Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Renewing Our Vows

As we approach Head Coach Al Bagnoli’s second season, there are some things worth noting about year two:

-So much for all the conventional wisdom about how Columbia fans are supposed to be quick to anger and despair. Most fans I know are still generally euphoric about Bagnoli being here along with 2nd year A.D. Peter Pilling.  I think the very obvious statistical improvement last season played a big part of it, along with the fact that the Lions were competitive in all but one game in 2015. But the real reason is everyone is still extremely grateful for the bold move that brought Bagnoli here and the boost in commitment from President Lee Bollinger. I don’t know about the actual fundraising figures, but I would guess they’re greatly improved over the 2014 figures.

-Year two can be a tough time for a new coaching regime. Columbia’s previous three head coaches, Bob Shoop, Norries Wilson, and Pete Mangurian, all suffered significant setbacks in their second years on the job. Shoop fell from 4-6 in 2003 to 1-9 in 2004 and never recovered. Wilson went from 5-5 in 2006 to 1-9 in 2007, and while he did recover as far as recruiting great talent, he never did better than 4-6 the rest of his Columbia career. Mangurian went from 3-7 in 2012 to losing his last 21 games in a row as the Lion head coach. In retrospect, it’s easy to see what went wrong in each of their personal scenarios. But every new coaching regime seems to face some tough realities in year two as the initial enthusiasm about the new blood at the top starts to fade.
That’s probably the good news for us this time, because I really don’t see the enthusiasm and “pinch ourselves” euphoria about Bagnoli being here wearing off yet. Maybe it’s because Bagnoli came in so relatively late last year, or because so many changes have been made and are still being made to the program. The very tangible evidence continues to multiply, led by the construction of the bubble to ensure an all-weather practice field by next year. These developments are important and are still in need of some positive reinforcement. If you haven’t shown your appreciation/relief by making or upping your donations to football or athletics, now would be the time.

-The other side of the year two challenge is that your opponents are at least a little more prepared for what you’re throwing at them. This is specifically an issue in the Ivy League where at least 70% of your opponents remain the same from year to year. In Columbia’s case this fall, the Lions will be playing nine of the ten opponents they faced in 2015.

-Just about every team in the Ivies will be better this year. I think only Dartmouth and Cornell will be worse, and Dartmouth could still easily be a good team. It’s not that the league was so bad last year, but there was a marked degree of inconsistency all the way up and down the league. Penn started very slowly and then really surged down the stretch. Dartmouth started strong and then slowed down at the end and started to squeak by in every game. Harvard was its usual efficient self until it remarkably couldn’t play very well at home in a game for all the marbles against Penn. I’ll have my full preview and predictions for the 2016 season in a week or so, but I think Columbia will be facing much tougher challenges than they did against a few teams last year. That’s especially true in the cases of Princeton and Brown.

-Recruiting will be a key testing ground and I think we’ll see some benefits this fall from Bagnoli’s first recruiting class. I’d be surprised if at least one freshman doesn’t make an impact as a starter this season and next year could really be a major year for a number of the members of this freshmen class. Recruiting for 2017 is very hard to judge at this point because at this stage, so many, (not all), of the most sought-after recruits are still a few months from making their decisions.  Anyone judging the overall quality of our commits for next year at this point is really jumping the gun.

I still think Bagnoli and company will overcome most, if not all, the year two curses the last three CU head coaches faced. But it’s important to know that a considerable amount of work will have to go into avoiding them. When Columbia shows continued improvement as the year progresses, even if it’s just a bit of progress, it will really mean something considering the year two challenge. 


oldlion said...

With 10 committed recruits to date, how do we compare in terms of numbers and quality to where we stood last year at this time?

DOC said...

I've upped my donation to Columbia Athletics for the simple reason
that for once in a long time our administration is not just paying
lip service to the concept of the pursuit of excellence in the football
program. And no, the pursuit of excellence is not just to be competitive in the league , to be able to say "we really scared the
crap out of ____." There is real momentum here. I'd be shocked if we
somehow succumbed to some sort of sophomore jinx.

oldlion said...

And Al has noted on more than one occasion that it was critical that we raise the pay of the assistant coaches in order to hire and retain high quality guys. That has been achieved.