After Yale’s embarrassing 37-6 loss last year at The Game, which handed Harvard the Ivy League title, many Yalies questioned whether or not coach Jack Siedlecki was the right man to lead the Bulldog pack.
“It comes with the territory,” Siedlecki said of the criticism. “All I can do is control what I do.”
But what does the Joel E. Smilow ’54 head coach of football do? He said his coaching philosophy boils down to consistency, especially for a team with a whirlwind season cycle. While home games barely fill up a quarter of the Yale Bowl during the season, the last game is a matter of national import.
Siedlecki said the pressure of The Game can definitely affect his players, but he tries to bring a businesslike approach to the field, keeping the athletes from getting caught up in fanfare of the rivalry.
“I’m not a big believer in highs and lows,” he said. In his clean office in the Ray Tompkins House left of Payne Whitney Gym, only a few photographs and posters adorn the room. Left of where he sits at his desk hangs a signed photograph of Siedlecki and President George W. Bush ’68. Other photographs of Eli football highlights are posted on the walls. His door stays open all throughout his interview with the News on Wednesday.
A self-proclaimed “creature of habit,” Siedlecki does not like surprises.
Though Yale’s chances of winning the Ivy Championship are slimmer than they were last year — when the Bulldogs entered the Game with an undefeated season and controlled their own destiny — Siedlecki said his approach is no different for tomorrow’s matchup. Victory is obviously the goal, and Siedlecki said he wants to make sure his team has “covered everything” they might encounter in The Game, from sudden injuries to trick plays. The 125-year-old rivalry has shown that anything can happen when the Bulldogs and Cantabs clash.
But Siedlecki is no stranger to rivalries. Of the top five most-played rivalries in all of college football, Siedlecki has coached at schools that comprise a part of four of the five: Amherst, Lafayette and Yale.
He said the Harvard-Yale and Yale-Princeton rivalries are especially unique because tens of thousands of students, alumni and fans attend. Siedlecki also said that for some, the Yale-Harvard game is more important than the overall Ivy League championship title, since a separate H-Y-P championship existed decades ago.
Siedlecki said he makes the same announcement every year after the game against Brown, which precedes the highly anticipated showdowns against Princeton and Harvard. “I tell the guys … this is our playoffs,” he said.
But with the rivalries come outside distractions, which he said is the biggest issue in preparing for the Harvard game.
To combat the heightened intensity, Siedlecki said he and his coaching staff try to treat The Game like every other game in the season.
Running back and All-American Mike McLeod ’09 said that Siedlecki and the rest of the coaching staff have treated this week’s practices as usual. The only thing different is people on the outside, McLeod said.
But a couple of weeks ago, the team could not run the “two-minute drill,” a Wednesday practice staple, because of inclement weather. Siedlecki was nervous.
“I was just hoping Saturday’s game didn’t come down to the two-minute drill,” he said.
Wide receiver Jordan Forney ’11 said Siedlecki genuinely cares about his players but stresses the importance of their efforts. Only the best players will play, according to both Forney and Siedlecki.
Siedlecki’s personal life is also ordered by his habits on the team. Sunday through Wednesday during the season he can be found in his office or on the football field from 7:30 a.m. to at least 9:30 p.m. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, he will make it home for dinner if he is not travelling with the team.
During the offseason Siedlecki puts in almost as much time, winnowing down the class of 10,000 to 11,000 students that begin the recruiting process to the chosen group of 30 who come to Yale.
This strict regimen is second nature, Siedlecki said, since his father was also a football coach and he attended practices starting at the age of five. “I don’t even consider it a job,” he said.