Columbia Football Breaks From Tradition — By Winning

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Columbia University may be one of the top academic colleges in the nation, but for years the football team has been at the bottom.

Not this year.

At 6-1, Columbia has risen to the top of the Ivy League thanks to a retiree, CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported.

cu Columbia Football Breaks From Tradition    By Winning

(credit: CBS2)

After coaching Penn to nine Ivy League championships, coach Al Bagnoli retired, but he couldn’t stay away from football.

“Ninety-two days, to be specific,” Bagnoli said of his retirement. “I didn’t count. Someone told me.

“I tried it for three months, and it just isn’t what I thought it was going to be.”

Columbia opened its doors, and he opened its eyes to a new world of success.

“When I came here freshman year, we practiced at 8 a.m.,” defensive end Lord Hyeamang said. ” … It didn’t turn out very well. That’s when we went 0-10.”

But 0-10 is not the worst the program has seen. In the 1980s, they lost 44 straight games, setting a record in futility. Now, they have new practice times — 3 in the afternoon — new facilities and newfound respect.

“Freshman year, you kind of kept your head down as a football player,” quarterback Anders Hill said. “It was kind of embarrassing almost, but now I think we wear the Columbia blue with pride.”

The seniors are leading a team that now knows how to practice, scout and score. Since Bagnoli’s arrival, the Lions’ offensive output has doubled.

And he’s getting better players — one ranking has Columbia with the third best recruiting class in the nation.

“I don’t know how people judge that, I’ll be honest,” Bagnoli said, laughing. “We have good players, but we have a great product. That’s what I tell everybody.”

Bagnoli said all that Columbia is missing is a great tradition.

“The structure had to change,” the coach said. “Once you had that, the product is good enough where you can attract some really quality kids.”

Said strong safety Landon Baty: “Why would a kid not want come to New York and play football in the city in an Ivy League institution? It’s a sleeping giant, and the sleeping giants just woke up.”

Because Ivy League schools are not eligibile for bowl games, Columbia plays just three more games this season. On Saturday, they face Harvard in a rivalry game.

More From CBS New York

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
Get Our Morning Briefs
Bloomberg WCBS Tri-State Business Index

Watch & Listen LIVE