September 21, 2001

Taking the Scenic Route to the Sidelines

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Head coach Tim Pendergast had a clear vision of what his future would be. As a high school student in Syracuse, N.Y. he became obsessed by the lifestyle of a well-known coach from a rival district and immediately modeled himself after that coach.

“There was a very successful high school basketball coach in the town I lived in. He worked for Niagara Mohawk,” Pendergast describes. “He wore a suit and tie to work everyday. During the basketball season, he was the coach of the basketball team.

“That’s what I wanted to be: I wanted to be into business and find someone who would let me leave at three o’clock to coach basketball,” he reminisced.

From an early age Pendergast saw his adulthood spent in an amalgamation of business and basketball. His goal was to be successful in both spheres: the office and the court. In doing that, he would be happy.

In his high school years, Pendergast was a multi-varsity athlete lettering at Bishop Grimes High School in football, basketball, track and lacrosse. His first love was basketball, but he also had a natural aptitude for football.

He went to SUNY Cortland, initially recruited as a quarterback but changed position to defensive back his sophomore year, feeling it was the best way to maximize his playing time while being most helpful to the team.

As far as academics, Pendergast entered his freshman year with every intention of majoring in economics and minoring in physical education. His plan lasted for three semesters as he studied GNPs and budget deficits, while taking biology and anatomy classes on the side. It was the end of his second year when he decided the suffering he was putting himself through was not worth it.

“I couldn’t see myself behind a desk all day,” he candidly stated. On the other hand he confessed, “I dreaded the thought of becoming a high school gym teacher, but I knew that I wanted to coach.”

Left with a partially completed track in physical education and economics, Pendergast had to make a career decision and make it soon.

Then came a revelation.

“I woke up one morning and said I wanted to be a football coach,” he said.

Pendergast let go of his long-time dream, of what his college education had been geared towards on a whim — a whim that turned out to be well-founded.

Part of the decision to stick with football came from the lack of closure Pendergast felt after an unsuccessful senior year.

“We had a lousy, lousy team. we won one game. I was not going to quit on that note,” Pendergast said, promising himself, “Doggone, I’m going to be a football coach.”

After graduating in 1980, Pendergast headed straight into coaching. The same year he became Ithaca College’s freshman defensive coordinator and assistant track coach, as he began graduate studies in physical science at I.C. He jumped over from South Hill to East Hill every consecutive year after, acting as a graduate assistant in 1981, head freshman coach in 1982 and secondary coach in 1983. He finished his studies at I.C. in 1986, and returned briefly to Cornell to help recruit in 1989.

Afterwards, Pendergast moved around the college football scene, taking the wide receiver coaching position at Northwestern in 1990. He next went to University of Maine coaching the secondary for two seasons.

In 1993 he went south to James Madison University and took on more responsibility as its defensive coordinator. He was there until 1997 when he gained a more prominent position as the University of Memphis’ assistant coach and recruiting coordinator moving from secondary coach to wide receiver coach.

Last year, though, Pendergast won his first head coaching position at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y where he steered the team to a 2-8 record.

When Pete Mangurian resigned as Cornell’s head coach last winter, Pendergast was one of the first names to find its way on to Athletic Director Andy Noel’s list. It wasn’t long after that Pendergast, his wife and two sons were relocating to Ithaca, a town that he knows well.

Now at 43, Pendergast has assumed his most prestigious position in over 20 years of coaching.

Archived article by Amanda Angel