With the resignation of former head football coach Tom Williams in late December, Yale saw the departure of just its third football coach since 1965. Stability is a rare quality among Division I college football programs, but it is a product of Yale’s success in recent decades — 12 Ivy League titles, 10 of them in the 31-year tenure of legend Carm Cozza, and two more during Jack Siedlecki’s 11-year reign.
Yet if Cozza and Siedlecki’s success was not inevitable, it was in keeping with the tradition Yale football established since its inception in 1872. Gridiron glory in New Haven became a perennial expectation thanks to 27 national championships — five more than the University of Michigan and six more than the University of Notre Dame — two of the first three Heisman Trophy winners and a reputation for sportsmanship and honor.
That lasting expectation is more than the rumblings of a restless Yale fan base, uninformed opinions voiced from outside the program or people (myself included) who will never have to back their thoughts up in a coach’s game plan or on the field. Opinions of all kinds surround every team, but it seems to me high expectations are an honor — the product of years of tradition that serve as evidence to the kind of program Yale football can be.
Certainly, times have changed. Thanks to Ivy League regulations limiting post-season play, national championships for the Bulldogs are out of the question. But Ivy League titles are not, and Yale’s current team has the on-field personnel to make a run.
If you’ve ever been in the weight room while the football team is running an off-season workout, you know that those guys don’t work to end up in the middle of the pack. Early morning runs, grueling stair workouts, bench presses and squats ten sets at a time: Yale football works to win. Nobody taking the field for the Bulldogs shies away from high expectations.
So neither should those who support them, officially and unofficially. If stability is a product of success, instability should be a product of a lack of it. And in all fairness, keeping in mind the expectations Yale football has earned over the years, those Ivy League titles and wins over Harvard are becoming far too rare. We all know the stats, and there’s no point in rehashing, but it’s a fact that in recent years, Yale football has simply not been as successful as its players and alumni have a right to hope it would be.
Independent of that lack of success on the field (never entirely the fault of a coaching staff), coach Williams simply had to go because of his missteps off of it. He made a mistake, one made more regrettable by the fact that he took the helm of the Yale football program with an energy, enthusiasm and respect for the community and tradition that could have made him a fixture in the Yale athletic world.
He also worked hard to revamp Yale football. Williams tried to structure a schedule that would allow his players the full gamut of the Yale experience, unhindered by afternoon practices or workouts that could prevent them from taking classes or participating in other activities. Even faced with the challenges of Ivy League recruiting, Williams drew talent to the Yale environment he so respected. Even from the outside looking in, I can see there’s no shortage of talent and potential on the current Yale roster.
Off the field, the legacy of integrity also remains intact: for all the issues surrounding their coach and their frustrations against Harvard, football players refused to break ranks and articulate any negatives about their football family. In that way, the Yale football tradition remains admirably strong.
But for all that, and beyond the unfortunate circumstances around his eventual departure, Williams simply didn’t win.
The Bulldogs didn’t beat Harvard or win an Ivy League title, and that’s just not good enough. Again, to attribute that entirely to a coaching staff is to ignore a multitude of factors — big injuries, near misses and even luck. But the Yale community shows no lack of support if it voices the same opinion the Bulldogs themselves use as motivation to work through the offseason: recent years have been disappointing.
This is Yale football. All involved deserve more. Whoever comes in to take the reins inherits a unique tradition, a talented and hard-working team and, quite frankly, a frustrated Yale football family. I reiterate, I’m far from a football insider, and largely because of the respect players, coaches and administrators have for their program and tradition, it’d be tough to get anyone who is to vocalize those frustrations. But they’re there, and this new coach will be expected to allay them. He could do worse than to bring the kind of enthusiasm Williams did, and he certainly shouldn’t look to completely overhaul the mindset of a team that has prioritized winning for over a century. He doesn’t need drastic change. What he needs to do is win. Period. And he needs to understand that winning is the standard. He, Yale football players past and present, and fans deserve that much.