News’ View: The Game isn’t the only game

Twelve years ago this month, 45-year-old Jack Siedlecki dressed his family in blue-and-white Yale shirts and headed to campus to be announced as the University’s next head football coach. Siedlecki told reporters he was excited to coach at a place with such tradition.

“The goals of the program are clear to me,” he said. “Beat Harvard and win the Ivy title. I’m not sure which is more important, but that is what we will work towards.”

If it’s the latter, Siedlecki, whose team won the Ancient Eight in 1999 and 2006, should be remembered as a success. But if The Game is all that matters, he will go down as a failure.

We are also not sure which is more important, but we are certain Siedlecki is going to be remembered more for performances like last Saturday’s (and his team’s six other losses to Harvard in the previous seven years) than for the two titles he brought home.

It’s a shame, really, for Siedlecki leaves Yale with a winning record and a talented crop of returning players.

Granted, it’s difficult to feel sorry for a man who makes six figures to coach football for a living. And, indeed, Siedlecki isn’t asking for any sympathy. “I don’t even consider it a job,” Siedlecki told a News reporter the week before the Harvard-Yale game.

But if not sympathy, Siedlecki deserves thanks. Or, if nothing else, something beyond the relentless verbal assault he has received from students and alumni since the most recent drubbing in The Game.

Indeed, on the whole, Siedlecki has been a successful coach in a highly visible sport, even if his play-calling has sometimes raised our blood pressure. For those who have angrily called for his firing, it should be noted that Siedlecki was far more successful, when it came to wins and losses, than many other Yale coaches who continue to hold their jobs without controversy.

And at that introductory press conference in 1996, Siedlecki told reporters he was attracted to the Yale job because he wanted to coach non-scholarship players who were as much students as they were athletes. Players like Casey Gerald ’09, a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, remind us that Siedlecki did not betray his roots. And in the scandal-plagued world of college football, he ran a respectable program.

He just didn’t manage to succeed when it most counted.

Siedlecki came to Yale from Amherst, where he transformed the school’s once-hapless program. There was only one knock against him: He never beat arch-rival Williams. Maybe Yale should have taken notice.

In his last season at Amherst, Siedlecki’s then-undefeated team led its rival by a point as the clock wound down, only to allow a touchdown with 40 seconds to go and blow the game. Joel Lamb, an assistant coach at the time and later Siedlecki’s offensive coordinator at Yale, once recalled to the Yale Alumni Magazine how Siedlecki faced his team after the loss.

“I remember on that day, he tried to turn something negative into something positive,” Lamb said. “He said, ‘This is a tough loss to take, but let’s reflect back on the first seven games and how enjoyable they were. Hey, we had a great season.’ ”

Reflecting back on the last 12 years, Siedlecki did have a great run. We just hope his successor can beat Harvard.

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