellent overall play in the Yale game last year. I'd really like to see him back.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BREAKING: Ferraro to be Defensive Coordinator

Paul Ferraro

According to Football Scoop former Dartmouth, UCF, Rutgers, and Maine defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro will join Al Bagnoli's staff as the Lions defensive coordinator.

You can see his most recent UCF bio here.

It doesn't get more experienced than Ferraro, who also has extensive assistant coaching experience in the NFL.

So why is he available?

Well, things went south... way south... between him and UCF Head Coach George O'Leary. Yes, that's the same O'Leary who ran into big troubles at Notre Dame.

(In a funny coincidence, guess which school Columbia's stellar baseball team is playing this coming weekend? Yep, it's UCF!)

The good news is, none of this seems to have had anything to do with Ferraro's abilities and effectiveness as a coach.

My take: this is yet another super-experienced coach joining the Bagnoli staff. With reports that long-time Penn OC and O-line coach Jon McClaughlin is also in tow, Columbia already has a very veteran group at the helm.

Fundraising Push

In a very good move by the administration, The Columbia Campaign for Athletics has already created specific fundraising and job mentoring program based on the Bagnoli hire.

The page I linked to in the above sentence smartly embeds a video of the Bagnoli news conference and gives the reader a real reason to support this move.

Columbia football fans have been willing to give big on a "Hallmark Holiday" of an event like "Giving Day" for years without any real news or purpose to give other than the fact that someone called it "Giving Day."

So just think how much the same fans and new fans will be inspired to give now that there's a real commitment from the administration to push us on.

Honoring Leone

Speaking of fundraising, Nick Leone '88 will be honored at tonight's John Jay Awards Dinner at Cipriani in Midtown Manhattan.

If you read Nick's brief bio here, you wouldn't know he played four years of football for the Lions.

And they weren't just any four years. Leone played for the three varsity teams that went winless from 1985-87. (But they did win their first freshman football game).

Leone was one of just 11 men who stuck with the program throughout those tough four years. He wasn't just a bench warmer either; he was a good wide receiver who put up some decent numbers despite the losses.

That group of 11 men should always be named as Matt Sodl '88 always does when he talks about those days.

They were:

Mike Bissinger, Phil Fusco, George Gianfrancisco, Mike Lavelle, Dave Putelo, Nick Leone, John Miller, Tony Natola, Rich Ritter, Paul San Fillipo, and Matt Sodl. 

Sadly, Fusco died not too long after graduating in a car accident. And a postseason player award has been named in his honor for many years.

It shouldn't be surprising that so many of those 11 guys have been successful in their post-playing careers. They went through a lot at Columbia and were uniquely prepared for the challenges of real life afterwards.

Leone is now a senior managing director at the Blackstone Group, where he has worked since 1995.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Local Heroes

Excuse me, young man but have you seen any offensive linemen around here?

You gotta love the first two paragraphs of this piece today in the Bergen Record:

"Al Bagnoli, Columbia football.

New Columbia football coach Al Bagnoli needs no directions. At the top of his recruiting list is a visit to Bergen County."

You gotta love that because a huge reason Columbia is lucky to have Bagnoli is the immediate credibility he gives us in our own region where we have been out-recruited by Penn and Princeton for far too long. 

We may not see much movement with this incoming recruiting class, because it's so late in the game. But the recruiting process for next year's class is also underway and Bagnoli can make a splash on that front right now. 

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.