January 18, 2001

Making the Right Choice

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When the football team gathers today for its first meeting of the new year, a few conspicuous faces won’t be around to enjoy the festivities.

Seniors Joe Splendorio, Dan Weyandt, and Tom Crone (among others) have of course put their collegiate careers behind them, focusing instead on earning their caps and gowns.

But perhaps more importantly, the figure of head coach Pete Mangurian will no longer be making his presence felt in the Cornell locker room, having opted instead to return to his previous post as an offensive coach for Dan Reeves’ Atlanta Falcons.

Coming just two months after the Red had tip-toed to the precipice of the Ivy League title chase, Mangurian’s sudden resignation leaves behind an undeniable foundation of proven success but also several questions about the future health of the program.

If nothing else, Mangurian taught Cornell — both the team and the community — how to win. He introduced a burning hunger for victory to a squad that had never claimed an outright conference crown.

Despite faltering his first season in 1998 — going 4-6 and 1-6 Ivy — Mangurian quickly silenced any critics the following year when Cornell upped its record to 7-3 and experienced fleeting visions of Ivy championship rings, eventually finishing third-place in the league with a 5-2 record.

With his looming stature and no-nonsense demeanor, Mangurian’s lasting legacy might very well be the new attitude he brought to East Hill. Aside from prepping the Red in the notion of winning, Mangurian can also be credited for formulating a bruising, rough-nosed attitude and giving the team the simple confidence to bring out its best on game day.

Mangurian’s accomplishments in the locker room and in his players’ psyches translated this past season into brimming success on the field. When Cornell came out atop the preseason league poll, it vindicated Mangurian’s tactics. And when the Red knocked on the doorstep of the Ivy League title — losing to Penn on the final day of the season — it underscored Mangurian’s coaching dexterity and jetted the team to ranks of the conference elite.

And as Mangurian sat at the postgame press conference following the heartbreaking loss against the Quakers, consoling a weeping junior quarterback Ricky Rahne, he nonetheless had the wherewithal to invoke a bright vision for the future, a future that would bring a title to Ithaca soon enough.

But with Mangurian now departing for the warmer climes of Georgia, that future has been suddenly dampened by the appearance of ominous dark clouds, warning of the possibility of a losing drought.

Can Cornell at least remain in the thick of the Ivy hunt, if not tote the title back here, for the first time since 1990?

Can the team chemistry remain intact, undisrupted by the coaching change?

Can the incoming coach win the respect of the players, fans and new recruits in a short period of time as well as bring the same intensity, fire, and desire to win as his predecessor?

Only the athletic administration can properly answer those questions, and it can do so by hiring a new coach with impeccable credentials and an irrepressible will to win. Mangurian had extensive experience in the NFL before accepting the Cornell position, and it would be nothing less than a step back if the new coach lacks a similar resume.

And Athletic Director Andy Noel and his colleagues must make it a priority to act on their selection in a timely manner. With spring training and recruiting season kicking into gear in the very near future, they have a responsibility to decide on a coach in the next few days. Waiting any longer would not only jeopardize team chemistry but it would also greatly hinder the coaching staff’s ability to prepare itself for the fall schedule.

However, the athletic department should also be cautious during the selection process, especially in regard to finding a candidate who will be committed to Cornell for a permanent basis. Within the last year, the head coaches of the men’s lacrosse and football teams have tendered their resignations following brief tenures of only three years each. Although both Mangurian and Dave Pietramala of the lacrosse squad stayed long enough to guide Cornell for the first steps on the trail to becoming championship-caliber teams, they were nonetheless promptly lured away by greener pastures. The key to success for any team on East Hill will be a long-term relationship between coach and players.

If not for Pete Mangurian, there would have been no opportunity to rally for a “Schoellkopf Sellout” and no chance to dream of an Ivy League title. With his departure, it will be necessary not to find a replica of Mangurian, but to discover a coach who will keep Cornell in the win column.

Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj