January 20, 2010

Jim Knowles ’87 Resigns as Head Football Coach

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Jim Knowles ’87 resigned his position as the Roger J. Weiss ’61 Head Coach of Cornell Football on Dec. 23, 2009, opting to re-join former superior David Cutcliffe as defensive coordinator at Duke. Athletics Director Andy Noel said that a national search to fill the position would begin immediately, and players said interviews began earlier this month. In six years at the helm of the football team, Knowles compiled a 26-34 record. He had two years remaining on his contract.

The team was 2-8 in 2009, its worst finish since the 1-9 2003 season after which Tim Pendergrast was fired from the head coach position and replaced by Knowles, a former assistant coach and All-Ivy defensive lineman for the Red. In Knowles’ first season at Cornell, the team went 4-6. In 2005, the Red finished 6-4, the best record it would achieve under Knowles. The team lost its last eight games in 2009, but Knowles received a vote of confidence from Noel after the season.

Knowles was linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator under Cutcliffe at Ole Miss in 2003 when the Rebels went 10-3 and defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. Five other current Duke assistant coaches served under Cutcliffe that year. 

“We are thrilled to have coach Knowles rejoin our staff,” Cutcliffe said in a press release. “His understanding of defensive football is at the head of the class and our players will enjoy playing under his leadership. His experience as a head coach certainly will pay dividends within our program, and on top of his coaching abilities, we know he’ll be a great fit on our staff because we’re so familiar with each other.”

“I worked with much of the Duke staff at Ole Miss and we were very successful,” Knowles said in his introductory press conference at Duke. “I’m looking forward to being with those guys again. I remember how enjoyable it was to go to work. You have a good time and you’re able to challenge each other professionally with schemes on offense, defense and special teams. It is all about trust and selflessness when you have a great staff and that’s what those guys have.”

The Ithaca Journal reported Knowles left Cornell for financial reasons. He contacted players by e-mail the day of his resignation, many of whom were surprised by the news. Noel was also not expecting the move.

“This is a very emotional decision,” Knowles said at the press conference. “Cornell has been a major factor in my life from the time I was recruited out of high school from an inner city environment. Cornell opened up my world and changed my life. I started my coaching career here and to be able to come back and be the head coach was a dream come true. We didn’t get as many wins as I would have liked, but I know the program is in really great shape. We accomplished a lot of the objectives that I wanted to in terms of connecting the players to the alumni and getting the alumni back involved in the program. And fund raising has tripled since I’ve been here. There are a lot of great feelings about Cornell football and I will continue to be a big fan and help the program in any way I can. I’ll always have the head coaching experience now. That really opens your eyes to a lot of things and I’ll be a better assistant coach because of it.”

Original Author: Keenan Weatherford