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Know Your 2012 Opponents: Columbia

(Photo Credit: College Football Performance)

When Lehigh lines up against Columbia on October 6th, they will be facing their third first-year head coach in the third consecuttive week.

Had you asked Columbia fans back in December whom they wanted that coach to be, the overwhelming fan favorite - according to the folks at Roar Lions, the Columbia fan community - was Holy Cross' Tom Gilmore, a face that Lehigh fans know very, very well.

Columbia athletic director Diane Murphy, however, had other ideas, ultimately deciding on Pete Mangurian, a former head coach at Cornell as well as an assistant coach with Bill Belichick and Raheem Morris.

It will be interesting to see what Mangurian does when he takes his Lions, who finished 1-9 last year, to Lehigh.

The three brand-new head coaches Lehigh will be facing have three very different rebuilding jobs at the moment.

Liberty's Turner Gill wasn't just left a full cupboard by former head coach Danny Rocco, who left for Richmond.  He was given a team that is fully expected to get into the Top 25 at some point during the season and compete for their first FCS playoffs-qualifying Big South title - something the Flames have almost, but not quite, achieved each year for the last five years.

Fordham's Joe Moorhead inherits a 1-10 team that was not very good last year - but has much larger expectations for 2012, with a roster filled with scholarship players and talent.

In contrast, Mangurian inherits a 1-9 team that lost to a bad Fordham squad last year, and while they do have some talent and a lot of enthusiasm around the football program, they appear to have fewer pieces of the overall puzzle in place than the Rams or Flames.

Mangurian, who was an employee of famous Columbia alum Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL's New England Patriots (and part of the Lion coaching search committee), is being asked to undertake a pretty big rebuilding job in New York.

Let's just say "getting into the Top 25" is not the top priority on Mangurian's to-do list for the 2012 season, as evidenced by his latest blog posting:

After thirty-two years of training camps at every level, it still is exciting. We all start at the bottom of the mountain. We have been preparing for the climb, schedules, play books, policies. As coaches we prepare the environment and evaluate the competition, but most importantly, we create a plan for our team. Right now it doesn’t matter what the other guys are doing. The challenge for us is to be as good as we can be first.

It seems like Mangurian is saying that Columbia is closer, right now, to the bottom of the mountain than the top.

Pete's first move as head coach was to sweep out nearly all the assistant coaches under former head football coach Norries Wilson, except for one with a Fordham connection: Ed Argast, a former offensive coordiator for the Rams from their offensive heyday, now coaching the offensive line.

Ed's job is to do what could be the hardest job at Columbia right now: forging a brand-new offensive line, one that coach Mangurian thinks will allow the Lions to win more football games.

Another thing Mangurian wants is for their senior signalcaller, senior QB Sean Brackett (1,831 yards passing, 379 yards rushing, 21 TDs), to become less of a scrambling QB and more of a pocket passer - which will require the Lions "O" line, which could very well have one or more true freshmen on it, to give him adequate protection.

Mangurian hired Jaime Elizondo as his offensive coordinator, who was in the CFL and was a part of Hofstra's coaching staff before the Pride pulled the plug on their football program.  On defense, he tagged Kevin Lempa, a veteran coach with more than 30 years experience, including several decades in the FBS and NFL.

More than just position coaches or coaching philosophy, there seems to be a new Baby Blue emphasis on the little things with the Columbia football program: strength and conditioning, operations managers, nutrition.

If you spend any amount of time reading Pete Mangurian's blog it's easy to see the cerebral, thoughful way he is going about building this team, and how much it seems like he needs to change, or at least affirm, the culture of the Columbia athletics department in building a winner the right way.

I came to Columbia to win, but I learned something from Dan Reeves years ago, “goals are no good without methods.” I have an outstanding staff. Our challenge is to create an environment that facilitates the growth of our players as students, players and people. We have the play books, we have the buildings, weight rooms, classrooms, libraries and playing fields. Our most valuable assets are the people who use those facilities with the intention of being the best they can be. Give me the guy who recognizes the opportunity, and understands that the journey is as important as the destination. Give me the guy who understands how important the environment is to his development, and is motivated by his obligation to be a part of something bigger than himself.

Insofar as being an Ivy League head coach, Pete Mangurian seems like he was a great choice as leader of the Lions in terms of the philosophies and building a program.

But what does that mean for Lehigh, when they face Columbia in October?

It seems fair to say that the Lions will still be looking to discover their identity - something coach Mangurian mentioned in his announcement press conference back in December - and that it will take time to improve from some of their statistical doldrums from last year.

It's pretty astounding to think that on both offense and defense, Columbia was in the lower half statistically in all of them except for one - sacks, where their average of 2 per game put them at 56th in the nation, just four spots over the Mendoza line of college football.

Yet Columbia does have some great athletes.  Senior DE Josh Martin (63 tackles as a LB, 13 tackles for loss) is a 6'3, 242 lb player who will be a real challenge for opposing offensive linemen to stop (and might, with a great senior year, be considered to be playing on Sundays).   Senior OL Scott Ward, an all-Ivy honorable mention last year, is a 6'7, 278 lb right tackle that seems like he will be the centerpiece of the Lions 'O' line next year.

As the Lions open camp this week, Mangurian seems like he's got some basics in place - more pocket passing, less spread, and more of a 4-3 defense instead of the 3-3-5 that Wilson tried, and failed, to implement at Columbia years ago.

But it's going to be a mountain to climb for certain, and for the Mountain Hawks the only question is how far up the mountain Columbia will be when they reach Murray Goodman stadium.


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