February 2, 2004

Knowles '87 Introduced as Football Coach

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The nine-week long football head coaching search came to a close last Friday, as Athletic Director J. Andrew Noel announced the hiring of Jim Knowles ’87 as the 25th head coach in Cornell history.

“Jim Knowles has been a rising star,” Noel said. “He’s done a terrific job at every university that he’s represented and where he’s coached, and I could not be more pleased or more proud to welcome back one of our own to lead the Big Red football team.”

“I think this is a fantastic hire. I spent about an hour talking to Jim yesterday, and he clearly has the complete package as coach. He’s a scholar of the game, he’s a strong leader, and he understands winning Cornell Football — he has it in his blood,” President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 said. “I just think he’s going to bring the drive and direction and leadership to this team that’s exactly what Cornell needs.”

The new Roger J. Weiss ’61 Coach of Football, Knowles comes to the East Hill after spending the past year as the linebackers coach and the recruiting coordinator at the University of Mississippi. Prior to his time at Ole Miss, Knowles coached six seasons at Western Michigan University (1997-2002), spending the first five years as the defensive line coach before taking control of the Broncos’ linebacking corps. In his final two seasons with the team, he was the squad’s defensive coordinator.

While with the Broncos, Knowles oversaw a defense that became one of the nation’s best units. In 2001, Knowles’ first season as the defensive coordinator, Western Michigan ranked 17th nationally in pass defense. The following year, the Broncos finished 28th in the country in total defense.

Knowles’ return to Ithaca marks a homecoming of sorts. He was an All-Ivy defensive lineman for the Red from 1983-86 before joining the Cornell coaching staff for nine years following his graduation from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1987. During his time roaming the sidelines at Schoellkopf Field, Knowles worked with the running backs (1989-94), linebackers (1995-96), and as the recruiting coordinator (1995-96).

“I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to return to my alma mater as Cornell’s 25th head coach of football. It’s no secret among my closest friends that this opportunity represents my lifelong career ambition,” Knowles said.

“Jim Knowles voiced his interest in our position from the very beginning,” Noel said. “He had a real burning desire to be in this position many months ago.”

Although Knowles had shown keen interest in the job since the position became vacated last November, it appeared that Noel would head in another direction just weeks prior to hiring last Friday. Noel had narrowed his final list of candidates to three — Kevin Gilbride, Marc Trestman, and Steve Nelson — three weeks ago. Yet, negotiations with all three fell through, as Gilbride and Trestman accepted assistant coaching positions in the NFL with the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins, respectively, and Nelson decided to remain with Curry College. That opened the door for Knowles, who visited campus last Tuesday and interviewed with administrators Wednesday before accepting the offer on Friday morning.

“I’m certainly happy to have our 25th head coach hired, but more importantly, I’m thrilled to have Jim Knowles as our head coach because if we hadn’t been able to hire Jim Knowles, our process may have gone however many more weeks it would have taken to find a terrific coach,” Noel said. “To me, timing was always an issue, always very important, but it was always second tier behind the right person.”

“He had an awful lot of support from day one. We have over 1,300 alums in our Cornell Football Association. He had teammates that he played with for four years, he then coached players for nine years, so you can imagine the number of people that knew Jimmy first hand,” Noel added.

Knowles takes over a team that finished 1-9 last season, including 0-7 during the Ivy League portion of its schedule. The coach, however, looks to bring immediate success to Cornell.

“We discussed some ideas about where the program will head. And in my mind, as I told the players yesterday, this is not a rebuilding year, this is not a transition year. We have seniors here who have worked hard and who have committed to this program, and they are going to get the absolute best from me and the coaching staff and we are going to expect to win every game that we play,” Knowles said.

“The most encouraging thing I’ve heard is that he’s not building for the future because there are a lot of kids here who have put a lot of time and effort into this program that want to be successful before we leave this place,” senior quarterback D.J. Busch said. “I think he’s really going to work hard to try to get back on track next year.”

Archived article by Alex Ip