I n his time as Penn’s football coach, Al Bagnoli has never been about himself.
Whenever someone asks him a question about himself at a press conference or after a practice, Bagnoli immediately deflects the question, preferring to speak about his student-athletes and his fellow coaches.
And at Wednesday’s press conference to announce his retirement following the 2014 season, Bagnoli was similarly nonchalant, joking around to begin a presser that focused squarely on him.
“There’s no truth that Ray [Priore] and I choreographed our ties together,” Bagnoli said with a smile as he stood beside Priore, his future successor.
As much as he may not like to hear it, Bagnoli’s legacy stretches far beyond just his student-athletes. And his legacy certainly isn’t about ties.
While there have been individual players that had stood out during Bagnoli’s time at Penn, his winning culture and his ability to avoid losses (and ties) has been consistent, no matter who has been on the field.
Quite frankly, you don’t get to 146 wins in 22 seasons through one player. Or one recruiting class. Or one assistant coach, as essential as people like Priore or Jim Schaefer have been to Bagnoli’s staffs.
Instead, with just 10 games left in an illustrious 33-year coaching career that began at Union in 1982, it is time to put the spotlight on Bagnoli and his accomplishments.
Bagnoli has a resume on the football field as long as the eye can see. Nine Ivy League championships. Twice winning three Ivy titles in four years. And that doesn’t even mention his time at Union, where he went 86-19 while making it to the Division III National Championship game twice.
Yet Bagnoli has been just as impressive off the field.
Bagnoli and his staff dealt with two crises in a five-year span after Kyle Ambrogi committed suicide in 2005 and Owen Thomas did the same in 2010.
And the experienced head coach dealt with each situation with grace, guiding his team to get help every step of the way.
“That was a dark time for all of us in Penn football,” said Joe Holder , a wide receiver at the time of Thomas’ death. “Being able to steer his team through that is pretty special. He made sure we had all the support that we needed, whether it be CAPS, whether it be religious support, emotional support, spiritual support.”
Penn football has found a way past tough times and it has a lot to do with Bagnoli’s ability to deal with adversity, whether on or off the field.
And regardless of whether Penn gets its 10th Ivy title under Bagnoli next year, his legacy will be cemented — or bronzed if Holder has his way.
“I fully expect him to eventually have a statue at Franklin Field,” he said. “My window may be small, but I’m pretty sure he has the most outright titles in league history ... so I don’t see why he wouldn’t have the highest legacy that is possible.”
And Holder hits it on the nose. Bagnoli has made Penn football what it is today and made it the most prominent program in the Ivies.
So it is time to appreciate what he brought to Penn in his 23 years, even if he wants us to appreciate everyone else.