Even after engineering the biggest turnaround in Ivy League football history, Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87 is still far from satisfied — willing to do anything necessary to improve his team. And during this offseason, necessary took the form of the reorganization of his coaching staff and the hiring of three new assistant coaches — two of which are Cornell graduates. Ricky Rahne ’02 and Tim Simpson ’94 will join the staff as running backs and linebackers coaches respectively, while Zac Roper will be in charge of the tight ends.
“In the Ivy League you have six full time assistants and you have three entry-level guys. That’s what those three guys are,” Knowles said. “Those positions do turnover a little bit because you are hiring young guys who are up and coming … The kinds of guys you want to get in those positions are future stars.”
Rahne returns to Cornell as the running backs coach after going down as the most accomplished quarterback in school-history. He finished his career as the Red’s all-time leader in nearly every passing category — including completions (678), yards (7,710), and touchdown passes (54).
His total passing yards still stands as the third most in Ivy League history. Last season, Rahne served as the running backs coach at Holy Cross, helping the Crusaders compile a 127.6 yards per game average on the ground.
“We are trying to establish a better running game — our running game was not good enough last year,” Knowles said. “We need to be much more physical up front and knock some people off the ball … Passing yards is one of the most overrated stats in college football, because if you cant run it at all, people are going to come after you and sit on the pass and you can’t control the ball.”
Simpson returns to his alma mater after working as the defensive line coach at Marist a season ago. Before his one year stint with the Red Foxes, he was the defensive coordinator at Washingtonville High School — implementing a defensive package that lowered the program’s points allowed per game by 17 from the previous season.
In addition to possessing the necessary coaching experience, Knowles feels that Rahne and Simpson have a lot more to offer — especially through their knowledge of the university.
“It’s a huge advantage in how they deal with players. They know what it’s like to have take prelims and challenging classes,” Knowles said. “In recruiting, they can talk about the different colleges. I don’t have to do a whole lot about education. When we came in here last year we spent months teaching the new staff all about Cornell … When you hire guys who are from Cornell, you really get them up and running a lot quicker.”
As for Roper, he joins the staff after serving as a graduate assistant coach at Mississippi and Oklahoma. He was part of the 2003 Rebels squad that finished the season with a 10-3 record and won the Cotton Bowl.
Before accepting the Red head coaching job, Knowles worked as the linebackers coach on that team.
“[Roper] comes from a coaching family and he is an intelligent guy and I thought he would fit well with the Ivy League,” Knowles said. “Plus, he can help recruit the south for us — we need to do a better job [in that area]. We had a great recruiting year, but we didn’t do a whole lot down south. So, I think he gives us a real advantage there.”
In addition to the three new assistants, the coaching staff has been restructured. Knowles will assume the responsibilities of the defensive coordinator, while Pete DeStefano will serve as his associate on that side of the ball. Last year’s defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin shifts over to run the offense, along with newly appointed assistant offensive coordinator Brian Coon. Also, former receivers coach Scott Kavanagh will work with the quarterbacks and Rod Plummer will shift from running backs to defensive backs coach to make room for Rahne.
“I tell the team all the time when we are talking about who we are playing, we have enough talent on our team to beat anyone we’re playing,” Knowles said. “So when I looked at this coaching decision, I said the same thing: do we have enough talented guys here if we just move the chess pieces around a little bit to get everybody in the right place? I think that’s a great motivating and unifying thing for everyone on the staff … We are becoming a much tighter head coaching staff.”
Archived article by ryan Pepper
Sun Assistant Sports Editor