In the week that has passed since Tim Pendergast was fired as the Cornell football coach, the search for his replacement has kicked into full swing. The decision to dismiss Pendergast was one of the most difficult that Cornell Athletic Director J. Andrew Noel has had to make in quite some time, but in an interview with The Sun yesterday afternoon, he said that the program is ready to move forward and is looking to the start of next season.
“I have no intention of delineating all the things that may be involved in a tough decision like that,” Noel said. “We certainly had very high hopes. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the progress we felt we needed and I did not see enough reason that the future would be as improved as it needed to be.”
After winning its opening weekend game at home against Bucknell, the Red lost its next nine in a row, including all seven Ivy League games. It was the first time since the 1975 season that the Red went winless in conference play.
Cornell was plagued by a rash of injuries this past season. Several key players were lost for significant portions of the season. Junior linebacker Joel Sussman missed the entire season. Senior wide receiver Chad Nice was injured on the opening kickoff against Bucknell and never returned. Freshman wide receiver Anthony Jackson was also injured in the season’s first game and lost for the season. In addition, junior linebacker Pat Starleper, junior cornerback Sean Nassoiy, and senior quarterbacks D.J. Busch and co-captain Mick Razzano all missed periods of time due to injury or illness.
“I know that the injury situation had some impact on our season,” Noel said. “In this sport, almost across the board there are injuries.”
Noel’s decision to terminate Pendergast was made after much deliberation over the latter half of the season. He began to consider the possibility in late October, but remained confident in the team’s ability to improve its fortunes by season’s end.
“I’m an optimist in general and I really believed that things would turn around,” Noel remarked.
Unfortunately for Pendergast and the Red, the turn around never came, and three days after the team’s 59-7 loss at Penn in the season’s final game, Noel’s decision became final.
“I can’t imagine a staff working harder than they worked,” Noel said. “They were very dedicated coaches and recruiters. I did not want to be reading too much into the pure number of losses.”
Immediately following news of Pendergast’s departure, names began to pour into the athletic department to populate the list of candidates for head football coach.
“There are about 50 individuals who have directly expressed their intent or have sent us a message that they are interested,” said Noel.
Among those interested are several people who coached previously at Cornell. David Arnsparger, currently the receivers coach at Alabama A&M, confirmed his interest yesterday in a phone interview with The Sun.
“I would love to be the football coach at Cornell,” he said. “It’s potentially a great job.”
Arnsparger, who coached the defensive backfield under former head coach Pete Mangurian, said he had not yet applied for nor been contacted for the position.
Another former Cornell coach who may be a candidate is former Red defensive end Jim Knowles ’87. Knowles is currently the linebackers coach at the University of Mississippi, and was an assistant at Cornell for nearly a decade in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He later served as an assistant at Western Michigan and Buffalo, where he was reunited with former Cornell head coach Jim Hofher ’79.
While Knowles is not currently an official candidate, he said a chance to return to his alma mater would be hard to turn down.
“I would certainly give it serious consideration,” he said. “Whenever Cornell has called for me, as a student-athlete or as a coach, I have always said yes.”
One name that has popped up frequently is that of Bill Lazor ’94. A star quarterback for the Red from 1991-93, Lazor later served as an assistant coach under Hofher and Mangurian.
Following Mangurian’s departure following the 2000 season, Lazor joined Hofher’s staff in Buffalo, and has been an offensive quality control assistant with the Atlanta Falcons for the past year. Mangurian is currently the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
Lazor told The Sun yesterday that he had not been contacted in regard to the opening at Cornell as of yet, but did express his interest in the position.
Other candidates include Trinity College head coach Chuck Priore, who confirmed yesterday that he did apply for the opening and Cleveland Browns defensive line coach and former Cornell assistant Andre Patterson. Patterson was a finalist in 2001 when Pendergast was hired. He told The Sun Tuesday that he had not been in contact with Cornell administration as of yet.
In addition, at least one current Cornell assistant is expected to apply for the head coach opening. The Sun was unable to confirm the identity of that assistant at press time.
Noel expects that the new coach will be in place by the middle of January, with an announcement coming in mid-December at the earliest.
“Timing is second in importance to finding the right fit of leader for the Cornell program,” he said.
Archived article by Owen Bochner