The morning after the Columbia Lions football team registered its first and only victory of the 2011 season, the athletic department announced the firing of six-year head coach Norries Wilson. While they support the University's decision, many players were understandably sad that Wilson will not be returning in 2012. "In order to achieve the goals that we have set for the Columbia football program, we believe it is necessary and appropriate to make a change in leadership at this time," Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy said in an official press release. While many of the players were not shocked by the news after their disappointing 2011 campaign, they were still emotional when Wilson told them about the decision in Sunday's team meeting. "You never like to see it happen, but when the decision is made you have to move forward with the program," senior center and captain Bob Hauschildt said. "That's the decision Dr. Murphy made, and we stand by her." "It's the nature of the beast," senior wide receiver Paul Havas said. "There's a lot of turnover. At the end of the day if you're not getting as many wins as you should be, something is going to come to change." Ultimately, the decision to dismiss Wilson was based on the team's inability to compete in the Ivy League. In six years under Wilson, the Lions have achieved an overall record of 17-43 and only 10-32 in the Ancient Eight. The team's best season came in Wilson's first year when they finished 5-5 with a 2-5 conference record. The Light Blue was never able to get above .500 during Wilson's tenure. However, his players believe his full impact cannot be measured solely by the number next to Columbia in the win column. "He did more for the program than you can see from the outside," Hauschildt said. "So many guys came out of here with good jobs. I matured incredibly over four years here. It's a shame that we couldn't get the wins and losses to better support him. He did so much for this program that will never show up on a stats sheet." It is clear that Wilson was a man his players came to respect, admire, and love. "He's the one that gave us the opportunity to come here and play Division I football at an Ivy League school," sophomore wide receiver Louis DiNovo said. "He gave us an opportunity football-wise and career-wise. It's a tough pill to swallow." "I would go to the end of the earth to do something for him personally," senior left tackle Jeff Adams said. Wilson is seen by his players as a natural motivator and leader. "I will say this till the day I die: He was one of the best men I have ever met in my life," Hauschildt said. "He was a great leader. He was a great commander of a room. There are very few people that I will ever meet that led the way he did." "Getting people to rally around him was never a problem. He commands respect," Havas said. "People want to play for him in the end. He had no problem motivating us week in week out even though things weren't going great." Other players reflected on specific aspects of Wilson's character. "He was probably the most loyal person to his players that I've ever seen," senior cornerback and captain Ross Morand said. "No matter what the issue was, coming to him, he would have your back." With junior Sean Brackett, first-team All-Ivy quarterback in 2010, and a strong group of seniors, the Lions were confident that they had the potential to surprise some people in the Ivy League in 2011. They did, but for all the wrong reasons. Inconsistency within and between games allowed the Light Blue to fall to 0-9 (0-6 Ivy) going into the final game of the season. "The microcosm of our season was the Fordham game," Hauschildt said. "We were about to go up big and we get the tough pick-six and we weren't able to overcome that. We hit a little bump in the road and couldn't shake it off. We didn't handle adversity as well as we could have." The players, however, seemed hesitant to put all of the blame on Wilson. "He had the respect of everyone on the team. I don't think that ever waned," senior wide receiver and captain Mike Stephens said. "We wanted to play hard for the guy but unfortunately it didn't pan out the way we wanted it to." While the players deserve a significant share of the blame for the team's struggles, Wilson's coaching didn't aid the Lions' cause. Throughout the season, Wilson failed to find a way to make his squad play with more discipline, failed to adapt his strategy within games, and failed to make adequate halftime adjustments to prepare his team for the third quarter—during which the Lions were outscored 117-20 by their opponents. Despite the team's poor start, Wilson constantly remained positive around his players and did not show concerns about his job security. "Throughout a football season it is very difficult to show up every single day with energy," Hauschildt said. "It's a long season with ups and downs. We all felt so much pressure, and he's feeling 10 times the pressure that we were. Even with the amount of weight on his shoulders this entire year he came in with the right attitude every single day." "He never once quit," Adams said. "He never told the team we're not good enough to win a game. That all goes back to his character." That refusal to quit kept the Lions in nearly every game they played. It finally led to success on Senior Day this past Saturday. After trailing by two touchdowns at halftime, the Lions came back with defensive takeaways and beat Brown 35-28 in a thrilling double overtime contest. The win spared the Lions from their first winless season since 1987. The athletic department expects to complete its national search for the next head coach by the end of December.
Alyson Goulden / Senior Staff Photographer