Sitting in the Franklin Field press box on Saturdays last fall, my fellow reporters and I always listened intently as the scores from other Ivy League football games came rolling in. But whenever an Ivy team was scheduled to play a non-conference game against Lehigh, we really didn't need to hear the score coming from the press box speakers. We knew what to expect -- a blowout. It was as if the Ivy teams did not have a chance against the Engineers. Dartmouth, Princeton and Columbia all went down without putting up much of a fight. Although Lehigh is a non-scholarship school just like the Ivies, the Engineers were playing on another level. This was especially true on offense, where they were nearly unstoppable in games against most other non-scholarship programs. It wasn't always like that. As recently as two years ago, games with Lehigh were actually winnable for Ivy League teams. But in the past two seasons, Lehigh has taken off, earning a spot among the Division I-AA powerhouses and leaving most Patriot and Ivy League teams in the dust. And next fall, one of the men most responsible for creating this offensive machine in Bethlehem, Pa., will have a home on the sidelines at Franklin Field. On January 27, Andy Coen was introduced as the Quakers' new offensive coordinator. Coen had been the offensive coordinator at Lehigh since 1996. He replaces Chuck Priore, who had been with the Quakers since 1990 before leaving to take the top job at Trinity College in December. For a preview of what you may be seeing on Saturdays during the next few falls, just take a look at what happened 80 miles up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Lehigh qualified for the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs in each of the past two years and in 1998 became the first non-scholarship program to ever win a playoff game. The main reason for this was the offense that Coen helped to create. In Lehigh history, there have been eight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. Under Coen, there were five consecutive years. Most recently, Lehigh started All-Everything running back Ron Jean, who set Engineers single-season records for most rushing touchdowns (23), most total touchdowns (26) and most points (156). Lehigh also featured quarterback and NFL prospect Phil Stambaugh, who recently completed 12-of-17 passes for 82 yards in the annual Blue-Gray Game. It is not out of the realm of possibility for something similar to happen at Penn. But fans should not expect the Quakers to shoot into the national rankings just yet. Lehigh is a very fine school, but the Engineers can recruit athletes who may not be able to meet the academic standards for admission to an Ivy League institution. That does not, however, mean Penn cannot get some very talented players. Coen is originally from southern New Jersey and while at Lehigh, he spent a considerable amount of time recruiting athletes around Philadelphia and in other areas targeted by the Quakers. In fact, Coen and the other members of the Lehigh coaching staff heavily recruited current Penn running backs Kris Ryan and Matt Thomas when they were in high school. Teams from the Patriot and Ivy Leagues always compete for recruits, and hiring someone already familiar with that recruiting scene will help the Quakers in the next few seasons. But while the next few years may be very promising, next year could be just as good. In Ryan and quarterback Gavin Hoffman, the Red and Blue feature the most dangerous one-two punch of any Ivy League offense. Last season, Ryan rushed for 1,197 yards and earned a spot on the All-Ivy first team. All Hoffman did in his first season as a Quaker was pass for more yards in a single season (2,150) than any other quarterback in Penn history. And now that Brown's James Perry and Yale's Joe Walland will be lost to graduation, Hoffman can assume the role of the premier signal-caller in the conference. The receivers aren't exactly slouches either. Next season, Rob Milanese and Colin Smith will lead an experienced group of pass-catching Quakers. So it is obvious Coen and head coach Al Bagnoli will have quite a considerable amount of talent to work with in next year's offense. Although the offensive line may be a bit depleted due to graduation, Penn should still be the league's dominant offense. Since arriving at his office in Weightman Hall, Coen has been looking at films and figuring out ways to improve the Penn offense. He has also been traveling with other members of the coaching staff on recruiting trips. Coen plans to strike a 50/50 balance between running and passing plays next season, but also plans to allow Hoffman to make more decisions at the line of scrimmage. You might be seeing a few more passing plays on first down as well. None of this will automatically make the Quakers a better team. It will not be a revolution. Andy Coen is not a savior, and there really isn't all that much that needs saving anyway. Priore had success with this offense in the past few years, and you can't ask for much more than some of the performances of recent seasons. But you may be seeing a difference when the Quakers have the ball this season, and maybe, just maybe, you'll see a bit of a transformation resembling the one that took place in Bethlehem over the last few years. Coen wants to be a head coach somewhere someday, and he feels that having success at a school with a winning tradition like Penn's will help that cause. And if he does have that success, reporters in the Franklin Field press box might not have to wait for the Lehigh score to be announced. They might be seeing some stellar offensive performances happening right before their own eyes.Comments powered by Disqus
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