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The sports fan's perception is often a little fuzzy. One big play and you're a hero. One folly and you're a perennial goat. If you're an active veteran, the question is "what have you done for me lately?" And if you're a neophyte coach with a winless first season, the general consensus -- get out of town, no questions asked. Yale football's season-opening win, a 30-28 thriller over the Bears at Brown Stadium, proved more important than the average "W." It was a win that took a year-old monkey off second-year Yale coach Jack Siedlecki's back. It quieted alumni whispers begging for legendary coach Carm Cozza to return. And even if it didn't fully erase memories of an 0-7 1997, it surely quelled the mocking of a pitiful 52-14 debut against the Bears last season. Yale's win was proved not only a lift to Elis football, but also to the coach himself. And based upon Siedlecki's status, the victory elevated Ivy football by a couple angstrom. In his first press conference after becoming head honcho, Siedlecki said, "I have spent my entire career trying to get this job. I've wanted to be with the best student-athletes, because it's fun to coach guys who have that kind of intellect." Press conferences are the place for that politically correct, high-spirited mumbo-jumbo. But Siedlecki's comments were nevertheless refreshing, because his resume stands behind his words. A versatile football strategist who coached linebackers, defensive line and offensive line -- serving as both an offensive and defensive coordinator and then as the turn-around coach at Worcester Polytechnical Institute -- Siedlecki bypassed many Division I-AA coaching vacancies to spend 1993-96 turning around an 0-8 Amherst football team and making them into 7-1 champions. Maybe a quick resume check would have brought him the respect from the Yale football faithful that he deserved. Maybe a little less nostalgia and a small dose of reality would have saved Siedlecki from needing an Ivy win to earn 10 yards of respect. However, Carm Cozza, the Ivy League football "legend," is remembered as a great who amassed 179 wins and nine Ivy titles in a stellar 32 seasons of work. As soon as he retired, Cozza's 10-25 record in his final five seasons was erased from memory. As was his steady decline over the years. A recruiting program that went from respectable to invisible was masked behind the guise of a brilliant persona. Cozza didn't leave Yale football on top, as he left -- he abandoned a sinking ship. Siedlecki came in with a life raft of recruits, ready for rescue. But it was inevitable -- Yale football in 1997 would go the way of the titanic, no matter who paced the sidelines. The players Siedlecki bequeathed last season simply didn't stand him a chance. With now 60 percent of the squad personal recruits, Siedlecki's shown auspicious signs in 1998 of morse coding an answer to the S-O-S cry. The most notable reply is in the form of junior tailback Rashad Bartholomew, who transferred out of Air Force. Leaving behind a seven-year armed forces service commitment, Bartholomew has accepted a two-year commitment as general of the Yale ground attack. With 210 combined rushing yards in his first two games, he is only slightly off pace to rage war on former Yale tailback Rich Diana's school-record 1,442 rushing yards in 1981. According the Brown defensive coordinator Dave Duggan, Bartholomew's is nothing special physically, but he knew how to take advantage of opponents' mistakes, a skill equally valuable. "I guess he is a good runner but I wasn't surprised," the defensive coordinator said. "It wasn't so much what they did as what we did. We shot ourselves in the foot, missing tackles. But he capitalized on it." And a surprising Siedlecki savior has emerged in junior quarterback Joe Walland. Fifth-string on Cozza's depth-chart as a freshman, Siedlecki thrust Walland in as a starter for seven-of-10 games last season. He completed just 70-of-167 passes for 767 yards. But this year, Walland has stepped-up, completing 39-of-62 passes for 438 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games. But Yale is still far from good football team, as Saturday's 63-21 slaughter to Connecticut showed. When losing by 42-points, glaring weaknesses are magnified. On Saturday, the Elis secondary was as empty as the Miami beaches when Hurricane Georges struck. And Yale's linebackers almost appeared chained to the Connecticut offensive line. Nevertheless, one thing is now clear -- Siedlecki can win on the Ivy level, he's proven it. Even if that one win against Brown is all he has to show for 1998, the sophomore coach earned a big one. He has earned the right to have the time to turn the program around. And with Bartholomew, Walland and two recruiting classes beside him, time could make difference. If Yale rises from the Ivy League's worst back to glory anytime soon, one thing is certain -- Jack Siedlecki will be captaining in ship. And those once-doubters will jump along for the ride.

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