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Surprise Choice Restic Would Become a Harvard Legend


It isn't every day that legends are born in Harvard sports. And few observers thought that January 4, 1971 would be one of those days.

At a press conference then at Dillon Field House, a little-known Canadian Football League (CFL) coach named Joe Restic was given the reins of the Harvard football team, one of the most historic programs in the country.

It was a surprise to everyone. Twenty-five years ago, Harvard still had a nationally-respected football team. Harvard could give a good fight to schools like Rutgers and Boston University--squads that would have blown out the Crimson in 1995.

It was assumed, therefore, that the position would go to Ralph Jelic, who at the time was the defensive coordinator for retiring head coach John Yovicsin, or possibly to a well-known professional or collegiate head coach.

As it turned out, the new coach did come from the professional ranks--but from the Canadian professional ranks.

The CFL was--and is--considered a strange offshoot of American football. Its rules call for a 110-yard field, three downs instead of four, deeper end zones and 12 players to a side.

Restic was the head coach of the Hamilton Tiger Cats and was well-known for his innovative offensive theories. That reputation was the determining factor in his hiring.

Yovicsin had been a conservative coach, even by Ivy League standards. The Ancient Eight had the stereotype of running formations that were, well, ancient, with Princeton still running a single-wing offense well into the 1950s.

Yovicsin, for his part, kept the ball almost exclusively on the ground during his 14-year Harvard career. There were signs that he would open up a bit, as he scrapped the Flanker-T offense for a pro-style set after a disappointing 3-6 season in 1969.

But the Athletic Department felt that even more change was needed, and thus a three-month search reduced 80 candidates to just Restic.

Harvard got what it was bargaining for. And then some.

Restic's unique offense, known as the multiflex, was perhaps the most confusing playbook ever unleashed on a collegiate team. Rumor has it, in fact, that it was based on the fact that only Harvard players would be able to understand it.

The multiflex was an offense that offered, just as its named suggested, multiple flexibilities. It was meant to be responsive to the defense, to allow the quarterback to improvise in specific ways.

And improvise Restic did. Tight ends went in motion; there were one back, two backs and three backs in the backfield; there were wide receivers all over the place.

Whatever the reason, it worked. Restic stayed at the helm for 23 years, compiling a record of 117-97, and was so well-respected that the Philadelphia Eagles asked him to be their head coach in the late 1970s.

But the end of his career was not as bright as the start. Restic won his last Ivy title in 1987, and the team sputtered until Restic retired after the 1993 season.

Tim Murphy, who resigned as head coach of the University of Cincinnati, succeeded Restic, bringing another batch of new ideas to a venerable program.

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