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A Familiar Face Returning to Lehigh?

It started out as a rumor.  The Citadel faithful, home of former Lehigh head football coach Kevin Higgins, were unhappy with their disappointing 4-7 record in the 2009 season.  Higgins, according to this article in the Charleston Post & Courier,  was going to take a "hard look at things" after their final game of the year, an ugly 13-6 loss to Georgia Southern.   

The "hard look" actually ended up with Higgins' defensive coordinator (Lehigh veteran Issac Collins, who promptly was named head coach at Division III Widener) and offensive coordinator (former Lehigh player and offensive mastermind, Dave Cecchini) being shown the door.

Today, however, came the bombshell from the Morning Call's Keith Groller.  Citing a reliable "source close to the Citadel", the rumor is that something "is in the works" to bring Cech back to Lehigh.  (more)

From his bio page at The Citadel, as a Lehigh player ('93), Cech was an all-American wideout with the prolific "Air Small" offense.  At the time he set Patriot League records in receptions (88), receiving yards (1,318) and TDs (15), and led the nation in receptions and yards.

Shortly after his playing career at Lehigh ended, he joined Hank Small's coaching staff - proving that he indeed had inherited the coaching gene of his father Tom Cecchini, who coached at Xavier (before they discontinued their football program), Michigan, Iowa and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

A familiar face joined Lehigh's coaching staff in 1994: current head football coach Andy Coen in 1993.  From the Small era to the Kevin Higgins' era, Coen made his name coaching the linemen (like Rich Bodnar and Steve Ludwig) and Cech made his name coaching wide receivers (like Deron Braswell and Brian Endler).  By 1999, Coen was offensive coordinator/offensive line coach while Cech was receivers, and both were instrumental in the development of quarterback Phil Stambaugh and becoming an all-American.

On a variety of Lehigh coaching staffs that included future head football coaches like Issac Collins, Tom Gilmore and Pete Lembo, the partnership of Coen and Cech was the constant - and the "Air Lehigh" offense, which spread the field and produced a lot of points and excitement on the field.  After the 1990s, though, Coen would bring his abilities to Penn as offensive coordinator, while Cech in 2002 would head to Cambridge to become the offensive coordinator at Harvard.  

Cecchini would bring the spread up north with him, where under Harvard head football coach Tim Murphy would employ it and win an Ivy League title (and undefeated  in 2004 with players like RB Clifton Dawson who became all-Americans.  Coen, meanwhile, was coaching linemen on the Penn Quakers that would find themselves in NFL camps (like OL Chris Clark) en route to the Quakers' undefeated season in 2003.

When coach Lembo stepped down from the head coaching position to take the head spot at Elon, it was only natural that his successor might be either Cech or Coen, two successful coordinators at Ivy League stops.  Ultimately it was Coen who was hired - and Cech shortly thereafter joined coach Higgins, now at The Citadel, as his offensive coordinator.


Despite the fact that Cecchini's offense was instrumental in giving the Bulldogs' a 7-4 record in 2007 - their first winning season since 1997, and their first seven-win season since Charlie Taaffe's 1992 squad that made the I-AA playoffs - the honeymoon was clearly over in Charleston with back-to-back 4 win seasons.  His offense, though, did produce a potential NFL player in WR Andre Roberts (who is currently wowing NFL scouts).  At the Citadel Cecchini still spread offenses out - but more as a spread-option hybrid type of team.

It's hard not to have compassion for Higgins down at the Citadel - forced to jettison two of his right-hand men that he's had for almost a decade.  That Cech is rumored to be brought to Lehigh and Collins was a new head football coach mere days after he was released is a testimony to the fact that there are many folks in the Northeast that have great admiration of their skills.  It's hard to see The Citadel getting back to that 7-4 mark anytime soon - unfortunately for coach Higgins.

Perhaps that's why Cech - if the rumors are true - is coming back to Lehigh with such speed.  It's rare to have such coaching talent become available like this, and Lehigh's offense the past few years - by any measure - has not lived up to expectations so far.

On paper, Coen as head coach, with Cech coaching wideouts and quarterbacks, with Donnie Roberts coaching defense - that has the potential to be a great coaching staff.  But will the chemistry be there?  At a bare minimum Coen and Cech were rivals for the Lehigh job in 2005, and were also offensive rivals as Ivy league offensive coordinators.  I'm sure both have very strong oponions as to how to make an offense run.  It could be great - or it could be a big distraction.  Groller's report calls them both "good friends", but then again they haven't needed to work together for a decade.

There's no doubt that there is a chance to reform the winning group that had Lehigh's offense atop the Patriot League charts and had the Mountain Hawks winning games in the playoffs.  It's an opportunity that may never come this way again - and one that athletic director Joe Sterrett had to take, no doubt.  As a result, expectations could be through the roof for this offense, too. 

I have to admit that as a fan I'm excited to think about what Cech could do working one-on-one with senior QB J.B. Clark and junior WR De'Vaughn Gordon, and developing them into the best players they can be.  In theory, I like what Cech's and Coen working together on offense can do.  The million dollar question, though, is how it will all work in practice.


ngineer said…
Let's keep our fingers crossed this is true. The offense needs a jolt and a "return to yester-year".
Anonymous said…
You have your facts incorrect. Semptemphelter was in the same class as Cecchini and was the QB throwing the passes to him. Both of them played the fall seasons of 1990 to 1993. Small's last season was 1993 so Dave was never on Coach Small's staff. He was in the spring of his senior year when he resigned. I am very surprised by your poor recollection. Coen had no involvement whatsoever in the developement of Semp as a QB as his first season was 1994 after Semp had already graduated.
Anonymous said…
Quarterbacks Phil Stambaugh & Scott Semphiphelter and prior to them was All-Star Mark McGowan #13! They were all All-Americans and offensive threats to the opposition. Their passing efficiency was record high and receivers were having great career statistics. They knew how to win games! The Lehigh Offense needs to kick it into higher gear and continue to recruit depth on the offensive line to simply get the job done this year. Go Lehigh !
Douglas said…
Yeh... announced official today! But it may be too late for this year since he needs the talent to make it happen..
Anonymous said…

Andy better win at lest 7 or he's gone, with DC in the wings. This would be insurance that if Andy's sent packing, players would be inclined to remain because an insider gets head job.

Under Andy, the defense has been fair, but offense inconsistent. Hopefully, Dave will help coach up the QBs and wideouts and help with recruiting.


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