This season has been a trying one for the football team. After winning its season opener at Georgetown, the team has won only a single other contest heading into Saturday’s matchup against Harvard (7–2, 4–2 Ivy), albeit against Ivy League front-runner Penn. The Elis’ opponents have won by an average margin of nearly 20 points in a season marred by injuries and misfortune.
Yet while the season may be remembered for the adversity faced by the squad, it has also been a year of sweeping transition for the Bulldogs (2–7, 1–5 Ivy).
Nobody has been more central to the changes to the Bulldog team than first-year head coach Tony Reno.
“There’s been a lot of challenges with any job and with this one it has its challenges, but it also has a great deal of satisfaction,” Reno said. “I can’t say enough about how great the players have been, how hard they’ve worked.”
The tumultuous season will conclude on Saturday against Harvard, in the first Yale-Harvard game in which Reno will serve as a head coach. Yet Reno is by no means a newcomer to the contest. He has been involved in each matchup as a member of either the Yale or Harvard coaching staff since 2003.
“It’s unlike any [rivalry] in football,” Reno said. “It’s an honor and privilege to be associated with it and be able to coach this Yale team.”
Reno first participated in the Yale-Harvard game 10 years ago as a wide receivers coach for the Bulldogs. While he said that he had an inkling about how important the game was before that contest, he gained a greater understanding of The Game’s significance after his first experience as a coach.
After serving as the Elis’ wide receivers coach for a year, Reno became the team’s defensive secondary coach, a position he held from 2004 to 2008. The Bulldogs captured a victory in the Game in 2006 — the last time the Elis won the matchup. Reno said that winning any football game requires winning the turnover margin, converting more third-down opportunities than the opposition and getting the better of matchups in the red zone, and that the Elis came out victorious in 2006 because they were successful in those categories.
Reno then left New Haven for Cambridge in 2009 to take over Harvard’s special teams units. There, he coached with Joe Conlin, the Bulldogs’ current associate head coach, after Conlin joined the Crimson’s staff in 2011.
“[Reno was] a heck of a special teams coach and an excellent recruiter,” Conlin said.
Conlin added that he thought that Reno brought certain knowledge about how to run a program from Harvard to Yale when he accepted the Elis’ head-coaching job in 2012. Conlin said that Reno learned how to be attentive to details from Tim Murphy, who has been Harvard’s head coach for the past 19 years.
Reno, however, does not regularly communicate with the Harvard staff.
“Other than a good luck text message from the coaches I worked with back and forth, but other than I thought we’ve been pretty busy,” Reno said. “There’s really not much time for small talk at this time of year.”
While Conlin said that Reno learned certain aspects of the game from Murphy, he added that Reno has also brought his own distinctive coaching style to the Bulldogs. These techniques include running high-intensity practices and pointing out specific areas where the Elis need to improve.
Conlin also said that Reno has remained positive with his team despite the challenges the Elis have faced this season, a campaign that will conclude when the team leaves the field in Cambridge this weekend.
“Obviously we’ll prepare all week like we do every week,” Reno said. “I’m just excited to walk on that field with [the players] on Saturday.”