2014 will be Al Bagnoli’s last year at the helm of Penn football.
The Daily Pennsylvanian confirmed that Bagnoli will retire after his 23rd season coaching the Red and Blue. According to the Philadephia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen, defensive coordinator Ray Priore will succeed Bagnoli as Penn’s head coach.
In his 22 years as Penn football head coach, Bagnoli has amassed 232 victories, nine outright Ivy League titles and six undefeated seasons in Ivy play.
Priore summed up Bagnoli’s legacy when asked about it last fall.
“He’ll go down as the winningest coach in Penn history,” Priore said. “But he’s been able to be honest with kids, be up front with kids. Kids have done the job in the classroom, graduated and become great family people.
“I think his impact is more than just football. It is everything that has to do with sports and in life.”
Reports of Bagnoli’s retirement surprised alums, including College class of 2013 graduate Joe Holder , a former walk-on who contributed to Penn’s most recent Ivy title.
“I was slightly shocked because it came out of nowhere, but when you sit back and think about the circumstances surrounding the year and everything, it begins to make for sense,” he said.
Holder also thought that Bagnoli’s change in attitude in recent years may have been an indicator that his time at Penn was coming to an end.
“You could kind of tell my senior year or so [that] he started to get a little bit more relaxed,” Holder said. “He was still very involved but you could say he became little more of a player’s coach.”
Bagnoli was previously the head coach at Union College, where he went 86-19 in 10 seasons while twice making it to the Division III championship game. Union’s football program excelled after Bagnoli left to take over at Penn, partly thanks to Bagnoli’s legacy.
“We were not a very strong football program prior to his arrival, and since he came here ... we are one of the top Division III programs in the country,” former Union offensive lineman and now-Athletic Director Jim McLaughlin said last fall.
Before coming to Union, Bagnoli was assistant coach under long-time Albany coach Bob Ford, working his way up to defensive coordinator. Bagnoli played football at Central Connecticut State, graduating in 1975.
It wasn’t all victories and sunshine during Bagnoli’s tenure, as the coach had to deal with the tragic suicides of two players, Kyle Ambrogi in 2005 and Owen Thomas in 2010.
Thomas’ mother, Rev. Kathy Brearley, was happy with how Bagnoli handled the situations, saying that Bagnoli made sure she got back Owen's jersey and gave her a 2010 season championship ring (the season Owen would have been a captain).
Class of 2006 College graduate Ryan Pisarri also praised how the long-time head coach managed the team in the aftermath of Ambrogi’s passing.
"Coach Bagnoli and his staff were an incredible support system and did everything they could to help us during the time,” Pisarri said.
"Coach Bagnoli was a great leader for us and he did everything in his power to try and make 100-plus players and coaches understand and deal with this situation the best we could."
Meanwhile, Priore has been an assistant coach at Penn since before Bagnoli arrived, as the long-time defensive coordinator will enter his 28th season as a Quakers coach. Priore has held numerous positions in his time with the Red and Blue, including defensive ends, defensive backs and special teams coach, along with recruiting coordinator.
Priore has been Bagnoli’s defensive coordinator since 1999 and an associate head coach since 2006.
“He’s vital to the team. He’s a real energetic invididual,” Holder said of Priore. “He loves the game. He gets fired up, he’s actively involved in practice. You should see him in his zone before game times. He’s oftentimes more hyped than the players are.
“That’s something that you need. He’s somebody that you want to go to battle with.”
Bagnoli’s final home game will be against Harvard on Nov. 15, and his final game will come against Cornell in Ithaca on Nov. 22.
When his career comes to a close, Bagnoli will have a legacy of making Penn football what it is today.
“When he came, the program was nothing,” Holder said. “He brought it up and look where we are now: probably the top program in the Ivy League.
His legacy will only be one of positivity and success.”
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