Jake Crouthamel was the first player ever signed by the Dallas Cowboys and one of the founding fathers of the Big East Conference as the athletic director of Syracuse University. He was also the only coach in Ivy League history to win championships in each of his first two seasons — until Penn football coach Ray Priore became the second last November.
Priore, who spent 28 years as an assistant at Penn before taking over when Al Bagnoli retired after the 2014 season, has joined an exclusive club and will try again to match what became Crouthamel’s three championships in his first three seasons of head coaching.
Like Crouthamel, Priore was in charge of the defense and followed in the footsteps of a successful coach. Bagnoli won nine Ivy titles in 23 years and Dartmouth’s Bob Blackman won seven in 16. However, Crouthamel inherited a two-time defending-champion Big Green team, whereas the Quakers went 2-8 (2-5 Ivy) in Bagnoli’s final Penn season, good for sixth place in the Ivy League, and were projected to finish sixth again in 2015.
In his two years as Penn’s head coach, Priore’s teams have fared an Ivy-best 12-2 in conference play, fueling championships shared with Harvard and Dartmouth in 2015 and Princeton in 2016. While the Quakers remain largely intact from last season, returning eight starters on defense and six on offense, the Red and Blue will be without quarterback Alek Torgersen, who was a three-year starter and the first-team All-Ivy quarterback in both 2015 and 2016.
Priore said that while the offensive coaches have identified the various strengths and weaknesses of this roster’s personnel, he doesn’t believe that the loss of Torgersen will result in a drastically different Red and Blue offense, regardless of whichever of freshman Ryan Glover, sophomore Nick Robinson, or senior Will Fischer-Colbrie (currently the official starter) wins the permanent starting job.
“I think we do what we do,” Priore said. “I wouldn’t say we’ll be more run or more pass. In the world of spread offenses today with the option, you’re really taking what teams are giving to you.”
Priore laughed when his “trust the process” comment was compared to the Philadelphia 76ers, who “tanked” for several years under Sam Hinkie hoping to acquire lucrative draft picks in the NBA Lottery. That’s because his “process” is a little different than the 76ers’ strategy of losing on purpose.
“Our process is everything takes time to develop, we have to take time to see it, work it all the way through,” Priore said. “What we’ve built in the last couple of years with John Reagan and Bob Benson is tremendous trust from coaches to coaches, coaches to players, players to players.”
Trust was indeed the first thing that came to mind of defensive coordinator Bob Benson when asked about Priore’s leadership.
“Ray brings trust. He brings a belief in people,” Benson said. “We all are a family. We all believe in our goal, which is to win the Ivy League, but there is a wonderful environment here of family and trust that Ray has established and allows us as coaches to coach and players to play.”
Priore said it’s important to teach people how to lead and to empower the staff and people around him, and has encouraged the senior class to be vocal.
Senior wide receiver and captain Justin Watson praised the management style of Priore, the coordinators, and assistants, and is thankful for having his and other seniors’ thoughts being considered.
“The biggest thing is he’s a phenomenal listener. He listens and he incorporates everyone’s opinions,” Watson said. “Anytime we have an issue, it’s not like we fear going to him.”
The result of Priore’s process, in the words of Watson?
“Guys just want to play for him.”