Well, it’s a start. Pete Mangurian, embattled head coach at Columbia University, posted a memo recently. These are his first words to the alumni and football supporters since the end of the 2013 season other than a generic form letter sent to financial contributors a few weeks ago. Pete’s latest memo didn’t directly address all of the concerns critics and observers have been debating since the season wrapped up at 0-10 but he said enough to indicate he is aware of the criticism and perhaps even partially conceded some of it is warranted. Primarily, followers of the program want to know what changes will be made to right the ship and prove he is capable of the demands of the job.
A shakeup of the assistant coaching staff did little to show us much. Three good men left the staff (Mike Cooke, linebackers, Wendell Davis, receivers and Ed Argast, offensive line) and a few young coaches were “promoted” allegedly with more responsibility. With regard to Argast, the OL is one of the biggest problems so it was a much needed changing of the guard anyway. Cooke and Davis were hardly a problem. It is a concern that no significant names were added to the coaching staff. What this tells us is Pete is not one to back down from the biggest coaching challenge of his career. In fact, there is so little talent on his coaching staff his mindset has to be he is hoisting everything on his shoulders. He has navigated the choppy waters of his first two seasons by shrugging off a coup d’etat threat by alumni and managing to convince his employers to show patience. If physical appearances count for anything, we can see the toll 3 wins in two seasons has taken on Pete in this demanding profession. Pete does not cut the figure of a lean, mean fighting machine. He has shown outward signs of disrepair as the 2013 season progressed and it has gotten worse by the conclusion of spring training 2014.
As we now look to July training camp the biggest question mark will be how a huge freshman class will be able to contribute right away. Some alumni are upset the JV program was eliminated. I don’t share that view. In a perfect world, a JV teams gives freshmen a chance to acclimate to the college game. However, in the case of Columbia, I don’t think the varsity team stands a chance at winning any games in 2014 without an injection of a whole lot of athleticism, team speed, much needed depth and the key intangible of blissful ignorance of the problems of the past hanging over the heads. The way this roster shapes up without the incoming freshmen class is just way too thin. They would be stepping into the exact same position of weakness they left after going 0-10. Let’s start on offense. We still don’t know for sure if big armed QB Brett Nottingham will be ready for the season. He was knocked out of action the first game of last season as a result of a porous offensive line. Without Nottingham, the Lions will likely go with Junior Trevor McDonagh, at least to get things started. Whoever is at QB will need an OL that can pull it’s weight. They absolutely have to find a solution that keeps the QB upright.
Game planning and an innovative offense will also have to be significantly improved. At the least, Pete’s system needs to be something all players can digest and run with out of the gate. Thus far the offense has been dismal under Offensive Coordinator Jamie Elizondo. Now, with all-world RB Marcorus Garrett graduating, there is even more pressure to find reliable ways to gain yards. The good news is several freshmen have potential to step in at RB and OL, perhaps even at QB. We won’t know until July what this team is really made of with the freshmen infusion.
Fortunately, the defense is in a lot better shape with some excellent returnees. That may sound ridiculous considering the vast amount of points conceded. However, the problem last season was too much time on the field as a result of the offense being so inefficient. If they can balance that out the defense has a fighting chance to stabilize.
Perhaps Pete really is getting in tune with what is really necessary to make this program click. We can only hope there are no more break of dawn practices. Whatever fitness and nutrition program that is in place has to be reinforced by the University. It can’t just be an educational overall body maintenance program. To get the most of every athlete requires a lot of discipline on the part of the players and the means to help them achieve their goals. This is easier said than done. It is no secret the very campus of Columbia as well as its practice and fitness facilities location doesn’t make it easy to coordinate all of their needs in synch with a very demanding academic environment. On top of this, they lost a top shelf strength and fitness coach to Stanford. They have yet to backfill that role. One way or the other, it’s a big challenge to bring all the needful together into a well oiled machine capable of winning games in the very competitive FCS and Ivy League football conference.
At least Pete Mangurian has offered the olive branch, despite nasty criticism tossed his way. On the other hand, maybe he is just doing the bare minimum required to communicate with football supporters and he really would rather continue to hunker down and dismiss the football supporters as an enemy. He’ll never admit to either viewpoint whatever the truth may be but a little information is better than the nothing we had been getting since November ’13.