After loss in Game, Siedlecki retires

A week after concluding a disappointing 2008 season with a shutout loss in The Game, the Yale football team now must deal with another loss.

As criticism from students and alumni mounted following Harvard’s 10-0 steamrolling, football coach Jack Siedlecki unexpectedly announced his retirement from coaching on Wednesday after 12 years presiding over one of college football’s most historic programs.

Harvard celebrates their victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday in Cambridge.
Han Xu
Harvard celebrates their victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday in Cambridge.

Yale officials vowed to immediately begin searching for his successor, while Siedlecki said he will remain at Yale as an assistant director in the Athletics Department.

“In my 12 years at Yale I feel I have always tried to do what is best for Yale football and the student-athletes that our staff has brought here,” he said in an e-mail message to the News after the announcement. “I feel this is what is best for Yale football at this time.”

Siedlecki coached the Bulldogs to a 70-49 record over 12 years. He led the team to two Ivy titles, one in 1999 and the other in 2006, and last year was named Coach of the Year by the New England Football Writers Association.

But his retirement comes in the wake of a frustrating campaign for the Bulldogs, who finished 6-4 on the season and 4-3 in the Ivy League. Expectations for the team were high coming into the season; the Elis were selected as co-favorites, along with the Crimson, to win the Ivy League title. The squad returned 16 starters from a team that was undefeated in the 2007 season before falling short against Harvard in last year’s Game.

Yet a surprising week two loss at the hands of Cornell put the Elis behind from the start, and a 9-7 loss at home later in the season against Penn effectively dashed the Bulldogs’ hopes for a second Ivy League title in three seasons.

“As I said to the players, this one’s on me,” a visibly dejected Siedlecki said after the Penn game. “I had no answers offensively. … We did not give our players a chance.”

Some students and alumni began to murmur about whether Siedlecki should lose his job, but their criticism was nothing compared to what followed The Game last weekend after Harvard utterly dominated the Bulldogs in The Game for the second consecutive season. Although Yale’s defense kept the Elis in the game, the offense managed just 90 total yards — 10 in the second half — and could not score from inside the 10-yard line on their last possession despite having six opportunities.

The contest was a microcosm of the type of season the Bulldogs had — great defense, inconsistent offense. Yale was unable to take advantage of the nation’s top scoring defense in spite of returning one of the most prolific tailbacks in Ivy League history, Mike McLeod ’09. Yale finished 114th among 123 Football Championship Subdivision schools in total offense.

Rumors about Siedlecki’s possible departure began to circulate among members of the football team on Tuesday, three days after Yale lost to archrival Harvard in The Game for the seventh time in eight meetings. The defeat dropped Siedlecki’s overall record against the Crimson to 4-8.

Despite the complaints from students and alumni, Yale administrators never had any discussions about removing Siedlecki from his post, according to a Yale official who spoke on the condition of anonymity while discussing a personnel matter.

University President Richard Levin said in an interview Sunday that Siedlecki approached Yale officials last week and said he thought “it was time for a change.” In his e-mail, Siedlecki emphasized that the decision to step down was his own.

“It is voluntary and I think Tom Beckett was surprised how the conversation went,” Siedlecki said, referring to Yale’s director of athletics. “I have been doing this for 33 years and love the coaching profession. The e-mails I have received over the past few days have been very gratifying and make me proud to have been a coach.”

The News reported on its Web site Wednesday morning that Siedlecki had decided to retire. Around the same time, the coach informed his team in an e-mail message that he had decided to step down, and the Athletics Department announced his retirement shortly after noon.

In the announcement, a written statement e-mailed to reporters, Beckett praised Siedlecki’s tenure.

“We are proud of the work Jack and his staff have accomplished in a football program where the expectations are very high and the results have been good,” he said. “We believe that Jack will continue to be a valuable presence as an assistant director of athletics in a position where he can be a powerful advocate and spokesperson for Ivy athletics and Ivy athletes, both within the University and around the nation.”

Football players, meanwhile, said they had no idea Siedlecki was contemplating retirement.

“The decision was a total surprise to me and the rest of the guys on the team,” cornerback Casey Gerald ’09 said. “I honestly think it was just as big of a surprise to the coaches. There was nothing that hinted at Coach Sid being done after this season.”

Quarterback Brook Hart ’11 said he didn’t see the announcement coming, either. “I was pretty stunned when I heard about his decision,” he said.

Siedlecki leaves with a mixed legacy. On the one hand, the coach posted a winning record overall and brought home the two Ivy League titles. Captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said players admired their coach for his work ethic.

“On the field, he was always focused on winning and that was his No. 1 priority,” he said. “I think as players we always admired how hard he worked and that hard work ethic was shown in most of his teams.”

Yet second-guessing among football players was commonplace; in private conversations, players sometimes grumbled about game-day coaching, specifically play-calling, especially as Yale’s offensive woes mounted over the last year. And Siedlecki’s repeated defeats at the hand of the Crimson will surely be remembered by many students and alumni who called for his firing in recent years almost as an end-of-season ritual.

But asked about how on-the-field performance factors into a coach’s job security, Levin said in the interview that a Yale coach will never be fired based solely on wins and losses.

“We want coaches who recognize that athletics is an important activity that teaches about self-reliance and teamwork,” the president said. “But it also has to be integrated into a larger framework. Coach Siedlecki completely understood — completely understands — this.”

A search committee has been assembled to find Yale’s 34th football coach. While the committee may be inclined to search nationwide, several players said in interviews that they believe a suitable replacement can be found on the Bulldog staff in defensive coordinator Rick Flanders.

“He’s led the No. 1 scoring defense in the country two years in a row,” Brandt Hollander ’08, the captain of the 2007 squad, said by phone last week. “And Yale is such a unique place and going with a guy familiar with the unique situation will be a good choice.”

Siedlecki said he will not be involved in the search of his replacement. But the departing coach said he is enthusiastic to begin working for the Athletics Department as an administrator.

“I am looking forward to my new role in Yale athletics,” he said. “I will certainly be a coaches’ advocate and be involved in trying to improve the entire athletic recruiting process at Yale for all sports.”

Paul Needham contributed reporting.

Comments

  • The Mick

    I first heard about this on the web Monday, November 24, where it was described as a resignation to accept an assistant AD's job. No one in college football resigns as head coach of a program to take a "promotion" to assistant AD. This was a firing done the gentlemanly, Ivy League way. Coach Jack will be off the Yale campus as soon as he secures either another head coach at a Division I-AA (I personally hate the "new" BCS division designations) or a top assistant's position at a BCS school.

    Siedlicki's record over the past three years of 23-7 will assure he does not want for work. It is the 1-7 record against Harvard which will be his albatross.

  • sidrelates

    sid is heading home to syracuse - that is my guess - he was born and raised in upstate ny - and the ony direction that SU can go is up!

  • Anonymous

    Smart to jump before he was pushed. With his meal ticket and a flock of other seniors graduating, there is no place for Yale to go but down next year.

  • Alum

    Whether Jack Siedlecki was fired or retired on his own, this was the right move for Yale football. When he accepted the job in 1996, Siedlecki said “The goals of the program are clear to me: beat Harvard and win the Ivy title." Winning a share of two Ivy titles in 12 years isn't great but not terrible either (especially when you compare Yale's record in other sports over that time period, which ranks near the bottom of the Ivy League). But 4-8 against Harvard, especially after getting off to a 3-1 start, isn't going to cut it.

    Harvard and Yale have had a remarkably even record against each other beginning in the 1920s (Harvard dominated the 1910s and Yale dominated every decade before that) up to but not including the 2000s. Consider:
    1920s: 4 (Yale)-5 (Harvard)- 1 (Tie)
    1930s: 6-4
    1940s: 5-3 (no games in 1943 and 1944)
    1950s: 5-4-1
    1960s: 4-5-1
    1970s: 5-5
    1980s: 5-5
    1990s: 6-4
    2000s: 2-7

    Carm Cozza finished with a 16-15-1 record against Harvard (and yes, as someone who witnessed that one tie, it sure felt like a loss) and in his coaching career, Harvard never won more than two in a row (nor Yale more than three in a row).

    As a fan you obviously want your team to win every year but truthfully it is far better for a rivalry for the teams to alternate wins regularly (witness the diminishment of the Yale-Princeton rivalry after the 14-year Yale winning streak from 1967 through 1980). After dropping seven of eight, Yale is at risk of falling further behind Harvard and future Yale (and Harvard) undergraduates might lose out on one of the great joys of attending these two stellar universities.

    I am confident that Yale can find a coach who can improve upon Jack Siedlecki but a change in coaches isn't the whole story. The current state of the football program (and the athletic program more generally) should not be satisfactory to anyone. The lack of championships is one issue but far more important is the increasing separation of many of the teams from the overall undergraduate student body. Student attendance at football games is depressing (and the obsession with the tailgate outside the game - to the exclusion of the game - embarrassing) but so too is the self-isolation of the football players and other athletes in fraternities and other off-campus housing arrangements that are antithetical to the residential college ideal. There is much for the administration, admissions office, faculty and alumni to consider and reform, but there are also things today's students - intercollegiate athletes and all others - need to address as well. If they don't, they likely undermine the willingness of Yale (and the rest of the Ivies) to provide intercollegiate opportunities to future generations of students comparable to (or preferably better than) that offered today.

  • Anonymous

    As a Notre Dame alumnus (and Father of a Y graduate 2008), please hire ND's coach, Charlie Weiss as soon as possible…

    RJN

  • Yale '99

    It sounds like Alum (#4) read "Reclaiming the Game" by Bill Bowen. Perhaps, it is the remainder of the University that forces the athletes to isolate themselves. There is bias among professors and dining halls and other resources make it easier to live off campus.

  • Anonymous

    #6
    Agreed. The dining halls are usually closed by the time the players return from practice. Also, the location of the practice fields makes it preferable for athletes to live off campus where they can have free and and convenient parking.

  • Anonymous

    Give them credit: the Administration is trying its best to pump up athletic recruiting by filling 2/3 of each class from the early admissions pool - hopefully coralling as many recruits as possible before they have applied or admitted to Princeton and Harvard.

  • Yale Fan

    A 6-4 record in any other league is a bowl-bound team. Why the Ivy's don't participate in post-season play is another discussion, but the question remains, what decent coach in his right mind is going to want to come to coach here, when all that matters is one game? The energy and even the hyperbole around The Game needs to be spread out across the season. You can't be a Yale football fan for one game a season. Students, alumni, and local New Haven residents should be out there enjoying the Bowl and those players every Saturday they play. (As they should with basketball, field hockey, and as many other sports as there are fans.) This myopic view of what constitutes a successful season (beating Harvard) is unsustainable. Coach Sid and his coaches recruited the players and led them to a 9-1 record last year. When he started 12 years ago, the team was 1-9. Would detractors of the coach prefer that record if the one win was against Harvard? This is a stellar group of athletes that deserve respect, as does this coach. They also deserve some continuity going forward. As Tim Murphy said in the Boston Globe, he was shocked because his feeling was that our program was in such great shape. I certainly hope that there is a concerted effort on the part of the Athletic Department to keep as many of the coaches who have contributed to this success with the program. Go Bulldogs!

  • Anon.

    Bulldogs, go big or go home! Ha!

  • Anonymous

    #10

    Obviously the bulldogs will need to go home. The Yale team is vastly undersized and underpowered. It's amusing that McCleod's 500 lb squat is considered legendary. Still, with Yale's selectivity, I'm sure its tough to recruit very large dudes.

  • ?

    #11, 6-5 290 across the offensive line, how much bigger do you want them? Across the league, Yale is one of the biggest teams if you look at who is on the field.

  • MIKE PETERS

    I SPOKE W/ COACH SIEDLECKI BRIEFLY THIS SPRING IN FRONT OF COX FIELD HOUSE. CONVERSATION WENT SMOOTHLY UNTIL I SAID " HARVARD IS YOUR NEMESIS" JUDGING BY THE LOOK ON HIS FACE HIS SPHINCTER MUST HAVE CLOSED.I'M SURE THIS FEAR WAS TRANSMITTED TO HIS ASST. COACHES AND PLAYERS.THEIR PLAY LAST 2 YEARS ARE THE PROOF.