After competing against Al Bagnoli on the opposite sideline as the Penn football team’s head coach for the last 23 years, Yale would not have been surprised to see him again come fall. Yet in 2015, Bagnoli will trade in his Quaker blue for Columbia blue.
Though Bagnoli announced in April 2014 his intention to retire and transition to an administrative role following the season, he was introduced yesterday as the new head coach of the Columbia football team. His appointment comes at the heels of a tumultuous era for the Lions, who have had two consecutive winless seasons.
“Well, if you like challenges, this is the job to take,” Bagnoli said at his introductory press conference. “I look forward to bringing Columbia back to relevancy.”
Bagnoli will most likely need several seasons to rebuild a program that still holds the record for most consecutive losses by a Football Championship Subdivision team — the Lions lost 44 straight games between 1983 and 1988 — and has not won an Ivy League title since 1961.
Of course, Yale football head coach Tony Reno was able to pull off an impressive turnaround, improving the team’s record by six games between his first and third seasons.
It is worth noting that Bagnoli brings much more experience and success to the table than Reno did when he was first hired. Bagnoli has been a head coach for the last 33 years, splitting time between Penn and Union College, a Division III program in Schenectady, New York, and he has a total of 234 career wins.
While at Penn, Bagnoli had great success against Yale, amassing 17 wins against just six losses to the Bulldogs. Columbia’s program, on the other hand, has only 19 wins against Yale since 1872, with 68 losses and two ties in that time frame as well.
Yet Reno contended that the timeline of any turnaround would depend on the current state of Columbia football.
“I think you’d have to do a full analysis of the program at this point in time,” Reno said when asked to respond to his earlier comparison between Columbia’s football team today and Yale’s from a few years back. “One thing I know is that when I came to Yale, it was a time when we felt we really needed to upgrade in a lot of areas, one of them being in talent. I think Columbia will go through the same analysis of their program and determine their needs.”
Columbia began looking for a new football coach after the resignation of Pete Mangurian, a former NFL assistant who left the Lions in December amid allegations of abuse from his players.
The Columbia Spectator reported in December that 25 football players sent a letter, which was later withdrawn, to Columbia President Lee Bollinger criticizing Mangurian’s handling of concussions, mistreatment of athletes and unrealistic weight regimens.
Mangurian’s tenure also included an incident involving Stanford transfer quarterback Brett Nottingham. Nottingham, who backed up NFL No. 1 pick Andrew Luck at Stanford, relocated to New York City after losing the Cardinal’s starting job to Josh Nunes. But just five games into the 2014 season, Nottingham was benched and left the team.
No matter who took snaps under center, the Lions still found little success on the field. Mangurian amassed an abysmal 3–27 record in his three seasons with the Lions, with all three wins coming in his first year. Mangurian’s second career win was a 26–22 victory over Yale, which was led by then-first year coach Reno.
However, the two programs have gone in opposite directions since 2012, when Columbia and Yale finished seventh and eighth in the Ivy League, respectively. Reno has inched the Bulldogs up the Ivy League standings each year, finishing fourth in 2013 and third in 2014. The Elis defeated the Lions by scores of 53–12 and 25–7 in those two years.
Columbia has had no such luck. Two consecutive seasons at the bottom of the Ivy League forced the school to pursue other avenues. Following the resignation of athletic director M. Dianne Murphy, the university’s new athletic director, Peter Pilling, told The Spectator on Feb. 3 that a new football coach was “priority number one.”
Bagnoli’s hiring indicates Columbia’s renewed dedication to its football program. In his 23 seasons at Penn’s helm, Bagnoli won nine outright Ivy League titles, including three undefeated seasons, and amassed a total record of 148–80.
In his final two seasons, however, his teams won only six total games.
Last year, Bagnoli led the Quakers to a 2–8 record, with both wins coming over the only two Ivy League teams that finished lower than Penn in the standings, Cornell and Columbia. Bagnoli’s position will be filled by his defensive coordinator, Ray Priore, who was appointed as Bagnoli’s successor when the veteran announced his retirement last April.
In the two months between the conclusion of the 2014 season and his announcement as Columbia’s head coach, Bagnoli served as the director of special projects within Penn’s athletic administrations.
Following his final home game, a loss to Harvard, Bagnoli called the 2014 campaign “weird” but denied having regrets.
“To be in one place for 23 years, it’s somewhat unusual, but I’ve loved it, and I’d like to think we’ve had more good moments than bad,” he said to the Daily Pennsylvanian. “We’re all caretakers to a program that is over 130 years old, and the seniors and I are happy to pass it on to the next guys who will get it all back on track.”
Though the Quakers fell to the Crimson by a score of 34–24, Penn put up a strong performance against the eventual Ivy League champions.
Harvard head coach Tim Murphy, the only active Ivy League coach with a higher winning percentage than Bagnoli, was complimentary of his Pennsylvanian counterpart after the game.
“He is the standard by which we measure all other coaches in this league,” Murphy said in the post-game press conference. “What [Penn has] done in two plus decades is absolutely remarkable. His body of work is just amazing.”
Of course, Murphy did not know at the time that he would be facing Bagnoli the following season.
When asked about Bagnoli, Reno was also effusive.
“He’s a great football coach, and he’s been a great friend of mine since I’ve been the head coach at Yale,” Reno said. “I think Columbia is very fortunate to have him.”
The Bulldogs will not get a chance to see the new Lions until Halloween, when Yale hosts Columbia in their annual matchup.