When longtime Harvard football head coach Tim Murphy announced his retirement last month, Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott wrote in a letter to donors and alumni that she was “confident that we will hire an excellent coach and leader.”
After The Crimson reported on Thursday that McDermott offered the head coach position to Andrew Aurich, a tight ends coach at Rutgers University, Harvard football alumni and players expressed concern about Aurich’s hiring, citing an expedited search process and Aurich’s lack of head coaching experience.
Many said they preferred one of the two internal finalists for the role, particularly Scott A. Larkee ’99, the team’s current defensive coordinator.
The hiring has still not been publicly announced by the College and Harvard is currently completing a background check on Aurich, according to a person familiar with the process.
While an official announcement is expected next week, 10 players and alumni told The Crimson they were upset with the search process, with some privately lobbying McDermott to make a last-minute reversal and not proceed with Aurich’s hiring.
College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment for this article when reached Friday evening.
“We do not comment on personnel matters or hiring processes,” Palumbo wrote.
Neil F. Gilman ’77, a former Harvard football player and president of a football equipment company, expressed his disappointment with Aurich’s hiring in a letter sent to McDermott on Friday.
“Harvard should be looking for an established Head Coach with a resume that highlights a proven ability to coach and develop young men, a talent to evaluate and recruit outstanding student athletes and someone with an impeccable character to create a positive culture where young men can thrive,” Gilman wrote in the letter, which was shared with The Crimson.
“In my estimation, the candidate you nominated falls far short of those basic criteria,” Gilman added.
Aurich did not respond to a request for comment.
The alumni backlash could also have financial implications for Harvard’s football program. Joseph E. Mattson ’99, a former Harvard football player, said McDermott’s decision would make him — and potentially others — less motivated to financially support Harvard football going forward.
“Many people, myself included, are either pulling back contributions that they’ve promised to the program, or deciding not to contribute further to the program,” he said.
McDermott announced a “national search” for a new head coach upon Murphy’s retirement, with many players expressing support for Larkee.
She had her pick just three weeks later.
Aurich played football in college as an offensive lineman at Princeton, where he was hired as a running backs coach in 2011. After spending one year as a defensive assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Aurich returned to Princeton where he coached through 2019.
In 2020, he was hired at Rutgers as an offensive line coach before moving to coaching running backs in 2022 and tight ends in 2023.
But unlike the past two head coaches hired by Harvard, Aurich has never held a head coaching position.
Some alumni, like Gilman, hoped Harvard would hire a head coach from a top collegiate football program.
Gilman said that he recommended Chip Kelly, the outgoing head coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, but felt he wasn’t pursued strongly enough, despite Kelly expressing interest to Gilman about the role.
Ohio State announced on Friday that Kelly will become the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Buckeyes. Kelly agreed to a three-year contract with Ohio State.
Alumni also raised concerns about the speed of the hiring process for the top coaching position.
Thomas M. Joyce ’77, a former Harvard football player and member of the Harvard Varsity Club’s Athletic Hall of Fame, wrote in an email to The Crimson that the search process was “flawed.”
“After the most successful 30-year span in Harvard football history, to not have a candidate with a head coaching background nor have a diversity candidate makes no sense to me,” Joyce wrote.
“I do not know the individual hired, he may be terrific, but to have a truncated, rushed search strikes me as an opportunity lost,” Joyce added.
McDermott wrote in the email to donors following Murphy’s retirement that she would not be using a search firm, instead opting to select a successor using a search committee composed of herself and members of the department.
“I am comfortable identifying candidates with our own network,” McDermott wrote.
McDermott eventually compiled a list of four finalists: Aurich, Larkee, Harvard quarterbacks coach Joel K. Lamb ’93, and University of South Carolina offensive analyst Sean Ryan.
Some current players specifically took issue with McDermott hiring a former Princeton player instead of Larkee or Lamb — the two internal finalists who are also Harvard alumni, and expressed frustration with McDermott’s level of transparency during the process.
Thor G.C. Griffith ’24, a defensive tackle at Harvard, wrote in a statement that “most of the guys on the team are shocked by the decision and the way we found out.”
“While I know Aurich being hired is not technically confirmed, we were all disappointed to find out via twitter instead of finding out through Erin.”
Griffith said it “feels as if Erin has never backed our team or had our best interest in mind since she has gotten here,” citing her handling of an officiating error in a 2021 matchup against Princeton that cost the Crimson the game.
“The whole team, players and coaches included, did not accept the outcome of the game and were furious at the mistake made by the refs,” Griffith wrote. “She, without our input, claimed that we accepted the outcome.”
Despite his reservations about Aurich’s hiring, Griffith wrote that he hopes it works out well for the program.
“As a team, we welcome Coach Aurich with open arms and are excited with what he has in store for the future of this program,” Griffith wrote. “I personally am disappointed with the decision, but I do wish him and the team nothing but the best in the future.”
Mattson, who was Larkee’s teammate in college, said that he would have preferred one of the internal candidates because they helped shape the program and recruit most of the current players on the team.
Mattson said he felt “confused” and “betrayed” by the decision to hire Aurich.
“I feel kind of heartbroken for the program,” he added.
James F. “Jim” Bell ’89, a member of Harvard’s 1987 Ivy League championship team and All-Ivy defensive tackle in 1988, said Aurich’s qualifications deserve scrutiny.
“It raises some questions that a job of this magnitude, with shoes to fill of this magnitude, are going to be handed to somebody who has no head coaching experience,” said Bell. “I think that’s a fair concern to have.”
Bell lauded retired head coach Tim Murphy as “on the Mount Rushmore of Ivy League coaching,” and worried that he may not have been involved in the hiring of his successor.
“I hope he was, but I fear from what I’ve heard he hasn’t been.”
Bell said Aurich’s hiring left him with many questions about how the search process was conducted.
“How wide a net was cast here for such a prestigious job?” Bell asked.