The People's Choice
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THIS is what has to stop!
What a time for Homecoming week!
Just when all the generous alumni are about to converge on the Baker Athletics Complex for a nationally televised game against Penn, the football program is clearly at its lowest point since Head Coach Norries Wilson took over in 2006.
The 0-4 record isn't the whole story. Some of the play in those losses has been frighteningly poor and sloppy.
Bad coaching is the culprit plain and simple.
Only the most unrealistic toady can avoid realizing that something is very, very wrong here.
So what are our options?
Here are the top five:
1) Keep Norries
After all, injuries are the biggest reason the Lions have faltered this year... right?
He deserves another season or two.
Most importantly, the team dresses the same to and from all games and we know that's the #1 goal.
2) Fire Norries after the Season
There's no use in creating too much chaos now... but spend the rest of this season finding the best replacement and raising the money to present that man with an offer he can't refuse.
Our top target should be Holy Cross Head Coach Tom Gilmore.
He has made a lot out of almost nothing in Worcester and he wants the job here.
For those of you who are skittish about offering the Lions job to a former Penn star let me remind you of another Penn football star who became our head coach.
His name was Lou Little.
3) Fire Norries NOW and use One of his Existing Staffers as the Interim Coach
The administration needs to prove it's serious about winning, and with 60% of the season left and 86% of the Ivy season remaining, there's time to prove that by cleaning house now!
John Gutekunst and Ed Argast are seasoned veterans who could take over as interim coaches right now if need be. Remember, Gutekunst was once the head coach at Minnesota.
4) Fire Norries NOW and Ask Ray Tellier to Fill in for the Rest of the Season
Tellier is still in the athletic department and probably could shoulder the responsibilities for six weeks if he had to.
5) Fire Norries NOW and Ask Bill Campbell to Coach the Team for the rest of the Season.
He paid for it, let Mr. Campbell push this stalled car all the way to the service station.
Stranger things have happened.
Feel free to choooe any one of the five options above and tell us about it in the comments section, but I will weigh in now on my preference.
It may surprise some of you and outrage others, but I think it needs to be said.
My choice is Option 3: Fire Norries Wilson now and get an interim coach.
After almost six years, Columbia's football program is only slightly better than where it stood on the field when things were so bad in 2005 that Shoop had to be fired.
I say "on the field," because by every other measure things have improved for Columbia Football and that means no excuses.
Here's what I mean:
A) Donations to athletics are coming in at a record pace. The money is here and here now.
B) The facilities are in the best shape ever. Even with the Campbell Center not completed yet, the locker room situation for the team was improved drastically before the 2009 season began and there have been lots of other touch-ups as well.
And if facilities or even fan support were such an issue, then please explain Brown football to me. Brown's stadium and other facilities are so bad, all the Brown employees spent the entire game complaining to me about them during my last visit up there in 2008!
And yet, all Head Coach Phil Estes does is win.
C) Columbia's stature among all college applicants is rising thorugh the roof. Columbia is ranked #4 in the US News & World Report ratings for the second year in a row, and as much as many of us think those rankings are baloney, lots of people don't. But that's just ONE measure of Columbia's rising reputation. Selectivity is also at an all-time high, meaning football recruits really have a great incentive to come here and grab a space in a school that's almost as hard to get into as winning the Lotto.
D) New York City is a recruitiong POSITIVE. Don't let anyone tell you that rural and suburban kids don't want to come to New York and play football. It's really a lie. I've spoken to a lot of football players at other Ivy schools and their parents who chose not to come to Columbia. None of them found NYC to be a problem and they opted out of CU for other reasons. And I don't think anyone of them was being "polite" by speaking highly of the City. They all knew I am no politically correct whistle-blower and would have little problem with them bad-mouthing the City if they really felt that way.
E) The talent is HERE. Yes, I know our players aren't super men. But just look at last year's underperforming, (in the W-L category), team. Columbia had a bevvy of first time All Ivy players, the most we've ever had to be exact. And the team still won only two Ivy games.
And yet all the above factors are dwarfed by the one thing that has kept Columbia from winning football games with any consistency or even slow-but-steady improvement.
And that one thing is this: lowered expectations.
Lowered expectations and constant excuses for losing are the only REAL things that have kept Columbia football down for all these decades, (50 years since our last Ivy title and counting).
And I say that because the steady mantra of lowered expectations is STILL the main message coming out of the athletic department and the football program!
Over the last few weeks, many of you have shared with me your stories of how you questioned top officials in the atheltic department and even the football coaches about the situation only to have them run off a list of excuses about how hard it is to win in New York.
The underselling of this season began in the preseason as almost every coach who did talk to alumni couldn't stop talking about all the injuries.
After all the donations, all the All-Ivy players, and all the once weaker football programs that have now passed us by, (Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell), the administration is STILL pushing the lowered expectations line! And that's proof that attitude is the one constant that has to be changed.
We've seen this story play out time after time in sports, especially in pro sports.
The St. Lous Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and then the Arizona Cardinals were pathetic losers year after year in the NFL all because owner Bill Bidwell.
Bidwell tried to do everything on the cheap, and he always got what he paid for.
But almost as soon as he turned day-to-day operations of his team to his sons, Michael and Bill, Jr., things turned around.
The Cardinals darn near won the Super Bowl in January 2009 after decades of never even winning a playoff game.
The Patriots were a mess until Bob Kraft came in and demanded higher expectations.
The rest is history.
As soon as Columbia gets an Athletic Director who hires coaches with the one goal of winning and makes it clear they will be gone if they don't win... we'll win.
Otherwise, it's all about who makes the best excuses.
Dianne Murphy's Law
And so that brings us to Dr. Dianne Murphy.
She has one last chance to prove she doesn't deserve to go too.
Let's rewind four years first...
Murphy was my very first halftime interview subject when I was doing the color commentary and halftime shows on GoColumbiaLions.com from 2007-09.
I asked her the obvious question: "What will it take to increase fan attendance and interest in Columbia sports?"
Her answer was: "I think you have to win!"
I credit her for answering so honestly then, but she is running out of chances to prove she really meant it.
The fans, the donors, and most of all the players all deserve better than a laurel and hearty handshake at the end of their four or five seasons.
They deserve to WIN.
If she doesn't fire Norries Wilson now, then it's all lip service... or the REAL decision doesn't rest with her in the first place.
If Bill Campbell, a truly great person and Columbian in just about every way, is the real decision maker when it comes to Columbia football, then Murphy should resign and make her reasons public so Campbell can be held accountable for his presence in the program and be forced to explain his incredible support for Wilson, (which goes FAR beyond just moral support), and his decision to hire Bob Shoop a few years before all that.
Murphy cannot be expected to be held accountable for the sports programs at Columbia if she is given little real control over the school's most important sports team.
Either she cares about her job or she does not.
Either she cares about winning or she does not.
Either she means what she says in all those fundraising letters or she does not.
There really is no middle ground.
The time is beyond over for athletic directors and coaches who make excuses and get defensive or even beligerant when even slightly pressed about our losing ways.
Norries Wilson's time is up.
It was probably up during the 2007 season, and I regret continuing to editorially coddle him and his staff for so long ever since. I had hoped the evidence I brushed off or kept private would do more harm than good for our beloved Alma Mater and so I suppressed it.
And now I see that perhaps we could have had this discussion years ago and then maybe we could have seen better outcomes for our long-graduated stars who deserved better.
Stars like Andrew Kennedy, Alex Gross, Calvin Otis, Craig Hormann, Andy Shalbrack, Lou Miller, Ralph DeBernardo, Austin Knowlin, Adam Mehrer, Drew Quinn, etc, etc, etc.
And hey, I STILL pray with all my heart for the Lions to win all their remaining games even if that means another 10 years of this regime.
In fact, I'll be the first person to apologize publicly if that happens.
But barring some kind of crazy turnaround, this ship will only get righted when someone who truly demands winning and no excuses takes over not only Columbia football but all of Columbia athletics.
Let's start TODAY.