Monday, April 02, 2007

A Chance to Make History

In sports, the term, "making history," is so often overused that it loses its effect most of the time. But this year's Columbia Lions can stake a legitimate claim to history-making simply by avoiding a losing season. That's because Columbia hasn't had back-to-back non-losing seasons since 1962-63.

Aldo "Buff" Donelli (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

Those teams were the result of the great work of Head Coach Aldo "Buff Donelli. Donelli had the unenviable job of replacing legendary Lion Head Coach Lou Little in 1957. Donelli had a rough start, going 4-23 in his first three seasons and 3-18 in the Ivy League. 12 of those losses were by shutout, including 6 in 1958 when the Lions were outscored 291-35 on the season. But in 1960, things started to turn around as the Lions went 3-6 overall and 3-4 in the Ivies.

That set up Columbia's great 1961 season, where the Lions tied for the Ivy title, going 6-3 overall and 6-1 Ivy, (they had to settle for a tie with Harvard despite beating the Cantabs head-to-head, 26-14).

After that, Columbia didn't exactly fall off the map right away. The scrappy 1962 squad finished 5-4 and 4-3 in the Ivies despite being outscored 206-124 on the season. And like the 2006 Lions, the 1963 team rallied to win their last two games to clinch a .500 record, (4-4-1, 2-4-1 Ivy), with thrilling 35-28 win over Rutgers in the finale.

Donelli stayed on for four more seasons, but the team never was competitive again under his guidance and they went 8-27-1 from 1964-67. Most long-time Columbia fans say this was the period when the administration's attitudes about athletics went from indifference to outright hostility, but New York City's overall decline in that period couldn't have helped either.

No Columbia coach even came close to producing back-to-back winning seasons until 1994-96. Coach Ray Tellier guided the Lions to a 5-4-1 record in 1994, and had them on track with a 3-2-1 record, (3-0 Ivy), midway through the '95 campaign before QB Mike Cavanaugh broke his leg at Princeton and the rest of the season was lost. Of course, the great '96 team went 8-2.

The team has suffered losing season every year since then until last year's 5-5 effort. And Coach Norries Wilson and his staff will have to do an even better job this coming season to reach 5-5 or 6-4, because Columbia's record is decidedly tougher with one fewer home game and tougher competition all-around, (in particular, last year's weaker Patriot League opponent Georgetown is replaced on the schedule with stronger the stronger Lafayette).

But Coach Wilson already has some history on his side, and a special connection to Donelli. When the Lions won their opener over Fordham last season, Wilson became the first CU coach since Donnelli to win his first game, (Donelli actually lost his next 10 games at Columbia, so Wilson is already ahead in that department). And while I have no idea whether Donelli instilled a big attitude shift in his players during his early seasons, there's little doubt Wilson has.

It's time to make a little history.

New Coaches

And coach Wilson will have some new assistants this season. The athletic department made the announcement today: New Coaches.

Two names that jump out at me is the new wide receivers coach Aaron Smith, who played under Coach Wilson at UConn. And William Irwin, who also played under Coach Wilson for the Huskies. It says something about Wilson as a man and a manager that his former UConn players want to follow him to a very different school like Columbia.

With spring practice less than a week away, it's good the coaching staff is all filled out and ready to go.


At Mon Apr 02, 11:17:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 62 through 64 teams were always competitive because of the great Archie Roberts. Recruiting fell off with the class of 1966, and Buff started losing the players'confidence; having John Toner on the staff didn't help either. Frank Navarro got off to a great start but the university's lack of support just killed us. As for the coming season, I expect that we will be a better team than last year in terms of talent. Two or three impact first years will also help. Again, thanks for the great work!

At Tue Apr 03, 12:23:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

That is a very good point about Roberts. But the credit still goes to Donelli because his successors haven't been able to generate the same success despite some big names over the years.

I'm optimistic about this coming season, but make no mistake: Columbia will have to work a lot harder to get to 5-5 this time around.

At Tue Apr 03, 01:21:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Hormann is healthy and we get some OL blocking we will be a lot better than you might expect. Look for a break-out year from Evangelist and Stoll, improved play from Russell in the two TE set, first team all Ivy for Austin Knowlin, and a two headed monster in Jordan Davis and Ray Rangel. The defense will be excellent. Masorti, Shalbrack and Mitchell will be First Team all Ivy.

At Tue Apr 03, 01:37:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

From your mouth to God's ears! We'll need big improvements from a lot of guys to get it done. Time to get to work.

At Tue Apr 03, 08:30:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Horman's healthy, OR if Olawale is sharp then we'll have great leadership. The OL will be better with improved athletes, faster backfield and improved TE play will make everyone look better. I worry more about the D line; we still need a NT that can control 2 gaps to let some other guys go! Spring game in 3 weeks!!

At Tue Apr 03, 07:54:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a big body at NT, like Veldman? I like Mitchell at DE and we have some potential at the other DE spot. We have tremendous talent at LB (reminds me of the old all-Madden teams, where he would have 6 or 7 LBs), and at DB with Shalbrack, Smith, Jefferson, etc.

At Tue Apr 03, 08:01:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yes, I too am concerned about the NT position and would not be surprised if we see a converted offensive lineman in that spot. Columbia was able to shift so much on defense last season because it could rely on the strength up the middle with Abrams, Brekke and Crawford. All those guys are graduating next month.

At Wed Apr 04, 10:05:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that the younger Brekke has been moved to OLB, accoording to the roster. Although the roster shows Jefferson at RB, I understand that he has been moved to one of the safety slots. Any other changes in the works? PS, I cannot go to the Spring game. I'm hoping, Jake, that you can go and give us one of your typical masterpieces of reportage.

At Wed Apr 04, 11:32:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yes, I will be at the spring game. I hope to get as much info as I can.

At Thu Apr 05, 01:00:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest that we have all bloggers who use voyforums switch to your blog for reports on the Spring game. I am tired of our being bashed by Asia Sunset (probably the nom de guerre of Bags), Foehi and the likes. This is an open message to Dr. V etc.

At Thu Apr 05, 01:09:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I agree that those guys can be annoying, but the VOY board has its many merits. But since I will be posting my thoughts on the spring game here anyway... I don't see the harm in keeping the comments primarily here at first before migrating over to VOY.

At Thu Apr 05, 03:39:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best part of the Voy board is provoking the Penn crowd; it's sort of like chumming--throw a little bait on hte surface and watch the usual suspects (Asia, Foehi, etc.) go apoplectic.


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