University President Lee Bollinger is not waiting for Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy's successor to arrive to begin mending what many see as a fractured football program.
In an email sent out to the Columbia Football Players Club Thursday, Bollinger announced the school's decision to bring in Rick Taylor as a consultant for the ailing football team and to help with the search for Murphy's replacement. The football team is riding a 20-game losing streak and will need to win Saturday's game against Brown to avoid going a second consecutive winless season.
"He [Taylor] will begin immediately to talk to coaches, current and past players, administrators, alumni, and others, as well as working with Coach Pete Mangurian to see if there are steps that can be taken immediately with our current program," Bollinger said in the email.
Many of the administration's most outspoken critics are pleased with this decision, including Columbia football alumnus Richard Forzani, CC '66, the chairman of the Committee for Athletic Excellence at Columbia, a group Forzani and other football alumni formed last year.
"We've actually been pushing for him specifically as a glowing example of the type of person who should come in here and do exactly what we've called on him to do," he said in an interview on Thursday.
Emeritus trustee Ed Botwinick, CC '56, SEAS '58, another vocal critic of the way the program has been managed, also voiced measured support for the announcement.
"I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in Spec back in September, where that's precisely what I suggested," Botwinick said on Friday. But he added that he did not know much about the precise circumstances behind the announcement.
"I don't know if he's a legitimate independent consultant or whether he is going to tell them what they want to hear," Botwinick added. "Based on the whole history of this thing, I would be surprised if he comes up with anything radical. I hope he does."
Former player Des Werthman, CC '93, who is a member of the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame, was also muted in his praise.
"My initial reaction was the first step in recovery is at least acknowledging that you have a problem," Werthman said on Friday. "Other than that, the virus still exists."
Taylor will bring plenty of experience to Columbia. He spent eight years as the head football coach at Boston University, where he led the team to four Yankee Conference championships. He also served as an athletic director at Boston University, Cincinnati, and Northwestern.
"Importantly for us he was part of demonstrated football improvement at each of those institutions," Bollinger's email said.
Despite four conference championships as the Terriers' head coach, Taylor's football track record as athletics director was actually tenuous at best at Boston University and Cincinnati—the two teams posted just one winning record in a combined nine seasons. But he did preside over a noteworthy turnaround at Northwestern.
The Wildcats had logged 22 consecutive losing seasons prior to Taylor's arrival as athletic director in 1994. But after going 3-7-1 in Taylor's first year, they won the Big Ten championship in 1995 and went to the Rose Bowl. Northwestern would go on to earn a share of two more conference titles during Taylor's tenure, and played in two more bowl games.
"I am thrilled to have Rick Taylor, a highly respected professional in intercollegiate athletics, to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of our football program," Murphy said in a statement to Spectator on Friday. "I know that Rick will do an outstanding job, compiling an in-depth look at why Columbia has not succeeded in consistently fielding a successful football program over the last 60 years."
In addition to his administrative and coaching expertise, Taylor also has some experience as an outside consultant. Taylor served Dartmouth in a similar capacity to the one he is expected to serve in at Columbia, helping the Big Green turn around its program after a long string of underwhelming finishes in the early 2000s.
Dartmouth notably managed to reverse its fortunes without firing head coach Buddy Teevens, who posted five straight losing seasons—including an 0-10 finish—in the first five years of his most recent tenure in Hanover. He has not had a losing season since.
As far as the situation surrounding Lions head coach Pete Mangurian, Bollinger acknowledged the widespread criticism the third-year head coach has garnered.
"There are some frustrated students, alumni, and fans who understandably feel we should hire a new coach and start yet again," Bollinger said in the email. "It is my belief, however, that this is a moment when we will benefit most by enlisting a new superb Athletics Director and engaging in serious self-reflection, while maintaining our course in helping an extremely young team grow."
Some alumni have interpreted Bollinger's email to be a de facto guarantee that Mangurian will not be fired at the end of this season.
Jake Novak, CC '92, made that argument in his blog, CULions, and Botwinick voiced some agreement.
"I think you can read it that way," Botwinick said. "To be fair, he couldn't cut him off at the knees before the last game. They may fire him on Saturday night or Sunday that's what they did with [former head coach] Norries [Wilson]."
"I didn't read it that way. I think no one wants to take responsibility for a failed experiment," Werthman said. "Like I said earlier, the virus still exists."
What happens to Mangurian remains to be seen, but for now there is some tepid hope among alumni that things will slowly improve.
"We're hopeful," Botwinick said. "But our expectations are not high."
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