Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Five Questions, Defense

If there are questions with regards to a young Georgetown offense, the outlook for the Hoyas on defense is much more secure. A strong returning cast will continue a two decade strong tradition of defensive resilience, but will that be enough in an upgraded Patriot League? Here are five questions to consider:

1. Is This Jordan Richardson's Year? There is not a better candidate to rise to the top of the national defensive charts than Jordan Richardson, but now is the time.  He picked up only 20 solo tackles last season and while the nose guard position isn't a natural position for statistics, Richardson has the tools to be a much more impactful player on the line. Many opponents will look to run against the Hoyas and Richardson needs to take over that line.

2.  Who is Next In Line?: During Rob Sgarlata's run as defensive coordinator, there was a run of solid Hoya linebackers, most recently with Robert McCabe and Dustin Wharton.  Senior Nick Alfieri figures to continue this tradition, along side senior Patrick Boyle, who led the team in tackles last season. Together, they could form the best linebacker pair at Georgetown in the PL era, but the adjustments each must make within Coach Luke Thompson's defensive philosophy will be essential.

Overall, no position on the roster has the depth of linebacker for the Hoyas. As many as seven players could see time this year and despite the scholarship gap, Georgetown has continued to recruit well in this space.

3.  Can The Pass Defense Be Fixed?  Depth at linebacker is balanced by a secondary that has been picked apart in recent years. Georgetown allowed opponent quarterbacks to complete over 70 percent of its passes in PL play last season, and that won't cut it. The defense managed just three interceptions in PL play for a total of 14 yards.

The Hoyas averaged 262.7 yards per game in PL play, and with resurgent passing games at Fordham, Holy Cross, and Lafayette, that number could get worse before it gets better. It allowed 78 first downs by the pass last season, most among any PL team. A rough start in the opener versus Wagner and the road game at Dayton will be a bad omen for the team as a whole.

4. Can the Special Teams Respond? Georgetown rotates in a new punter and kicker this season, with sophomore Ben Priddy as the early leader for both. But of more concern is a special teams that allowed a league-high 33 net yards per kickoff return in the 2013 PL season with just one touchback. Giving opponents a short field on kickoffs is a recipe for problem against the kind of offense s Georgetown will face in 2014.

5. Who Manages Time Of Possession?  However much we would hope for the defense, the time of possession issue resides in the offense. When it's three and out, the defense bends and eventually breaks.  The time of possession fell from 28:57 in 2012 to 27:56 in 2013. Over the course of a season, that's literally 10  extra minutes for opposing offenses, and Georgetown can't stay ahead of that for long.

The number bottomed out at 25:46 in the winless 2009 season.  It won't drop below that in 2014, but if the offense does not develop a consistent running game, the defense may see another 10 minutes go on the season- long clock.

Next week: Five questions for the 2014 schedule.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Five Questions: The Offense

Time moves quickly--ask the 19 Georgetown seniors who began their college football journey on the crest of an 8-3 team in 2011, only to win just six the next two years combined. Entering a season where the expectations for the 2014 Georgetown Hoyas are even more reduced in year two of the Patriot league's scholarship program, five questions for the Hoyas entering the 2014 season:

1. The Neuberger Way: After three years as an assistant at Columbia, Georgetown, and Cornell, respectively, Michael Neuberger has been promoted to offensive coordinator for a team which finished last in the PL for scoring and total offense.

There will be a period of adjustment from those players that followed the Vinny Marino offense, but Marino had a lot more tools to work with when he replaced Dave Patenaude than where Neuberger stands right now. The bulk of Georgetown's offensive throughout from 2013 graduated: Kempf, Campanella, Claytor, Durham,. Wilke, Sprotte...all gone.

By the second or third week, some new names figure to rise up the depth chart, particularly at receiver, where the need is especially great.

2. Breaking The Formula: With few exceptions (Nick Campanella, Charlie Houghton), Georgetown's backfield has been frequented by smaller, mobile, but ultimately injury prone backs. Does this change in 2014?

Over the last ten seasons, from Kim Sarin to Emir Davis, Chance Logan to Dalen Claytor, talented RB's have been worn down over the course of a season, leaving defenses to tee off on the Georgetown line because they know the Hoyas can't use the long ball.

In many case this is the byproduct of a lost art in college football: the fullback. Georgetown hasn't had an impact FB since Rob Belli, nearly 15 years ago.

If Trope Bullock can get some carries, it's going to take pressure off of Joel Kimpela, otherwise, the Hoyas are very thin at back, with only three tailbacks on the roster. And if 5-11, 195 lb. Kimpela can't hold up, how will 5-6, 160 lb. freshman Isaac Ellsworth fare?

3. QB Depth? In many of the lean years around Hoya football (read=since 2001), depth has been an issue at quarterback. Seven different quarterbacks have started in the past three seasons, and while Kyle Nolan is the clear #1 QB entering the pre-season, can he stand up fro 11 games? Tim Barnes has one game experience, sophomore Patrick Finnegan none, and freshman Peter Mahoney was out for his senior season at St. Ignatius HS with a leg injury.

Where have you gone, Stephen Skon? (Still on campus, just not playing football anymore.)

4. Whither The Wide Receiver? The Hoyas enter with some major questions in the receiver corps. Zack Wilke did his best last year but wasn't enough, leaving the rotation to junior Jake DeCicco, redshirt senior Michael Cimilluca, and any number of underclassmen.

The Hoyas averaged about 9.5 yards per completion last season but Georgetown has no deep threats, with only one pass last season of more than 29 yards.

5. Punting. Is this an question for the offense? Well, expect lots of punts to come Georgetown's way, and there is a need for someone to step up and provide the net yardage to keep the games from getting out of hand.

The Hoyas' punting game waned as the season went on, finishing sixth with a net of just 31.7 yards per kick. A solid kicking game is essential to controlling the field position game which has traditionally hurt Georgetown against deeper teams.

Next: Five questions for the defense.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Designing The Future(s) of Athletics At Georgetown

Part one of a continuing series.

Over the course of the last year, officials at Georgetown University have engaged in a series of lectures and exercises known as "Designing The Future(s) of the University". It's an interesting often provocative exercise that attempts to take on an industry to whom inertia is often a birthright (namely, academia) and ask the kind of questions businesses and non-profits ask regularly, namely, where do we want this place to be in 25 years?

Given the topic, and the participants, the discussions can be pedagogical and, well, a little dry.

"To encourage this type of coaching, universities need to create learning spaces that support meaningful student-faculty collaboration, including design labs and nuanced, interactive online platforms. Panelists identified the distinct value of the university in this new ecosystem of learning—its physicality, the availability of experts—which will be critical in defining the path ahead."

As I said, dry.

But many of these same questions, a little more adventurously, can be asked about athletics at Georgetown, or at any college or university. More so than any time in the past century, education is ripe for systemic change, perhaps unseen tioday, and with it, it may affect the way universities look at intercollegiate athletics as part of that environment. Add this uncertainty with the tremors facing the NCAA and how it manages a increasingly professionalized climate of competition, and you have the ingredients for a bumpy ride for college sports over the next quarter century.

Georgetown has never been an easy fit in college sports. It's a school that is best known for basketball, but it is not a basketball school. Its breadth of programs is more akin to the Ivy League than the Big 12, but produces more NBA talent than schools twice its size or its budget. And almost all of this has been built up over just 35 years--not by good fortune, by some shrewd planning that sought, and succeeded in doing what few schools outside of Stanford, Duke, and Notre Dame have done--build an national athletic brand without sacrificing its academic reputation.

Certainly, things can change suddenly. They have before.

Over nearly 150 years of athletics at Georgetown, four distinct periods of athletic upheaval took place, none by scandal but all by perception.

"On four separate occasions, 1894, 1905, 1932 and 1951 the leadership of Georgetown University, believing that it had become too important and too expensive, deemphasized Athletics by cutting University support," wrote sailing coach Michael Callahan in 2012. "If Georgetown Athletics costs increased by $9 million there is a strong risk that the debt incurred by Georgetown would lead many University leaders to believe that Athletics had once again become too important and too expensive."

In the two years since Callahan wrote these words as part of a master's degree thesis, the budget for Georgetown Athletics has increased by nearly $3 million.

One hundred years ago, 1914, Georgetown sponsored four men's sports for an undergraduate population of just over 200. Just five years removed from when the football and basketball programs were nearly shuttered and the crew team was set asunder, a different athletic model allowed a very small school to fight amongst the likes of Virginia, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh. While the College officially frowned on scholarships, the teams were increasingly run out of the graduate schools, particularly law, where older (and presumably, more experienced) men could play. The school did not fund the teams, but a "student manager" was given funding to hire coaches, set a schedule, and where he saw fit, to award scholarships. By 1916, Georgetown featured the leading rusher in college football, by 1918 the leading scorer in basketball. But times would change.

Seventy five years ago, 1939, Georgetown was back atop the national stage--not in basketball, but football. Its second unbeaten season in football saw it allow two touchdowns all season against the likes of Temple, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Maryland. Scholarships were not handed out as largesse, instead, the men on Georgetown's teams were expected to earn their keep with steady campus employment. An All-American might be counted upon to serve as a waiter in the campus dining hall, to fold laundry, or stack books in the library to earn his keep. But times would change.

Fifty years ago, 1964, Georgetown athletics was still under the cloud of the loss of intercollegiate football. Scholarships were less than half of what they were in 1950, and despite an increase in sports from eight to ten (and two women's sports in that mix), a growing list of club sports threatened to change the low-impact model devised in football's wake. Some club sports survived (football, lacrosse, rowing), others (polo, for example) did not. But times would change.

Over the next 25 years, athletics enjoyed a boom on the Hilltop--27 sports by 1989, a major expansion of women's sports, a move to Division I for all its teams, and an ability to leverage Georgetown's rising name recognition in basketball for financial gain, through royalty licensing, to help fund the growth. The athletic budget grew by nearly 10 fold from 1980 to 1990, and by the early 1990's, it was Georgetown -- Notre Dame or Texas or Florida State-- that accounted for more royalty sales from branded athletic apparel than any other university. But times would change.

In 2014, Georgetown Athletics remains a unique success story in spite of a number of instititutional, financial, and competitive roadblocks that would derail most schools. Despite a down period for many of its men's sports (including just one NCAA post-season win for men's basketball in six years), Georgetown remains among the most successful and emulated programs nationally. It does so, however, amidst the strains of a 29 sport program that has long outstripped its facilities, where the cost of education makes elevating some sports difficult if not untenable, and where the financial future of the program is intrinsically tied to a single television contract among a number of schools with a different academic and athletic profile than those it came of age with in the 1980's.

But Athletics isn't alone--it's Georgetown that is figuratively and literally bursting at the seams. It starts with cost.

By 1914, a "scholarship" to Georgetown was just over $400 a year, a reflection that most students of a certain age lived off-campus, that nearly all college classes were taught by Jesuits that did not take a salary, and with a campus of eight buildings across 104 acres, costs were manageable.

By 1939, a full year at Georgetown could cost up to $1,100 a year, but a steady job could cut that amount to a few hundred when all was said and done. By 1964, the campus population had doubled and tuition had nearly doubled as well. But both were nothing to what awaited their children's generations.

By 1989, a year of Georgetown, a year of study approached $20,000. Today. that's a bargain.

The entering classes at Georgetown will pay over $60,000 this year, and that's not even including the oft-discussed "cost of attendance" that has gripped the college sports world of late. At one time, the cost of attending college was less than half that of the median national income., today, its more than 120 percent of it.

If you are assuming costs will go down, you are either an optimist or one who believes the dollar will deflate into a pile of rubble. The Jesuit vows of poverty do not apply to lay faculty, the debt service on buildings continues unabated well into the 21st Century, and today's families increasingly value "new and improved" over "old and proven".

At a 3% growth rate (which isn't much, ask any faculty member), the cost of one year at Georgetown University will pass $75,000 by the end of this decade, and $100,000 by the end of the next. Assuming no spikes in inflation, no financial crises where Georgetown will have to sing for its supper, and no physical threat to the Nation's Capital that would otherwise imperil enrollment, the Class of 2039 will pay somewhere around $528,365 over four years of study.

How many parents are going to pay that for their son to play baseball? How many families are going to be able to afford a monthly payment of $11,007 for their daughter to play field hockey? How many basketball tickets will Georgetown have to sell to cover the rent at a aging, obsolete Verizon Center in 2039, assuming it hasn't been torn down by then?

The Athletic Department can't control the cost of inflation nor tis effects on the cost of education, a given. There was a time, back in the 1980's when I wrote for The HOYA, where the thought of $10,000 for year of education seemed unthinkable, and today, that wouldn't buy a year's room and board. But as Georgetown continues to strive to provide an outstanding curricular and extracurricular experience for its students, it's got to figure out how to afford to do it.

Much of it begins with the cost of scholarships. There's a reason why schools like Notre Dame and Louisville suddenly got good in a lot of sports--they invested in athletic scholarships to attract the best talent A full ride at South Bend is very attractive when the choice is a $30,000 loan to go to Georgetown. And that full ride will look better and better as the prices keep going up. If your son or daughter wants to play college sports, at what point is a Georgetown education unrealizable when competitive schools can turn that decision into a single digit, $0?

Schools like Texas and Ohio State, if they choose, could put nearly every athlete on full scholarship, a free ride. Stanford almost does now, Notre Dame is on that way. yet, at Georgetown, 21 of Georgetown's 29 sports account for less than 20 scholarships. Scholarships and coaching made Georgetown a basketball power in the 1970's, a lacrosse power in the 1990's and a soccer power in the 2000's. But if your kid plays football or baseball, wants to swim or row, or simply competes on his own in golf or tennis, is there any hope to get better?

"We do not believe that every team must compete for a national championship for that program to demonstrate competitive excellence, says Georgetown. "We acknowledge that Georgetown needs to invest further in athletics infrastructure in order to strengthen performance in some sports. But that need cannot be an excuse for any team’s failure to maximize the opportunity to compete with intensity."

Yet, according to Callahan, ” the level playing field is more of a dream than a reality. In the Big East Conference, the playing field is not level and the Conference Champion is more often than not the team that spends the most money. This poses a significant problem for many teams at Georgetown. When a student-athlete practices hard every day, sacrifices vacations, weekends, study time, and a social life to train hard, and the end result is four years of last place finishes, that student is often disillusioned. When student-athletes view their time spent in Georgetown Athletics as a negative, they are less likely to give back to the school. Georgetown Athletics fundraising figures show that teams who finish near the bottom of the conference simply do not raise as much money from their alumni as the teams who have won. Head coaches of teams that have no scholarship money often don’t solicit donations from alumni who were members of losing teams because they know they are not inclined to give back. This creates a vicious cycle of losing."

This is evident in football. When Georgetown joined the Patriot League , the understanding was that it could compete, even with a budget one half that of its competition, in a league which respected the nonscholarship philosophy Georgetown had built football up from after 1964. Three months after it finished 8-3, its best record in over a decade, the Patriot League voted to move to full scholarship football. With its first season competing against scholarships in the patriot League, the Hoyas dropped to 2-9. Within two years, six teams in the league will have 60, and one may have none.

"Georgetown Athletics has a math problem," said Callahan. "It is trying to fund 29 varsity sports on a budget that is too small to make every team a “Competitive” sport. It has made the decision to compete in the Big East Conference due to the value it brings primarily to the Men’s Basketball program and the revenue and exposure it brings to the University...[but] the current state of affairs within Georgetown Athletics and the Big East make it impossible for many of Georgetown’s sports to win. The competition is too strong. The difference in scholarships, facilities and recruiting is too much for most sports to overcome despite the cache of a Georgetown degree."

The answer to this dilemma is not to throw in the towel or to chuck 20 sports to prop up one or two, but to consider how this program can (and should) be positioned for success. Not for 2015, but for 2025 and 2035 as well. It's not just an issue in football but for every sport at Georgetown that is not getting a check from Fox Sports.

How does Georgetown, who clearly understands the importance of athletics in educating the "whole person", prepare for and execute a plan in a sports world that is more expensive, more expansive, and more explosive than we realize today? Today, it might be cost of attendance scholarships. Tomorrow it might be a player's union, or a basketball tournament only open to 60 or 70 schools. What then? More importantly, what now?

When Frank Rienzo, Joe Lang, and John Thompson built the foundation that has set Georgetown athletics on this most unlikely of journeys, it managed risk and uncertainty with innovation and strategic thinking. As they pass the torch to the next generation in McDonough Gymnasium, it's time to talk again, not only on where Hoya Athletics needs to be headed, but how it intends to get there.

In part 2, this question: is there a untapped funding model that can support a new generation of Georgetown athletics?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Next Step Up

In his seminal 1947 book on the history of Georgetown football, author Morris Bealle tells the story of a coaching change that involved little fanfare nor newspaper glory. Far from the age of social media and breaking news, Rev. John Kehoe, S.J. walked up the hill from campus upon the practice field that would later bear his name. With a 5-9 former halfback in tow, Kehoe made his way to the field and walked onto the practice. An announcement was read to the team.

“Gentlemen, your new coach, Jack Hagerty.”

Eighty-two years later, Rob Sgarlata was introduced Tuesday as Georgetown’s head football coach without the fanfare common at many schools, yet, like Hagerty, he is someone to whom Georgetown football is more than a job, but a calling. Recruited by Scotty Glacken, studied under Bob Benson, and coached alongside Kevin Kelly, Sgarlata has been part of this program for 22 of the last 24 years. It’s a shared experience that figures to fortify the new coach against a daunting task that one of his predecessors faced so many years ago: putting the pride back into Georgetown football.

If there was a national search following Kevin Kelly's departure, it was a brief one. Sgarlata was the best choice given the circumstances of a position, and, let’s be frank, Pete Carroll wasn’t walking through that door. It's a door which opens to a program with a major college brand, a small college budget, and facilities best suited to a high school. A coaching search in early February was going to be daunting under any circumstances, much less one in which its predecessor struggled so visibly for not one or two years, but eight. Kevin Kelly saw his record drop from eight wins to two within two seasons as the shadow of scholarships began to dominate the entire Patriot League, that is, north of the Mason-Dixon line. It sent a subtle message that this may not be the job an aspiring coach is going to give two weeks notice for.

Doubtless there were candidates, but none with Sgarlata’s experience nor the perspective of what Georgetown football is and what it can become. The 5-8, 165 lb. Sgarlata wasn’t the biggest or fastest running back when he arrived from West Nyack, NY in the fall of 1990. By the time he graduated, Sgarlata would go on to lead the Hoyas in rushing two straight years, be elected team captain, and win the John L. Hagerty Award for the outstanding back on the team.

He has seen as much of the recent history of Hoyas as anyone, and at a front row to the action. He was there for the Bermuda Bowl, and the Yale Bowl. He was there to see the likes of Aley Demarest and Kyle Nolan, from Jim Bolger to Robert McCabe. He helped form a MAAC championship team in 1997, only to see an old teammate put up 69 on the Hoyas five years later.

Being somewhere is not a qualification to be a football coach, however. In his 18 years on the sideline and as the team’s chief recruiter in a job much more difficult than he will ever admit, Sgarlata coached the Georgetown defense in an era when defense was sometimes the only weapon the Hoyas had: Clarke, Fronczke, Buzbee, Ononibaku, Parrish, Schaetzke, McCabe, and Wharton were the names, but they all shared the same coaching leadership. In 13 years of Patriot League football at the Hilltop, Georgetown has produced only 13 first team selections. Twelve of the 13 were from the defense, and all 12 were coached by Rob Sgarlata.

(The earlier reference to Jack Hagerty has a historic parallel, however, and is not meant to compare Sgarlata in 2014 against the arguable candidate for Georgetown’s greatest ever football coach. But the uphill climb awaiting Sgarlata is not unlike what Hagerty faced when he succeeded Tommy Mills in 1932.)

Georgetown’s fall from an 8-2 team in 1928 to a 2-6-1 team by 1932 was not entirely a result on Mills, anymore than the last two years was the sole responsibility of Kevin Kelly. The decline of those Hoyas of an earlier era followed a quiet decision by University president W. Coleman Nevils S.J. to end athletic scholarships—Nevils felt Georgetown didn’t need scholarships to attract fine young men for sports like football. In theory, yes, in practice, not so much. It led Mills’ top assistant, Frank Leahy, to leave Georgetown after one season, saying that Georgetown exhibited “a certain coolness” to competitive football, and he wasn’t being complimentary.

With financial aid but little else, Hagerty’s first full season was a one-win campaign in 1933. Four win seasons followed in 1934 and 1935. By that time, Nevils had retired and his successor Arthur O’Leary, S.J. was amenable to some number of limited grants in aid. By 1936, Hagerty won six of nine games. By 1938, the Hoyas were undefeated. By 1940, the Hoyas were in the Top 10. All with just 20 scholarships, not the 80 or more common in the major college ranks of that era.

But it’s more than scholarships that turned Hagerty’s Georgetown program around in 1933. He understood the politics of the Healy Building, he knew when to push and when to pull, and he knew the importance in building internal support before he could demand external change.

Such is the challenge awaiting Sgarlata. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the Hoyas in the Patriot League; unfortunately, it’s a locomotive. Absent scholarships and with the highest bands in the PL’s Ivy Index, Georgetown could become severely non-competitive in a real hurry...say, this year. The last two recruiting classes are but a canary in that coal mine.

Georgetown football not only needs a coach, it needs an evangelist. Kevin Kelly understood this but always seemed uncomfortable doing so. A case must be made for not only what Georgetown football wants, but what it needs. It doesn’t have to be 60 scholarships or a 15,000 seat stadium. But it needs more than what it has right now, and a coach that can speak alongside a parent, a former player, or a University president and make that case, financial and otherwise, can begin to see results. The enduring promise is that no one sitting in McDonough or Healy that is “against” football, but they nonetheless expect football to create its own path to success. In this, the 50th anniversary of the season where students stepped up to bring back football to campus, 2014 can be a similar statement year about where this program needs to go.

It’s been done before. In 1993, a 28 year old coach named Bob Benson outlined seven steps to success when Sgarlata was a senior:

1. Establish accountability and discipline.
2. Emphasize the term student-athlete.
3. Reconnect with alumni.
4. Upgrading the schedule.
5. Recruit quality student-athletes.
6. Educate the leaders of the Georgetown University community about the game of football.
7. Win.

In 1999, he added four more:

8. Play peer institutions.
9. Build a new facility with all the tradition of the past in mind.
10. Place it in the center of campus.
11. Create a new school spirit among our students, faculty, and the community, and bring an environment with a wonderful aura of history and tradition to the Georgetown campus.

For better or worse, this is still the model of Georgetown football twenty years later, with success in some areas (“establish accountability and discipline”, “play peer institutions”), incomplete results in others (“win”) and abject failure in another (“build a new facility”). The challenge for Sgarlata is to revisit this model and kick the tires a bit.

The Benson mode took hold when there were as many as 30 I-AA non-scholarship football programs in the Northeast. Today, excepting the Ivies, there are only two: Georgetown and Marist. Will this model still work in 2015, in 2020, and beyond? If so, what does Georgetown need from its budget, from its alumni, and from its students to make it work? Is the Patriot League a safe harbor for a non-scholarship program like this or does Georgetown need a new course? Can Georgetown still build a program that will draw the next generation of scholar-athletes, or will it become a place for kids with a 1400 SAT that couldn’t get a free ride somewhere else?

“There must be a vision. It is really quite simple,” wrote Benson in 1999. “Utilize the game of football to create an environment and atmosphere among our students, faculty, and community on an autumn Saturday afternoon and bring to our campus a school spirit on a fall day that is desperately needed.”

Twenty years since he last wore #20, that vision now belongs to Rob Sgarlata. Among those who have preceded him, he stands in good company.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Unkindest Season

Imagine, if you will, studying to become an attorney, only to find out that every year, just around Christmas, 20 percent of the partner-level workforce nationwide is fired; and with it, the partners fire all their associates. Imagine going to work for a brokerage industry where the bottom 20 percent of firms are flushed every December, and where aspiring managers have one month or so to find a new job, moving families to Oregon or North Dakota or Alabama, because that’s where the job takes you.

And if you’re young and don’t get a new job in a month or two, however underpaid or in the middle of nowhere, you might be out of the business for good.

Welcome to the career prospects of a coach in college football. And welcome to the un-happ-happiest time of the year.

Over the past three weeks, the pink slips fly in college football. Schools are great about preaching loyalty, but few practice it. Twenty-four head coaching positions within Division I-AA have changed hands in the last month, only two by retirement:

Alabama A&M
Central Arkansas
Central Connecticut
The Citadel
Eastern Illinois
Grambling State
Jackson State
James Madison
Mississippi Valley State
Morgan State
North Carolina Central
North Dakota
North Dakota State
Robert Morris
Rhode Island
Southeast Missouri State
Stephen F. Austin State
Weber State

Eternal vigilance – and a willingness to resettle on short notice – is the price to become a successful college football coach.. Kevin Kelly’s resume can attest, and he’s one of the luckier ones.

Here is Coach Kelly’s “change of address” forms in the first 20 or so years since he graduated from college:

Springfield, MA
New York, NY
New Haven, CT
Syracuse, NY
Boston, MA
Hanover, NH
New Orleans, LA
Huntington, WV
Brunswick, ME
Syracuse, NY
Huntington, WV
Annapolis, MD

Kelly’s eight years in the Washington area are probably the longest he’s stayed in one place since grad school, which is great for raising a family. The results, less so. In coaching, as in life, you’re as good as your last job.

When Kelly interviewed for the job at Yale in 2011, it was not because of any ill will for Georgetown or an overarching desire to move back to scenic New Haven. Instead, it’s the business. He was coming off an 8-3 season and Yale was interested. If he was 3-8 that year, Yale would not be.

Head coaches in football, as a rule, don’t get the gold watch and don’t set the rules for their retirement. Bobby Bowden didn’t go out his way, nor did or Woody Hayes or Darrell Royal or a thousand others. Joe Paterno once said that he didn’t want to get forced out like Bear Bryant did and die within a month as Bryant did. He was, of course, and he died a month later as well. Mack Brown, of all people, has a .770 winning percentage at Texas, a national title, and only one season with fewer than eight wins. Not good enough in Austin. That’s business. (That, and failing to recruit each of the last three Heisman Trophy winners, all of which wanted to play for you.)

The 2011 season is history. At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Kevin Kelly has the lowest winning percentage of any Division I-AA head coach with more than four years experience. Of 25 coaches below .500, eight were let go in the last month (in gray):

Division I-AA Coaches At Or Below .500:
Tom GilmoreHoly Cross10565600.500
Frank TavaniLafayette14767700.497
Pete AdrianNorfolk St.9505200.490
Chris MussmanN. Dakota 6313400.477
Watson BrownTennessee Tech10526000.464
Monte ColemanAR-Pine Bluff6313600.463
Donovan RoseHampton5253000.455
J.C. HarperS.F. Austin7374500.451
Mike KramerIdaho St.168310300.446
Marshall SperbeckSacramento St.7354400.443
Donald Hill-EleyMorgan St.12597600.437
Paul GorhamSacred Heart10466200.426
Sparky WoodsVMI11527120.416
Buddy TeevensDartmouth14578120.407
Nigel BurtonPortland St.4182700.400
Ray WoodardLamar4182800.391
Tony SamuelSE Missouri8316000.341
Chris VillarrialSt. Francis4133100.295
Kevin KellyGeorgetown8246300.276
Charlie StubbsNicholls St.4103500.222
Joe TrainerRhode Island5124400.214
Harold NicholsPresbyterian5114400.200
Karl A. MorganMiss. Valley St.483500.186
Dale CarlsonValparaiso434100.068

Coach Kelly is fortunate that few if any I-AA  schools would have the patience to absorb the depth of losses that the Georgetown program has experienced over the past eight years. VMI? Maybe. Dartmouth? Only if your coach is Buddy Teevens, a former star quarterback for the Indians who won a pair of Ivy titles way back when. Even Columbia, that textbook case of a losing program, has had only one coach make it past six seasons since 1968.

Even in the low-wattage Patriot League, ask yourself: would Andy Coen still be at Lehigh with these kind of records? How about Tom Gilmore at Holy Cross? Will Dick Biddle’ successor at Colgate get the time to build a winner?

A lot of schools won’t want to hear about it. “Did you win?”, they ask. They rarely ask why you didn't.

That’s the business. And for those that don’t understand it, or who underestimate it, it’s a difficult realization. It’s the part of coaching that fans, and even some coaches, don’t understand.

Part of the enmity that former basketball coach Craig Esherick still feels for Georgetown firing him in 2004 was that he thought he deserved better. He had been with the program for 40 years as an undergrad, law student, assistant coach, and head coach, and went so far as to brag he’d be around another 30. He didn’t understand that, to quote the son of a Georgetown football All-American, “you are what your record says you are”. In a revenue sport like basketball, it wasn't enough.

Georgetown has been a bit more patient to more of its coaches. Pete Wilk has been the baseball coach for 14 seasons and has never posted a winning record. Arlisa Williams has been the volleyball coach for eight seasons and Georgetown is 77-124.

Of course, no one is writing a column in the Washington Post of the baseball team doesn’t get to the post-season. Students are not planning a march on Healy if volleyball finishes under .500.  Football web sites don’t use the phrase “hot seat” around Georgetown football. If Frank Tavani or Tom Gilmore was 24-63 after eight seasons, chances are pretty good they would have never see a ninth season…much less a sixth, seventh, or eighth.

But this isn't Lafayette or Holy Cross. What coaches like Wilk, Williams, Kelly, and others at McDonough do share is a sport where the expectations on the field take a back seat to the expectations in the classroom, and these are sports where the kids have been admitted, competed, and have graduated. That’s reassuring to coaches, but it’s not a blank check. Pat Knapp was that kind of academics-first coach for 15 years for women’s basketball, but he didn’t retire at Georgetown either. And while Dave Urick did retire in men’s lacrosse, he did not go out the way he deserved.

In the end, Georgetown does right by its coaches, and for those like Kelly who must fight from behind, without the amenities or admission breaks his colleagues enjoy, it’s very much an uphill climb. That the University is able to recruit (and retain) good people who do their jobs honorably despite the disparity of support functions that fans of other schools could hardly imagine, speaks highly of the place. It doesn’t excuse losing but it does place things in perspective, which is all coaches can ask out of the process.

“I thought we made progress while we were here,” said Army coach Rich Ellerson after the Black Knights dropped yet another loss to Navy, with hours to go before his imminent dismissal. “But I wasn’t hired to make progress.”

Every coach can relate.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 3,000: The More Things Change

Someday next year, a crowd will gather.

Blue and gray bunting will surround a pile of dirt where once there was a tennis court. Coaches, players, dignitaries all, the group will all applaud at a shovel in the ground for a long delayed project and congratulate everyone on having come this far. After nearly seven years of hopes and dreams, the really big gift didn’t come in, but enough of the six figure ones did so that the generically named "Intercollegiate Athletics Center" can oneday say it will be underway. Once a project starts, it gets built.

Just don’t look too far over your shoulder.

A stone’s throw from the future site of the IAC stands Georgetown’s ongoing exercise in inertia, which today passes 3,000 days since construction was halted upon it. On September 17, 2005, with temporary seats left in place for the remainder of the 2005 season, the site once called “the most significant project in the history of Georgetown athletics” was inaugurated in a 34-3 loss to Brown.

And when the Bruins returned this fall, almost nothing had changed.

Because nothing has changed.

“Rumors abound that Harbin Field will eventually be turned into a real stadium, to be used by such teams as soccer, football and lacrosse. If this is the case, it will be a major boost for campus ... The university should do all that it can to provide better accommodations; after all, having sports on campus for all to enjoy follows the Jesuit ideal of educating the whole person - mind and body. We already have the teams ... now let's live up to our reputation and give them the facilities they deserve."

If this HOYA editorial sounds familiar, well, you’ve been reading this site too long.  It was authored on November 17, 1999, 14 years ago. This is a project that has spanned three U.S. presidents, three Popes, three full time athletic directors, not to mention some 30,000 Georgetown graduates across its various schools. While not the longest delayed project at the University (the legal wrangling on the boathouse enters its 27th year in 2014), it is certainly among the more visible ones. Hundreds of prospective students pass by it each day, with more than its share of nonplussed comments by tour guides or the off-putting response, “but we’re no good at football anyway.”

There was a time when comments were uniformly more positive.

“In the first phase, a new playing surface, visitor’s stands on the east side and other game-day facility needs will be installed. This portion of the project is slated to begin following the end of this fall’s competition schedule with completion by September 2005,” wrote a  Hoyas Unlimited newsletter in August 2004.

More follows:

“In the second phase, slated for completion in the fall of 2006, additional amenities will be added, and the focus will be on the home (west) side. New home stands will be constructed. Underneath the stands will be locker rooms, a training room and storage space. A new press box will be added and lights will be installed. This phasing is being done to accommodate a road realignment taking place on the west side of the facility around the same time. To date, over $12.7 million in cash and pledges has been raised for the new Multi-Sport Facility.“

To say this project has had its share of turns is an understatement. At least five different designs have come and gone. And where once Georgetown would comment that the project was just around the corner, perhaps they have learned the lesson of the U.S. government bureaucracy that no starting date means you’re never behind. The last public statement on the progress of this project at GUHoyas.com was over four years ago.

“In the year to come, we are focusing on developing a strategic plan for two major projects, the completion of which would benefit all of our teams and the University community as a whole,” wrote GU vice president Dan Porterfield (C’83) in September 2009, serving as an interim athletic director between the tenures of Bernard Muir and Lee Reed. Wrote Porterfield:

“First, it is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field, which hosts not only our football and lacrosse games, but also intramurals, club sports, and events such as the annual all-night Relay for Life, a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Though improvements have been made to the field in the last few years, the project remains unfinished and still requires significant investment to complete. 

"For that reason, I have asked colleagues in Athletics and the University to see if we can develop a cost-effective approach to completing the field. Our goals will stay the same: to improve our teams' game-day experience, to make the venue more fan-friendly, and to construct an aesthetically pleasing facility. As we develop new options for this important project in the coming months, we look forward to sharing its details with our friends and donors.“

And that’s part of the problem. Muir wanted little to do with a project that was assembled before his watch. Reed inherited the project amidst the growing heat that John Thompson III didn’t have a practice facility. Reed won’t be judged on what happens to the MSF, because priority 1 is the IAC. Kevin Kelly doesn’t talk about it publicly, but why would he? It’s been just another roadblock in his recruiting efforts.

Georgetown even went to the unusual step of washing its hands of the MSF in advance of the current capital campaign, noting in its campaign literature that “The Multi–Sport Field was one of the later priorities of the last campaign. Although substantial funds were raised, they were insufficient to complete the project in its ultimate, very expansive scope. The funds raised to date, together with university investment, were used to build the core of the facility, including a new playing field, lighting, scoreboards and stands. We are working to complete the second and final phase of the work outside the context of this campaign. ‘

(In its most recent iteration, the comments on the MSF no longer appear in the online FAQ.)

All of this inaction over this project is not some of struggle against football or athletics. Far from it. It merely plays to an academic bent where little, if anything can be done in a timely manner. What’s a few years in the life of a 225 year old University? After all, it took 23 years to get McDonough Gymnasium built, and stately Gaston Hall sat as an unfinished shell inside the Healy Building for the better part of two decades.

Georgetown has “conversations” on the MSF. It maintains “dialogue”. It seeks “opportunities” to see progress. These are words better suited to a discussion on ethics, not construction projects, and certainly not projects where money was raised and accepted. And according to that story cited above, $12.7 million is not an insignificant number.

Full disclosure: I made a gift of $1,000 to the Multi-Sport Facility when the project was still in active fundraising. In the interim, I’ve not received any correspondence from Georgetown University informing me of the status of my gift (technically, a seat at the new field), what became of the gift, if they want any more money from me, or if they simply reallocated the amount for something else.

Because a the bottom of all this, this project is all about commitment, one which unfortunately speaks loud and clear to recruits, to parents, and to fellow coaches. It’s hurt football recruiting, even if people won’t say it, and it has hurt lacrosse recruiting, even if people won’t say that, either. How can Georgetown be committed to sports like football if it doesn’t even finish what it started?

The University doesn’t need a replica of AT&T Stadium for a facility, even if Jerry Jones himself is the parent of an football alum. It doesn’t need another Byrd Stadium,  named after a former Georgetown quarterback, no less. Porterfield’s goals in that 2009 letter were simple and direct: “To improve our teams' game-day experience, to make the venue more fan-friendly, and to construct an aesthetically pleasing facility.”

This project needs ownership and a frank discussion with its donors about what it is prepared to do…and what it expects its donors to do in return. And those in McDonough Gym that are used to my squawking about this subject understand it’s not personal, that despite talk that things are getting closer, some of us have heard that offer for too many years now.

In the meantime, day 3,000 will be day 3,001 before we know it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

By The Numbers

There's been some lively debate on the HoyaTalk board in recent weeks about Georgetown's commitments to football, of which a special column later this season will discuss this in detail. But how does Georgetown fare against other schools?

For FY 2012, here were the football budgets per school in Division I-AA:

1 Montana State University MT $8,777,441
2 Liberty University VA $8,424,492
3 James Madison University VA $6,608,363
4 Old Dominion University VA $5,936,486
5 Fordham University NY $5,742,437
6 The University of Montana MT $5,656,889
7 University of Delaware DE $5,637,071
8 University of Richmond VA $5,563,301
9 Coastal Carolina University SC $5,420,560
10 Furman University SC $5,414,705
11 Villanova University PA $5,331,113
12 The University of Texas at San Antonio TX $5,140,135
13 Samford University AL $5,065,979
14 Colgate University NY $4,655,304
15 College of William and Mary VA $4,502,955
16 Lehigh University PA $4,486,823
17 Texas State University-San Marcos TX $4,400,906
18 Lafayette College PA $4,307,856
19 Presbyterian College SC $4,267,420
20 University of New Hampshire NH $4,064,025
21 Elon University NC $4,059,394
22 Bethune-Cookman University FL $3,950,538
23 Military College of S.C. (The Citadel) SC $3,915,023
24 Stony Brook University NY $3,909,564
25 College of the Holy Cross MA $3,900,385
26 University of Maine ME $3,864,144
27 Appalachian State University NC $3,769,377
28 Towson University MD $3,758,847
29 University of Rhode Island RI $3,736,644
30 Tennessee State University TN $3,698,630
31 North Dakota State University ND $3,663,103
32 Portland State University OR $3,639,220
33 Wofford College SC $3,629,852
34 Jacksonville State University AL $3,496,695
35 Youngstown State University OH $3,434,264
36 Eastern Kentucky University KY $3,386,349
37 Western Carolina University NC $3,372,801
38 University of Northern Iowa IA $3,329,150
39 Illinois State University IL $3,320,123
40 Virginia Military Institute VA $3,277,337
41 University of California-Davis CA $3,273,095
42 Yale University CT $3,269,637
43 Stephen F Austin State University TX $3,269,083
44 Georgia Southern University GA $3,204,295
45 Eastern Washington University WA $3,189,869
46 Indiana State University IN $3,166,886
47 Bucknell University PA $3,143,317
48 California State University-Sacramento CA $3,135,833
49 Lamar University TX $3,110,092
50 The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga TN $3,026,805
51 Southern Illinois University Carbondale IL $3,026,509
52 Cornell University NY $3,015,349
53 South Carolina State University SC $2,976,432
54 Gardner-Webb University NC $2,915,011
55 University of North Dakota ND $2,882,246
56 California Polytechnic-San Luis Obispo CA $2,877,772
57 Florida A&M University FL $2,839,529
58 Northern Arizona University AZ $2,838,620
59 Monmouth University NJ $2,830,733
60 Alabama State University AL $2,822,717
61 Idaho State University ID $2,816,722
62 Delaware State University DE $2,780,689
63 Tennessee Technological University TN $2,770,566
64 University of Northern Colorado CO $2,758,235
65 Eastern Illinois University IL $2,741,908
66 Columbia University  NY $2,724,416
67 Sam Houston State University TX $2,702,057
68 University of South Dakota SD $2,687,140
69 Western Illinois University IL $2,681,347
70 Texas Southern University TX $2,625,065
71 Weber State University UT $2,613,189
72 The University of Tennessee-Martin TN $2,599,061
73 Northwestern State University of Louisiana LA $2,597,012
74 Murray State University KY $2,585,918
75 North Carolina Central University NC $2,585,474
76 Dartmouth College NH $2,533,590
77 Southeastern Louisiana University LA $2,455,666
78 South Dakota State University SD $2,435,000
79 Alabama A & M University AL $2,406,862
80 Charleston Southern University SC $2,397,756
81 Morgan State University MD $2,386,808
82 Missouri State University-Springfield MO $2,364,352
83 University of Central Arkansas AR $2,354,686
84 Norfolk State University VA $2,332,815
85 Harvard University MA $2,327,799
86 Southern Utah University UT $2,280,246
87 Princeton University NJ $2,234,537
88 Bryant University RI $2,232,225
89 North Carolina A & T State University NC $2,223,483
90 Duquesne University PA $2,197,308
91 Howard University DC $2,146,987
92 Southeast Missouri State University MO $2,107,096
93 University of Pennsylvania PA $2,104,207
94 Alcorn State University MS $2,046,026
95 Grambling State University LA $1,985,964
96 Robert Morris University PA $1,976,296
97 Austin Peay State University TN $1,894,229
98 Central Connecticut State University CT $1,890,549
99 Sacred Heart University CT $1,887,505
100 SUNY at Albany NY $1,863,369
101 Prairie View A & M University TX $1,824,275
102 Nicholls State University LA $1,808,339
103 Savannah State University GA $1,775,645
104 Saint Francis University PA $1,773,629
105 Brown University RI $1,729,613
106 University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff AR $1,712,726
107 Georgetown University DC $1,686,269
108 Southern University and A&M College LA $1,554,532
109 Jackson State University MS $1,504,899
110 University of San Diego CA $1,269,465
111 Campbell University NC $1,143,155
112 Jacksonville University FL $1,126,146
113 Mississippi Valley State University MS $1,088,097
114 University of Dayton OH $975,237
115 Morehead State University KY $928,306
116 Valparaiso University IN $879,762
117 Drake University IA $876,039
118 Marist College NY $870,416
119 Davidson College NC $790,295
120 Butler University IN $648,837

That's a low number by any measurement, but let's do some comparison. How does Georgetown rank among Patriot League schools, where five schools rank among the top 25 programs by budget?

5 Fordham University NY $5,742,437
14 Colgate University NY $4,655,304
16 Lehigh University PA $4,486,823
18 Lafayette College PA $4,307,856
25 College of the Holy Cross MA $3,900,385
47 Bucknell University PA $3,143,317
107 Georgetown University DC $1,686,269

Next, how would Georgetown rank among spending in the Ivy League? Better, but still on the bottom looking up:

42 Yale University CT $3,269,637
52 Cornell University NY $3,015,349
66 Columbia University  NY $2,724,416
76 Dartmouth College NH $2,533,590
85 Harvard University MA $2,327,799
87 Princeton University NJ $2,234,537
93 University of Pennsylvania PA $2,104,207
105 Brown University RI $1,729,613
107 Georgetown University DC $1,686,269

And who are Georgetown's peers, financially speaking? A collection of historically black colleges and Pioneer schools.

106 University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff AR $1,712,726
107 Georgetown University DC $1,686,269
108 Southern University and A & M College LA $1,554,532
109 Jackson State University MS $1,504,899
110 University of San Diego CA $1,269,465
111 Campbell University NC $1,143,155
112 Jacksonville University FL $1,126,146
113 Mississippi Valley State University MS $1,088,097
114 University of Dayton OH $975,237
115 Morehead State University KY $928,306
116 Valparaiso University IN $879,762
117 Drake University IA $876,039
118 Marist College NY $870,416
119 Davidson College NC $790,295
120 Butler University IN $648,837

But let's take this same group and add their records to date this season. The numbers shouldn't surprise anyone.

106 University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff SWAC 2-7
107 Georgetown University Patriot 1-8
108 Southern University and A&M College SWAC 6-4
109 Jackson State University SWAC 7-2
110 University of San Diego Pioneer 7-3
111 Campbell University Pioneer 2-8
112 Jacksonville University Pioneer 4-6
113 Mississippi Valley State University SWAC 2-8
114 University of Dayton Pioneer 6-4
115 Morehead State University Pioneer 3-7
116 Valparaiso University Pioneer 1-9
117 Drake University Pioneer 6-4
118 Marist College Pioneer 7-3
119 Davidson College Pioneer 0-10
120 Butler University Pioneer 8-3

If you've come to the conclusion that Georgetown should simply focus on playing black college opponents and underfunded midwestern colleges, you're missing the point. Money doesn't buy championships-- but there is causality between spending and success. It's no guarantee, of course: Columbia is slogging through its worst season in a generation and it outspends Brown by 45 percent. But it's hard to miss the names at the top with what they accomplish, versus those on the bottom. You are what your budget says you are.

For Georgetown, it needs to stop pleading poverty and chart a sustainable course for budget growth in football. The good news is that it's reasonable and realistic. The bad news is it needs to get some more people behind it.