Yale coach Jack Siedlecki had a fine 12-year run in charge but when vying for Ivy supremacy and bragging rights, he was up against a Harvard program having one of its best-ever stretches.
What (other than the obvious) is wrong with Yale?
Many people outside of New Haven were surprised when Bulldogs coach Jack Siedlecki stepped down just a few days after Yale’s 10-0 loss in this year’s edition of The Game. Siedlecki was 70-49 as coach of the Bulldogs, including 23-7 over the last two years. He won two Ivy titles, in 1999 and 2006, and has a better winning percentage than half the other coaches in the Ancient Eight.
For all his success, Siedlecki still left in a storm of alumni and fan dissatisfaction. At the root of his problems, no doubt, was his 4-8 mark against Harvard, including 1-7 in the last eight meetings (although the one win was a 34-13 beating in 2006 that secured an Ivy crown).
“Losing to Harvard is never acceptable for this program,” Yale defensive back Casey Gerald said after this season’s loss.
Coughing up a perfect season last year while being completely dominated by the Crimson in the Yale Bowl certainly didn’t help. This season’s high but unfilled expectations—the Bulldogs were tied for first with Harvard in the preseason media poll—certainly contributed to the discontent.
But, on the other hand, is it really fair to judge Siedlecki by his record against the Crimson? After all, Siedlecki is hardly the only coach to suffer at the hands of the Fightin’ Tim Murphys in the greatest modern era of Harvard football. The Crimson’s current run of seven-win seasons—which at eight is the longest since 1911, and the longest in Ivy League history—has come at the expense of virtually every other Ivy League school, good coaches or not. Yale joins Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, and Cornell among the list of Ivy schools that has lost at least seven of the last eight to Harvard, and Lafayette could be added to the list as a non-league foe. Princeton has lost six of the last eight, while even Penn, long the powerhouse of the league, has dropped three of the last four to the Crimson.
Included among that batch of coaches are some pretty good ones—Penn’s Al Bagnoli sports a .677 winning percentage and six league crowns while leading the Quakers, and Brown’s Phil Estes is at .615 with a pair of Ivy titles. Buddy Teevens put Dartmouth football at the top of the Ivies in the early 1990s, though his second go-around in Hanover has not been as successful.
So what does Yale expect to gain by replacing Siedlecki? The question looms larger when you consider that Siedlecki took over a program in terrible shape in 1997. That season, his first year in New Haven, the Bulldogs went 1-9, undermanned and unprepared after the last unsuccessful years of Carm Cozza, the closest thing Yale has to Bear Bryant. Two years later, Siedlecki led the Bulldogs to a win over Harvard that locked up an Ivy title and a 9-1 season. In other words, Siedlecki restored the luster to a program that was sorely lacking, taking it about as high as one can go in the Ivies. And, as he showed, he can win games—the Bulldogs beat co-champion Brown this season, and their first three losses in this year’s 6-4 campaign were by a combined seven points.
So, with Siedlecki gone, where does Yale turn? It's not as easy as you might think to find a quality coach in the Ivies, given the recruiting restrictions, relatively low profile, and comparatively low coaching salaries.
Can the Bulldogs really find a coach to take them beyond where Siedlecki had already led? Defensive coordinator Rick Flanders seems like the obvious choice, having led the nation's top scoring defense this season and worked in the Ivy League for the last 16 years. But if he faces the same unrealistic expectations that Siedlecki did, it won't be a particularly long tenure.
-Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org