The checkered career of first year Princeton football coach Frank Navarro has taken him from the shores of the Harlem Fiver in New York City to the banks of the Wabash in Indiana.
Navarro was hired as Princeton's 18th head football coach last December after the demise of predecessor Bob Casciola, with a four year contract to revitalize the sagging Tigers.
So far Navarro's presence has not proved a magical elixir to the win-thirsty Tigers whose record on the eve of today's contest with the Crimson is 1-3-1. Navarro has been trying to implement the much-vaunted veer offense at Princeton and the fifteen starters returning from last year's team have been sorely taxed to memorize the new series of x's and o's.
His post at Old Nassau is Navarro's secong gig in the Ivy League. From 1968-1973 he was head coach of Columbia. Navarro first came to Columbia as a graduate student in 1955 and served his coaching apprenticeship with the legendary Lou Little. He soloed as a head coach at Williams from 1963-1967. When the Ephmen went 7-0-1 in 1967, he was voted New England College Coach of the Year. Having returned to Columbia in 1968, Navarro's career reached its zenith in 1971 when the Lions went 6-3, only the third winning Columbia season since 1952. Navarro emerged as the messiah of Morningside Heights that year as the Lions won every one of their home games with Homeric heroics in the last seconds.
That year Columbia defeated Yale on a two-point conversion on the last play of the game, overcame powerhouse Dartmouth 31-29, and upset Princeton on a last-second field goal by linebacking immortal Paul Kaliades, who even received a vote for the Heisman trophy.
So with most of his Cinderella eleven returning in 1972, Navarro was expected to lead Columbia to an Ivy League title. Instead the Lions stumbled to a 3-5-1 mark, and a despondent Navarro found himself at Baker Field with emotions similar to those of John Keats when he penned "the sedge is wither'd and no birds sing."
Navarro became disenchanted at Columbia because he believed he had to spend too much time on publicity, paperwork and recruiting, which was hamstringing his coaching performance on the field. By mutual consent, Navarro left Columbia in 1973 and, passing up offers to become an assistant coach in the pro ranks, he became head coach of tiny Wabash College in Indiana.
Before Navarro mosied down to Wabash, the Little Giants, so called because the school regularly plays against much larger competitors, had not had a winning season in ten years.
In fact, Wabash was little more than a sleepy hoosier hamlet whose forefathers picked up the town name from the local Indians. The Indians called it Ouabouigou, which means "shining white." Fittingly enough, in 1880 Wabash became the first town in the world to install electric street lights. An uninspired Ezra Pound pined away on the Wabash faculty until he was dismissed after allowing a destitute woman of ill repute to spend a night in his room, an act which offended the straightlaced morals of the town.
Wabash offered Navarro a chance to "retool" his football fundamentals in idyllic isolation. He succeeeded in putting the school on the map by leading his squad to an 11-2 record last year as the Little Giants were runners-up in the NCAA Division III national championships. Navarro's unparalleled success earned him the district American Football Coaches Division Coach of the Year award.
Navarro's minor miracle restored his name to favor among the Eastern coaching establishment and so he decided to leave his self-imposed exile at the bequest of Princeton athletic director Royce N. Flippin Jr.
In a game frightfully fraught with irony, Navarro returned to Baker Field two weeks ago, when his Princeton team met a revamped Columbia. Bill Campbell, his successor at Columbia, has finally achieved success this year with the veer offense after four years of experimentation. Navarro, of course, has a four year contract and is just beginning to implement his own veer this season. That Saturday, Columbia beat Princeton for the first time since Navarro left New York.
Don't expect Frank Navarro to languish on the shores of Princeton's Lake Carnegie for long, however. Whether on the highway-lined banks of the Harlem or alongside the meandering Wabash, Frank Navarro has proved himself an able pilot on perilous waters.