Last November, Tony Reno stood on one side of the Yale Bowl, watching his Harvard squad cruise to a 45–7 victory over the the school where he spent six seasons as an assistant coach.
Less than two months later, Reno stood on the other side of the Bowl, overlooking the site of his last victory, and prepared for a long-awaited homecoming.
After a 23-day-long search by the University, Reno was officially introduced Thursday afternoon as the 34th head coach of the Yale football team. He will succeed former gridiron leader Tom Williams, who announced his resignation on Dec. 21, amid accusations that he had overstated his history as a Rhodes Scholarship candidate. Reno faces two critical challenges that Williams was unable to meet during his time at Yale: winning the Ivy League title and beating Harvard in The Game.
“I’m the right man for the job,” Reno said in a press conference at the Bowl yesterday afternoon. “I understand the challenge of coaching at Yale and coaching in the Ivy League. I understand everything that makes Yale great, and I embrace it and want to build upon that tradition, that winning attitude and that success.”
Immediately after Williams’ resignation, the University formed two advisory committees to help director of athletics Tom Beckett in identifying candidates to replace him. One consisted of Yale football alumni, and the other of faculty, Yale Athletics officials and captain Will McHale ’13.
Jonathan Edwards Master Penelope Laurans, who chaired the latter committee, said in an email to the News that the two committees coordinated with each other to advise Beckett. Laurans said Pat Ruwe ’82 and Jack Ford ’72 from the alumni committee sat with the other committee while Laurans sat with the alumni committee to hear discussions.
“Reno [has] a great opportunistic attitude about Yale football,” said University President Richard Levin, who met Reno yesterday. “I think he has a deep understanding of the values of Ivy League institutions, and what it means to play serious athletic competition in the context of a great undergraduate education.”
Reno was one of four candidates who interviewed for the job: Georgetown head coach Kevin Kelly, UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown and Lehigh offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini were the other three. Reno, who has never been a coordinator beyond the Division III level, appeared to be the dark horse candidate.
But after Brown withdrew his name from consideration on Monday — Kelly followed on Wednesday afternoon — the search process came down to Reno and Cecchini.
Alumni input may have tipped the balance in Reno’s favor. Six former players composed an alumni advisory committee. Although not a member of the committee, former Bulldog captain Brandt Hollander ’08 followed the hiring process closely and said that many former players were enthusiastically supportive of the decision to bring in Reno.
“There was an outpouring of support for Coach Reno from the younger football alumni,” Hollander said in an email to the News. “Players who have had a chance to play for Coach Reno recognize what a tremendous talent he is, and I think he has the potential to become one of Yale’s all-time great coaches.”
Beckett said that he and the committee were impressed by Reno’s confidence and leadership abilities.
“He took the process by storm,” Beckett said. “He was motivational, organized, with an exceptional vision that we could wrap our heads around. He created a lot of excitement for us.”
After his introductory press conference, Reno faces the urgent challenge of convincing recruits for the class of 2016 to commit to Yale. The Bulldogs will host visiting players this weekend and next weekend.
NCAA regulations mandate that college coaches may contact high school players from Nov. 28 until Jan. 29. Recruits may first sign a National Letter of Intent for their school of choice beginning on Feb. 2. Without a head coach in place for nearly a month and with a new head coach, Yale runs the risk of losing valuable players to competing programs in the Ivy League, as recruits are reluctant to commit to programs with uncertainty in the coaching staff. Reno said he will meet with the current coaches to determine any changes and declined to comment on possible candidates for assistant positions on the new coaching staff.
But Beckett said he is confident that Reno, known as an exceptional recruiter, will get the job done.
“What he did when he was here and the relationships he made with the men of Yale football allowed us to create this image, this vision of what he could do for Yale football going forward,” Beckett said. “We’re confident that he’ll help us find those bright and talented young men, and we’re very confident that he’ll build this program into a championship-caliber program.”
Current Bulldogs also supported the decision to hire Reno. McHale said he was enthusiastic about Reno’s return and the future of the program under his leadership.
Running back Mordecai Cargill ’13 added that players who had not been coached or recruited by Reno were still excited by the reactions of their teammates.
“From what I hear from a lot of guys I really trust … I’ve just gotten a lot of excitement,” Cargill said. “He’s the right guy for the job.”
Reno was accompanied at the press conference by his parents, his wife Toni and their three children. Toni Reno said that her family will be looking to move to the area from their current home in Sturbridge, Mass., as soon as they can, although their sons Dante and Vince and daughter Angelina are still enrolled in school there.
She added that she has not had much time to discuss their family’s plans with her husband since they heard on Wednesday that he would be meeting with University President Richard Levin to discuss the position. The return to New Haven, however, was not unexpected, she explained.
“We knew eventually we’d be back,” Ms. Reno said. “We kept all our blue so we’re ready to go.”
During the three seasons that Reno spent at Harvard, the Elis compiled a 16–14 record and twice finished second in the Ancient Eight. Harvard compiled a 23–7 record in that time period and won the Ivy League title in 2011.