When Tony Reno graduated from Oxford High School in Oxford, Mass. in 1993, he enrolled at Hobart College in upstate New York. After one year away from the Bay State, however, Reno returned home.
Nearly a decade later, Reno decided to go home again. This time, he came back to Yale as its 34th head football coach after spending three seasons at the Bulldogs’ archnemesis, Harvard. Reno will take over a storied program that has not won an Ivy League title since 2006 and has garnered just one win over the Crimson since 2001.
“When the opportunity came up, it was something that was unbelievable to me,” Reno said after his introductory press conference. “We are going to build a tough, physical and hard-nosed football team that can deal with adversity, and that’s challenge number one.”
After leaving Hobart, Reno transferred to Worcester State College and joined a talented class of players. He started as the free safety for his final three seasons, during which the Lancers won two straight New England Football Conference titles.
Over his career at WSC Reno compiled 140 total tackles, six sacks, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions according to WSC Sports Information Director Steven Miller. Brien Cullen, WSC’s head coach, said that Reno’s experience as a high school quarterback helped him to control the team’s defensive formations.
That ability served him well when he returned to WSC as an assistant coach following a one-year stint as an assistant defensive coach with King’s College, Penn. in 1997.
Reno served as the secondary coach and defensive coordinator at his alma mater from 1998 until 2002. He simultaneously earned a master’s degree in health education from WSC in 2000. In 2002, Reno was named an AFLAC National Assistant Coach of the Year for his work with the Lancers.
“Going into my 30th year, he is one of the best coaches I have had,” Cullen said. “All the years that Tony coached for me we had some pretty good teams. Some of the kids that he has coached have gone on and been coaches … He was a mentor to them.”
Reno, currently on a recruiting trip, could not be reached for comment.
In 2003, former Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki needed a new assistant coach. He tried to convince his friend Rich Mannello, then the head coach at King’s College, to join him at Yale.
While Mannello declined the opportunity, he recommended Reno to Siedlecki. After an interview with the young assistant, Siedlecki knew he had found the right person for the job.
“He was a young and really enthusiastic guy,” Siedlecki said. “He was going to be a great recruiter in the Ivy League.”
After spending his first season at Yale working with wide receivers, Reno went back to coaching what he knows best: the secondary. Over the next four seasons, he helped to recruit and mentor several key defensive stalwarts for the Bulldogs.
Two of Reno’s former players, Bobby Abare ’09 and Paul Rice ’10, captained the Elis their senior years and were both named to First Team All-Ivy. Other standouts that Reno coached include Casey Gerald ’09, who made 30 consecutive starts for the Bulldogs and became a Rhodes Finalist, and Adam Money ’11, a two-time First Team All-Ivy defensive back.
Siedlecki praised Reno’s ability to connect with his players and bring out their best efforts.
“Tony is more straightforward with players than any assistant coach I had,” Siedlecki said. “Sometimes, he can be brutally honest, but I think the players appreciate … the coach who demands the best of them.”
While Reno has never been a head coach or a defensive coordinator at the Division I level, he will receive plenty of help from his staff.
Both Cullen and Siedlecki said that they believe Rick Flanders — who has spent the last 15 seasons on the sidelines for the Bulldogs and is currently the defensive backs and associate head coach — will stay with the team. Siedlecki added that Flanders may return to the position he held under his tenure.
“[Reno] is not going to be the play caller as the head coach,” Siedlecki said. “Rick Flanders [will be] calling the defense.”
Flanders was previously Yale’s defensive coordinator during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Bulldogs led the FCS in scoring defense both years that Flanders was at the defensive helm.
Flanders is also on a recruiting trip and could not be reached for comment.
In addition to Flanders, another former colleague of Reno’s, defensive line coach Duane Brooks, will likely return next season to help out the newly hired head coach. Brooks also denied rumors that he was going to become the next head coach for Colby College in Maine in an email to the News.
When Siedlecki resigned and Tom Williams took the reins in 2009, Reno jumped to Ancient Eight rival Harvard. For the past three years, Reno has faced and frustrated the Bulldogs from the opposing sideline as the defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator.
In the 2010 edition of The Game, Reno’s special team unit scored an 84-yard kickoff return touchdown on the opening play of the second half, allowing the Crimson to tie the game at 14–14 and eventually overtake the Elis.
Harvard linebacker and former captain Alex Gedeon said that Reno was a mentor to him and will bring a lot to the table as Yale’s next head coach.
“His attention to detail and the energy he brings to try and make you better on the practice field,” Gedeon said. “That’s what stands out about Coach Reno. He was the best hire that Yale could have gotten.”
Gedeon added that playing against Reno would add even more emotion to The Game for the Crimson, especially for those that he had helped to recruit, in the years to come.
After Williams resigned from his post as head coach on Dec. 21, Reno was soon named as a potential candidate and impressed the two advisory committees guiding the replacement search during his interviews. Jonathan Edwards Master Penelope Laurans, who chaired one of the committees, said she thought Reno was a good fit for Yale because of his vision for the future and ability as a coach and mentor.
“He was detailed and even inspirational in his interviews,” Laurans said. “We felt his teams would be prepared and hard-nosed and win. We also felt that he and his staff would be great mentors and wonderful institutional players and that they would could lead young men with excellence on the field and off. Great people bring great people around them.”
With two weeks left until National Signing Day — the first day a high school student can officially sign with a collegiate team — Reno faces the difficult task of securing the incoming freshman class and fending off rival Ivy programs from undecided recruits, who are typically reluctant to commit to a program in transition.
Both Gedeon and Siedlecki said they are confident that Reno’s recruiting prowess will be one of his biggest assets in the years ahead.
The Bulldogs begin their 2012 season on Sept. 15 at home against Georgetown.