Thursday, September 07, 2006

Welcome Back Lou!

9 Days Until Kickoff

Every once in a while you stumble onto a familiar face or name that makes you say out loud: "is this the same guy?' That's what I found myself doing when I saw that one Lou Ferrari was named Columbia's new defensive coordinator under Head Coach Norries Wilson. But there was no way this could be the same Lou Ferrari who was the young defensive line coach under the disastrous Jim Garrett and a 1985 squad that went 0-10. How could anyone associated with that team and the negativity that oozed out of it want to come back to Baker Field for a second helping?

You have to understand how bad 1985 really was. Jim Garrett had been a top NFL scout and assistant coach and was brought in as a savior for Columbia football just as the famous 44-game losing streak was in its infancy. But he didn't come alone. He brought along his three sons, John, Judd and Jason, who were all highly-recruited players with a lot of potential. John was already on the Columbia squad when his dad was hired, but Jason transferred from Princeton and then-high school senior Judd changed his mind about going to Old Nassau to join the rest of his family. To this day it's not entirely clear if Columbia hired Garrett for his coaching abilities or to get at his sons. But whatever the reason, they ended up losing all of them.

In his first game, the Lions jumped out to a 17-0 lead at home against Harvard. They ended up losing 49-17 and Garrett was famously quoted as saying his Lions "played like drug-addicted losers." Of course I should say he was famously MIS-quoted as saying his team WAS a "bunch of drug-addicted losers." Either way, Garrett was lucky to survive the rest of the season as Columbia posted its first-ever 0-10 year, (they had been 0-9 in 1984). And of course, Garrett's sons left with him. Jason went back to Princeton with Judd close behind him and they went on to have fabulous careers at Palmer Stadium.

One stain on those great careers was what happened at Wien Stadium on October 8, 1988, when Columbia finally ended that 44-game losing streak against the Garrett-led Princeton Tigers, who had been favorites to win the Ivy League title until that rainy day. The NFL Films-produced highlight video of that game had a great little shot where you see a smiling Columbia assistant coach telling one of his charges that, "if number 40 is still in the picture, you put a helmet on him and get him on his ass." Of course, only the well-informed viewer knew that #40 was Judd Garrett and that smile was all about revenge.

These are just some of the facts and anecdotes that tell the story of how the Garrett debacle was, and still is, about lingering bad blood at Columbia. So you could understand my rock solid belief that this could not be the same Lou Ferrari. The same man who must have endured so much undeserved grief during that stint at Columbia when he was just 31-years-old and could not have been responsible for Garrett's behavior, nor been prepared for what he was getting into.

But indeed it IS the same guy. And in the 20 years since he has been busy. Most importantly, he's been the defensive coordinator at Vero Beach High School, a powerhouse program that excelled with the same 3-5-3 defensive scheme Columbia will be using this year.

Ferrari and Norries Wilson go way back. They first met in the late 80's/early 90's when Ferrari was coaching outside linebackers at the University of Minnesota. Wilson had just graduated as a star offensive lineman for the Golden Gophers and was starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant.

One could assume that Ferrari's friendship with Wilson is what's convincing him to throw caution to the wind and try Columbia again. But perhaps it's more than that. Perhaps Ferrari is the kind of goal-oriented high achiever who would like the chance to fix what has to be his worst memory in more than 30 years of coaching. Perhaps this time, Lou Ferrari is determined to be a part of a winning Columbia team coached by a more mature and experienced staff.

In any event, Coach Ferrari is probably already enjoying the vast improvement in Columbia's facilities since 1985. And he and his wife are living on Morningside Heights and that neighborhood has REALLY improved in the last 21 years. I'm guessing this experiment in either great friendship, or true perseverance is already paying off for him. Let's hope he continues to succeed.

Lost? Nope I Found Matt Fox all on My Own

I often like to look through my old Columbia football media guides and game programs. It's a fun way to spend some time in the attic. This week I stumbled on something interesting and funny in my game program from the 1988 Columbia-Brown game. Just on background, this was the final game of that season and it ended up becoming a Columbia rout as the Lions whipped the Bears 31-13. I remember running onto the field and patting Greg Abbruzzese on the shoulder pads in celebration. Anyway, that program has a little 400-word profile of Lion wide receiver Matt Fox and how the unassuming Crowheart, Wyoming native was happy to be graduating soon so he could go back to his quiet life in his tiny town to live out the rest of his days.

Well, that article was about the same Matt Fox who has since starred in two very successful TV series, Party of Five and now Lost. The funny thing, besides the fact that Fox couldn't have been more off-base about living out the rest of his life in obscurity, is that I always knew Fox played football for the Lions, but I thought he was one of those guys who played for a year or two and just quit. He was a senior when I was a freshman, and I also remember he starred in a college production of EQUUS of all plays. But he DID play quite a bit and was one of the Lions leading receivers on that 1988 team. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Fox owes a lot of his super acting career to Columbia football. I mean, if he's not recruited to play in NYC, he probably doesn't do too much acting while in school, at least not in a big city setting. Instead, maybe he stays in Wyoming, warms the bench on another college team and becomes a horse rancher rather than starring in a play where they gouge the horses' eyes out. I think it's obvious.

And now for the kicker. Who was the man who recruited Matt Fox and convinced him to take chance on the big city life? Why, it was Jim Garrett of course!


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