In the eight and a half weeks since Jim Knowles ’87 was hired as Cornell’s 25th football coach, one theme has been omnipresent in his life — motion. In the days and weeks immediately following his appointment, he began the daunting task of rebuilding the program which he was once a player and assistant coach for in his image. And he’s loving every moment of it.
“The work hasn’t been tedious, it hasn’t been hard,” Knowles said in a Sun interview last week. “It feels like I just got hired yesterday and I haven’t slept in seven weeks.”
Among the most notable activities on his itinerary has been recruitment. When he accepted the job on Jan. 30, the Red had already secured eight commitments for the team’s Class of 2008, far below what most Ivy schools would normally have at that point in the year. By Feb. 1, that number had grown to 16. It now currently stands at 30, which is the league limit.
“It’s amazing, but I also know that it’s really just the beginning,” Knowles said.
The early portion of Knowles’ regime has included the introduction of a new staff of assistants, which was announced two weeks ago. The staff includes many new faces, but also a couple of Schoellkopf fixtures — director of football operations Pete Noyes and defensive line coach Pete DeStefano.
Topping the list of newcomers is Clayton Carlin, defensive coordinator /cornerbacks coach. Carlin, a high school teammate of Knowles’, spent the past season coaching the secondary and special teams at New Mexico State. He has also coached at Villanova, Buffalo, Nebraska, and Delaware Valley College.
“We went to high school together, and our claim to fame is that we are both best friends with Rich Gannon,” Knowles remarked. We went to high school with Rich.
“Clayton knows how I like to run my defense,” he added. “I’ll still have a big part in the defense. He’s got a great reputation of recruiting.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Rogers brings substantial head coaching experience to the job, having served at the helm of Kalamazoo College for the past six seasons.
“Tim Rogers is a really important hire, because with my strength being defense, I had to have somebody over there [on offense] who I knew had successful leadership qualities,” Knowles said. “He was the head coach at a successful Division III school, but it’s also an academically competitive school.”
Rogers will also assume duties of quarterbacks coach, replacing Brandon Stott.
Rogers’ offensive coordinator at Kalamazoo, Brian Coon, joins the Cornell staff as offensive line coach. Coon had accepted a position at Hofstra before Knowles was able to persuade him to come to Ithaca instead.
“That’s important to have the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator on the same page,” Knowles said. “I think that almost saves you a year. If you try to bring together two separate programs, that’s hard.”
Roderick Plummer joins the staff as running backs coach and special teams coordinator. Plummer has been the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Kutztown University for the past two seasons. He has also coached at James Madison, Hampton, Michigan State, and Wayne State. He served NFL fellowships with the Cleveland Browns in 1992 and the San Francisco 49ers in 2003.
“A lot of NFL people called to recommend him,” Knowles said. “He’s really a rising star.” New linebackers coach Mike Roark ’92 comes to Cornell from Buffalo, where he has been defensive line coach.
“He did what Ivy League graduates do — he worked for a while, he got his master’s and then decided to be a coach,” Knowles noted. “So he’s thrilled to be here. He’s hopped into recruiting right away.”
Other additions to the staff include safeties coach Brad Beerwinkle, who was a graduate assistant for Knowles at Western Michigan, wide receivers coach Scott Kavanagh, and tight ends coach Dyran Peake.
DeStefano will continue his duties as defensive line coach, a position he has held since 1993. He has been recruiting coordinator since 2001. While DeStefano is the only holdover from former coach Tim Pendergast’s staff, Knowles explained that all of the former Red coaches received serious consideration.
“We all understand in the profession that it’s difficult to maintain your job when the head coach is released and you didn’t have a good record,” Knowles said. “It’s just hard. A new head coach comes in with his own plan and it’s just hard to fit into it.”
In addition to naming his staff, Knowles has been busy traveling throughout the country, speaking a functions arranged by the Cornell Football Association. He has also spent a lot of time with his new staff analyzing film from last season and meeting with returning players.
“I got to get to know these guys. We’re sitting in meetings going position by position, player by player, watching film, getting to know their strengths, getting to know their weaknesses, and also making sure everybody knows their name. The players have been great,” he said.
Knowles is confident that 2003’s 1-9 (0-7 Ivy) record will ultimately be viewed as an anomaly in the history of the program.
“Maybe I’ve been out of the league too long, but I can’t imagine there’s too much of a difference between us and the rest of the league. It’s all about teamwork and confidence, and whether you believe in the guy next to you,” Knowles said. “All the teams that we play, there’s no reason in mind that we can’t absolutely find a way to win.”
Meanwhile, as the team prepares for spring ball in the coming weeks, Knowles is excited for what the team can do over the next several seasons.
“For me to say its the culmination of everything I ever wanted would be wrong,” he said. “I’m glad to be here, but I see the end. I see where we have to go, I see the work that has to be done. It’s nice to be in the honeymoon, but at the same time I’m really plowing into the work.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor