It’s official: there is just one more season left in Al Bagnoli’s tenure with Penn football.
Outgoing Athletic Director Steve Bilsky announced that the longtime Penn head coach would retire after the 2014 season at a press conference. Bilsky also officially revealed defensive coordinator and associate head coach Ray Priore as Bagnoli’s successor.
“It’s obviously bittersweet when you’ve been here for so long, and you get the opportunity to call Franklin Field your home and you get the opportunity to work with some great student-athletes,” Bagnoli said. “I’ve been truly blessed. Not many people have the opportunity to be head coach as long as I have.”
Bilsky began the press conference by reeling off part of Bagnoli’s impressive resume, highlighting his Ivy titles and numerous accomplishments, which includes 232 victories. However, that isn’t what stood out to the AD about the only football coach he had during his 20-year tenure.
“It doesn’t really reflect well what a pleasure it is for me to have been the athletic director during my 20 years,” Bilsky said. “Sometimes you take it for granted when you have a program that runs so smoothly, that produces great results, great people, both as undergraduates and after they leave the program.
It won’t just be Bilsky that will miss Bagnoli, as Penn football alums also appreciated what he brought to the program for over two decades.
“He’s an absolute Ivy and Penn Hall of Famer, and there has never been anyone like him,” said William Constantine C’66 WG’68 , who is the chair of the Penn football board.
“Hopefully that coaching staff, and Ray in particular, have kind of soaked up that Bagnoli quality.”
Bagnoli reiterated that it will be “business as usual” until after Penn’s final game — coming on Nov. 22 at Cornell — at which time Priore will assume all the duties as head coach.
“I’m certainly excited for Ray,” Bagnoli said. “He’s been an invaluable member of my staff. He’s a guy that is more than ready to be a successful football coach.”
Priore said that he was informed about Bagnoli’s possible retirement in December, saying: “Coach and Steve said that something may be brewing and to stick tight.”
Priore, who is entering his 28th season as an assistant at Penn, was very appreciative of the opportunity, thinks the transition process will go well thanks to his obvious familiarity with the program.
“The fortunate thing is ... where most head coaches, at the end of the year, [are] taking over a program that you know about but don’t know the ins and outs,” Priore said. “Our transition will go so much smoother because I’ve been in charge of recruiting for 15 years, I’ve dealt with the admissions [and] financial-aid people, I’ve recruited all along the west coast so I have that background there with a lot of great relationships with folks on campus.”
Priore will have the difficult task of trying to follow Bagnoli, even though Priore has played a role in Penn’s success for the last 22 years.
“The biggest challenge is coming behind the most successful coach in Penn history,” Priore said. “I’m confident. I will surround myself with a staff of people who are equally as talented and have the same goals in mind.”
“But it’s just not one person. I think the most important thing is that success at Penn is not built on [one person], whether it is George Munger or Al Bagnoli or Ray Priore. It is about the family. It is about the group.”
When asked about his reasoning for retirement, Bagnoli said it was due to numerous factors and made clear that it had nothing to do with a new athletic director coming in.
“I was always really concerned that I didn’t want to overstay my welcome,” Bagnoli said. “I happen to be my own biggest critic and at a certain point in time, you kind of feel when it’s right and move and do something else.”
That something else may include a role in Penn Athletics as Bagnoli expressed interest in pursuing a position within the athletic department under incoming-Athletic Director M. Grace Calhoun. Bagnoli said he needed to speak with Dr. Calhoun before anything could be nailed down.
With 2014 being Bagnoli’s final season, there will be a lot of attention placed on the head coach in his last 10 games as he tries for a 10th Ivy League title.
“I think there will be a tremendous energy into winning one more ring under Al, and I think they’ve got the talent to do it,” Constantine said.
“I can’t think of a better ending for his career at Penn than to hold up that trophy in November after we play Cornell,” Bilsky said.
“Or it’s OK if he wants to clinch it early [against Harvard],” he jokingly added.
“That’d be alright with me, too,” Bagnoli said.