After spending two years working with Teach For America, football head coach David Archer ’05 has built up a passionate respect for educators and motivators; the very types of people he has recruited to join the Cornell football program, which announced its first changes to the coaching staff Friday.
“I think the first thing I tried to do was I wanted to make sure we were taking the necessary steps to try to build a long-term program,” Archer said of the changes.
In doing so, Archer said he has created a balance between new faces that will bring a fresh outlook and longtime Cornell coaches who understand the inner workings of the program. Part of this process was retaining the longest tenured assistant coach in Cornell football history — Pete DeStefano — and giving him the new position of director of player personnel, alumni, community and career programs.
“He’s a man that has institutional knowledge that is unmatched,” Archer said. “He’s been here for over 20 years, he recruited me here to Cornell and I think he has so much to offer players in terms of how to make sure that they are maximizing their Cornell football experience.”
DeStefano’s new role will include reaching out to Cornell football alumni with the hope that they can give guidance to current players.
“He’ll be maximizing and engaging our alumni and connecting those two to have our alumni giving advice to our current players on what it is like to be a Cornell football player and what you can do afterwards,” Archer said. “I think he is uniquely qualified for [this role], and I really think he’s going to take it to the next level.”
Former All-Ivy League defensive back Emani Fenton ’11 will move from being defensive backs coach to working with inside linebackers. He will also serve as recruiting coordinator.
“What more can I say about Amani … He’s a guy I trust, I can talk to [him] and I really look forward to him being a great liaison for our program throughout all parts of campus,” Archer said.
Working with Fenton on the defensive side of the ball is assistant head coach Travis Burkett, who returns to coordinate the defensive line. Archer said he is especially confident in Burkett’s coaching abilities because they have grown close while working together on the sidelines.
“I’ve shared an office with [Burkett] for five out of the last six years. We were roommates for five out of the last six years, so I know what I’m getting with him,” Archer said. “He might as well have also tried to apply here because he has a real loyalty and a passion towards Cornell and its kids.”
Coach David Hanna will begin his second year with the Red as special teams coordinator while also working with the wide receivers. With a wide receiver position that is losing three seniors in Luke Tasker, Kurt Ondash and Shane Savage, Hanna will have the difficult job of providing options for quarterback Jeff Mathews.
“You can’t replace [those guys], those kids are just special, special players,” Archer said. “We have a lot of good young players and a couple guys that are a little older like Grant Gellatly. Coach Hanna knows those kids, he’s earned their respect and I think he’s going to be great at developing them.”
The new staff members that Archer has recruited come to Cornell with a variety of experiences. Whether they have worked in high school, Division III or Division I football, the coaches Archer has found have led succesful teams at every level.
Coming straight out of rival Princeton, where he served as defensive coordinator, Jared Backus will be moving into the position of Associate Head Coach and John B. and Ann M. Rogers ’45 Defensive Coordinator. According to Archer, Backus’ knowledge of the Ivy League will be integral when the team prepares for conference matchups.
“I think what Jared brings to the table is a breadth of experience overall, in terms of college football, but then a depth looking at specifically the Ivy League. He’s had to game plan all the teams in the league except Princeton,” Archer said.