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Football Coach Search

Good overview of potential candidates for football coach from The Berkshire Eagle:

Williams College athletic director Lisa Melendy says she has an idea of what she’s looking for in a football coach.

Melendy is beginning the search to replace Aaron Kelton, who stepped down Wednesday after six seasons at the Eph helm.

“I think we’re looking for what we’re looking for in all of our Williams coaches,” she said. “Somebody who understands teaching and coaching at a small liberal arts college, who’s a teacher first.

“He’s going to put together a staff. It’s a big program, and he needs to be able to put it all together.”

Melendy said a search committee will be formed and she will lead the committee. The athletic director said it will be a “national search.”

1) One of the great perks of working for a rich institution is a lack of accountability. Will Melendy suffer a loss of pay or prestige or perks for hiring Kelton? Of course not! Will anyone doubt that, maybe, Williams should have preened less about hiring the first African-American NESCAC football coach and investigate more whether or not Kelton was competent? Probably not. Hiring incompetent minorities (Bernard Moore, Aaron Kelton) is never a problem because Diversity is our godhead.

2) That said, perhaps Melendy deserves credit for letting Kelton go. Was there some pressure on her to keep him? I had heard a rumor, from a former player, just a few weeks ago that his contract had been extended for one year. True?

3) For all the doubts that EphBlog has expressed about Melendy in the past, she did a fine job in selecting the mens basketball coach Kevin App, a former Williams assistant with a wife from the area. Williams should always hire coaches with strong Williams ties, people for whom the College is a dream destination, not a stepping stone.

The Eagle provides a good overview of such candidates below. Who would our readers favor?

As to where the new Williams coach will come from or what the experience level is, Melendy said she would be open to anyone who fits the profile. But each of the last three Williams head coaches came from the ranks of assistants.

When Bob Odell left after the 1986 season, he was replaced by Dick Farley who was an assistant on Odell’s staff. Farley retired after the 2003 season and was replaced by assistant coach Mike Whalen, now the athletic director at Wesleyan.

Whalen left for his alma mater after six years and was replaced by Kelton, who had been the defensive coordinator at Division I-FCS Columbia.

“We have found over time with our hires across all of our coaches, that we’ve had successes with coaches for whom this was their first head coaching job, or for who had prior experience,” said Melendy. “We’re really looking for the right fit, the right candidate.”

There may be a large pool of applicants to select from. It could rival the pool of candidates Melendy said she had when Williams hired Kevin App as men’s basketball coach. When App was hired, Melendy called it “perhaps the strongest pool we have had for any search.”

And while the job is in the process of being posted, message board chatter and internet searches of coaches could make the pool searching for a coach very strong.

Among the possible candidates are two former Williams players who have had fairly successful stints as head coaches.

Kevin Gilmartin is 20-8 in three seasons as the head coach at Division III Salve Regina. He was a wide receiver at Williams and graduated in 1994.

Kevin Morris was the head coach at UMass from 2009-11, just prior to the Minutemen’s entry into the FBS subdivision. Morris, who graduated in 1986 from Williams after playing defensive back and baseball, has 30 years of coaching experience, including a stint as head coach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and as the offensive coordinator at Yale. He is the offensive coordinator at Division I-FCS Monmouth.

Playing the “Six Degrees of Williams” game, another possible candidate could be Columbia defensive backs coach Jon Poppe. Poppe joined Al Bagnoli’s staff in New York City after spending time on Tim Murphy’s staff at Harvard. Poppe, who was a three-year starter at Williams at defensive back and graduated in 2007, was an assistant at Harvard for four years.

Another college coach with a Williams degree on his wall is Princeton running backs coach Sean Gleeson. Gleeson, a standout quarterback at Williams, graduated in 2005. He has been the offensive coordinator at Fairleigh Dickinson.

At Princeton, he works under offensive coordinator James Perry, a former quarterback at Brown who was recruited there by current UMass coach Mark Whipple. Perry was Farley’s offensive coordinator at Williams from 2002-04.

Taking one step away from Williams, Harvard offensive coordinator Joel Lamb and Dartmouth quarterbacks coach Chris Rorke could be potential candidates.

Lamb’s father Tom grew up in Adams and coached Doug Flutie at Natick High School. Joel Lamb has NESCAC experience, as he was the quarterbacks coach at Amherst before going to Harvard.

Rorke was the offensive coordinator at Trinity for five seasons. His athletic director at Dartmouth is former Williams College athletic director Harry Sheehy.

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#1 Comment By A Williams Parent On December 21, 2015 @ 9:19 pm

I write in today as a parent, and am not an alum. Generally I have enjoyed reading vigorous debate, criticism and praise of the Williams community here on Ephblog. My compliments to the regular contributors. Item 1) in today’s post however can only be called offensive. Its breezy and careless insults fall not in the bucket of “mere” political incorrectness but in dishonorable insult, meriting apologies.

First, whether Lisa Melendy will enjoy avoiding accountability for hiring Aaron Kelton begs the question why she should face consequences when Harry Sheehy was the Athletic Director who made the hire? Was he a figurehead before departing for Dartmouth, manipulated by his tiny staff in the most consequential hire that most AD’s ever make? Second the question whether Williams should have done more investigation into Aaron Kelton’s competence suggests no AD should ever hire an assistant coach or coordinator for a head coaching job. Whether someone will succeed as a leader after successful staff jobs is always a risk. Do you know facts from that time that were missed? I would not characterize his departure as due to incompetence, but as underperforming against expectations the college is entitled to set. There was an error in judgment by the college in his readiness to meet those expectations. Compare for example Everett Withers, an African-American head coach who was not retained by UNC after a 3-5 conference record as interim head coach, but has found success at James Madison as head coach. Was he incompetent then, and is he competent now? I chose another African-American head coach to make that point because of the deeply distasteful effort in the next sentence to link convicted felon Bernard Moore with Aaron Kelton based on the only two commonalities they share: being black and working for Williams College. This is really outrageously callous toward Aaron Kelton.

Why not give Kelton a break, wish him well, and ask what else went wrong? Recruiting is where winning teams begin. The opening was created when Mike Whalen left for Wesleyan. Not Kelton’s fault obviously. Next Whalen took his top assistant, and together they had a great recruiting network set up throughout the northeast that they could take with them. Not Kelton’s fault, maybe the fault of the college for not promoting the assistant. In the northeast participation in high school football is dropping, shrinking the regional pool. Not Kelton’s fault. Meanwhile Duke, Northwestern, Stanford and other highly selective schools are expanding their recruitment of academically talented football players nationally, including the northeast. Not Kelton’s fault again. A glance at Williams’ roster in 2010 shows hometowns to be about two thirds in the northeast and a third elsewhere. That is now reversed, more like the Ivy League. Amherst remains two thirds northeastern today, and Wesleyan appears to be even higher.

But perhaps those are some of the reasons for Kelton’s selection: a judgment that without Whalen reliance on regional recruiting was doomed, where the outgoing coaching staff had challenges recruiting nationally due to a perception of white rural New England privilege and preppiness. Kelton may not have been selected for diversity quite as accused, but did demonstrate to future recruits that the college itself was diverse. He had national recruiting experience at a highly selective school. Kelton successfully led Whalen’s recruits to an undefeated season his first year, suggesting he can run the day to day and is at least sound in X’s and O’s. Kelton’s failure in my limited view was not solving the fundamental recruiting problems: Whalen taking the existing network, regional pool weakening, more competitive national recruiting, isolated setting. Who will? Can the college wrest control of the shrinking Northeast pipeline back, where the school is most known and respected? Or can it better compete nationally somehow against the bigger name schools? If the school can solve this with a coach with strong Williams ties, great. But dismissing the efforts of Aaron Kelton as a mere diversity hire ignores the roots of current problems that will remain. He should enjoy recognition for a five year commitment by him and his family to the institution, and Lisa Melendy should be cheered on to develop a fundamental strategy for the program and to seek a coach positioned to pursue it.

#2 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 22, 2015 @ 6:36 am

I think your comments are fair. The reason we just don’t just wish Kelton well is precisely to talk about the issues you raise, to educate ourselves and our readers. But to be clear:

Good luck to Aaron Kelton! He is a good guy and EphBlog wishes him well! I have never spoken with an Eph, including several players, who had a bad thing to say about him as a person.

You write:

Kelton successfully led Whalen’s recruits to an undefeated season his first year, suggesting he can run the day to day and is at least sound in X’s and O’s.

Corrections welcome but my understanding is that, during this first year, Kelton let the then offensive and defensive coordinators run the team just as they had in the past. (This was a smart thing for a new head coach, obviously.) But then he stopped doing that. And, over time, both found themselves out of a job. If Aaron Kelton is not to blame for that, who is?

#3 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 22, 2015 @ 6:52 am

First, whether Lisa Melendy will enjoy avoiding accountability for hiring Aaron Kelton begs the question why she should face consequences when Harry Sheehy was the Athletic Director who made the hire? Was he a figurehead before departing for Dartmouth, manipulated by his tiny staff in the most consequential hire that most AD’s ever make?

Corrections welcome, but my understanding (through gossip, and therefore perhaps not reliable) was that Melendy was the driving force in the decision to hire Kelton. Again, I could be very wrong about this. Sheehy’s departure was announced just a few months after the Kelton hiring and, given that Dartmouth spent a year on their search, it is highly likely that Sheehy knew in the spring of 2010 that he was done with Williams. Again, this is based on gossip and so, if you have good grounds for believing that Harry drove the decision, please tell us the details.

#4 Comment By frank uible On December 22, 2015 @ 7:17 am

Why should Williams be entitled to winning football teams on an annual basis?

#5 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On December 22, 2015 @ 9:28 am

I have to agree with A Williams Parent that note (1) includes an unnecessary (and over-generalized) cheap shot. The rest of the discussion is substantive and interesting, but I would recommend deleting at least the last two sentences of Paragraph (1). They diminish both the author and the blog (feel free to delete my comment if you decide to edit the post along the lines I suggested).

#6 Comment By ephalum On December 22, 2015 @ 10:55 am

I agree with most of what A Williams Parent says, with one exception: I don’t let Kelton (and his staff) off quite so easily for their lack of recruiting acumen. I mean, look at Amherst: the Jeffs, with the same recruiting constraints as Williams, and a less notable football tradition, have been dominating NESCAC at just the same time that Williams has collapsed. From what I’ve heard, Amherst has been KILLING Williams in terms of head-to-head recruiting battles in the Kelton era. Now, you can attribute that to a network or whatever you want, but ultimately, Williams is a very easy sell — the number one liberal arts college in the country, with the best football tradition in NESCAC, generally a more “sporty” reputation than Amherst (or certainly Wesleyan, which has also been dominant in recruiting lately, albeit with lower academic standards for football recruits), and now the best football facility in all of NESCAC.

Plus, Williams can now offer the chance for immediate playing time for star players, which should provide additional incentive to star recruits who might have to sit the bench for a few years elsewhere. To pick just one example, Amherst just nabbed in ED a stud QB recruit who was wanted by Ivies, a kid who will have to sit the bench for at LEAST two years at Amherst when he could probably start right away for Williams, or at least be in competition to do so. Ultimately, a Williams coach needs to be at least in the 50-50 range when going up against Amherst for the same VERY limited pool of recruits who meet the academic and athletic standards of both schools (and for most of the 80s, 90s and 2000s, Williams would win more than its share vs. Amherst), and that has just not been the case in recent years.

And it’s more than just recruiting — it’s also player development. Every year, guys at certain schools (including Amherst) who have done very little in prior years seem to make dramatic improvements as upperclassmen and turn into impact players. This is typically the case in football moreso than any other sport, because of the importance of strength and physical development between ages 18 and 22. And yet, under Kelton, very very few players seemed to have made dramatic improvements over time. So something is amiss with the player development skills, not just the initial recruiting (although I grant the latter is by far the bigger issue).

New coaches come into NESCAC programs all the time and some of them manage to make dramatic upgrades in talent in a relative short period of time (Tufts is a prime example right now, as is Wesleyan). So I think the whole “recruiting network” thing is an excuse I don’t buy. Especially since Kelton came from Columbia, which has many of the same recruiting channels as Williams.

All that being said, I agree that the initial post above is needlessly breezy, insulting, and racially offensive. There is plenty of room to discuss the need for a coaching change without race-baiting.

I also think that EJ Mills, for one, is a far superior XO guy, which is part of his success at Amherst. IN almost every game when the talent level is roughly equal, Amherst has won in recent years; when they lose, they lose to teams like Trinity or Wesleyan who have very different recruiting constraints, or to Middlebury which has had a procession of superstar QBs, two of whom were higher-level transfers.

#7 Comment By anonyprof On December 28, 2015 @ 5:56 pm

Who cares? It’s only football.

#8 Comment By frank uible On December 28, 2015 @ 6:08 pm

anonyprof: If you would identify yourself, you would hear from some of those who care.

#9 Comment By dcat On December 30, 2015 @ 5:48 pm

Anonyprof — Couldn’t that logic be applied to virtually anything? “Who cares, it’s only …” And isn’t it especially true about any extracurricular activity? Who cares? It’s only a cappella. Who cares? It’s only student senate. Who cares? It’s only student theater. Hell, couldn’t that bleed into academics? Certainly academic politics?

It’s ok for you not to care about football. Or track. Or the Williams Octet. Or what have you. But others do care. Maybe not enormously, but enough to talk about. To speculate about. Who cares about football? Probably not all that many people in the grand scheme of things. But a lot more than care about whether you care about it.

#10 Comment By frank uible On December 31, 2015 @ 12:52 am

There are hundreds of millions of heathen Chinee, who care not about anything related to Williams College, including its football.

#11 Comment By Jinx On February 23, 2016 @ 9:40 pm

Word is that a decision has been made. Williams hires Mark Raymond from St. Lawrence