February 4, 2004

Father, Son, and Cornell Football

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Twenty-one years ago, a father and a son arrived on the campus of Cornell University for a visit. The father had never gone to college. The son was an All-City, All-Area, and All-Catholic linebacker at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, and was being recruited for the Cornell football team by then-head coach Bob Blackman.

The pair had recently been on the campus of another Ivy League university, one at which the son just didn’t feel comfortable. But for both, Cornell was different.

It was magic.

And both the father and son fell in love, and in August of 1983, the son returned to the Hill for good.

Last Friday — 21 years later — that player, Jim Knowles ’87, came home.

“When you have a vision for a job, and you just feel it down to the core of your body that this job and this career for myself is not a profession, it’s a vocation … I’m coming to Cornell not to just to coach football, but to contribute to a university that I love,” a tearful Knowles said at Friday’s press conference introducing him to the Cornell community.

And with his hiring, Knowles helped accomplish two goals: he became the 25th head coach in Cornell football history, putting an end to an exhaustive nine-week long search; and more important, he completed the full circle of his football career.

Knowles’ attachment with the Red became apparent very early on. In his freshman year of 1983, he played linebacker and earned the Outstanding Frosh Defensive Award. Two years later, after being moved to defensive back by then-defensive coordinator Pete Noyes, Knowles was a starter and tied for the team lead in sacks. A year after that, he was second-team All-Ivy on a team that fell just one win short of a league championship, falling to Penn, 31-21, in the season’s final game.

In 1988, Knowles joined head coach Maxie Baughan’s staff as a part time assistant — and the Red won an Ivy League championship. He remained with the Red for eight more seasons before taking a job with Western Michigan in 1997. After six years with the Broncos, and one with Ole Miss, Knowles found himself facing a huge decision one week ago today: accept a job as linebackers coach for Bill Callahan’s University of Nebraska staff, or return to Ithaca to become the head coach of the program and school he so loved.

For him, the choice quickly became obvious.

“Everyone was well aware that this was a job that I felt was right for me,” he said. “And it was home. So all those factors together, there was still a decision, but it wasn’t a hard one.”

And now, Cornell fans everywhere will hope that the choice Knowles made is the right one. Yet somehow, that question has already been answered.

Knowles will be perfect for this job because this job is in his heart, it’s in his blood, it’s in his soul.

“I think I’ve spent my whole life talking about Cornell Football,” he said at the conclusion of his press conference last Friday, “and hopefully I’ll spend the rest of my life talking about Cornell Football.”

We hope so too. Welcome home, Coach.

Archived article by Owen Bochner