Each week, BRSN sits down for a Q & A session with...
Don’t Lose Faith
Age is merely just a number. It doesn’t measure someone’s abilities, potential, and confidence. Therefore, when Cornell announced David Archer as the new Roger J. Weiss ’61 Head Coach of Football in 2013, making him the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I football, Coach Archer didn’t fret.
He never felt overwhelmed because Archer was once given some great advice – the head coaching position is unlike any other job, so it doesn’t matter how much experience you have prior to taking the position. In addition, Coach Archer felt that his previous life knowledge and experiences had prepared him for the task at hand.
“It’s such a dynamic job,” explained Archer. “But, I’ve learned in life that self-reflection, self-improvement, and quality control are the keys to being a great teacher, and I’ve tried to transfer that over to what I do as a head coach.”
After graduating from Cornell in 2005 as a three-year starter on the offensive line, Coach Archer always had the thought of returning to his alma mater as a coach in the back of his mind. His passion for football was still very strong, so when he joined the Teach for America program and pursued his interests in teaching, Archer also kept his love for the gridiron alive by working as a coaching intern at Farleigh Dickinson University. He would teach during the day and enjoy evenings on the field with the Knights.
“I knew I liked helping people, and I knew I liked education, but I didn’t necessarily want to be a teacher full time. I wanted to get into coaching,” said Coach Archer.
He certainly missed suiting up for game days on Saturday, yet coaching was the next best option. It was initially a tough transition since a coach actually has less control over the outcome of a game than the players on the field. Although, because Archer was a former player, he describes himself as “player-centered.”
“You can never forget that it’s the players who win or lose the game,” justified Coach Archer. “It should never be about you, and it should never be about the coach. Everything in the program should be aimed at developing those student-athletes.”
In 2007, he immediately took the initiative and dialed the phone for Jim Knowles, then the head Big Red football coach. Next thing he knew, a position opened up, and Coach Archer returned to Ithaca as the new linebackers’ coach. Throughout a span of six years, he additionally worked with the running backs, offensive line, fullbacks, tight ends, and even served as the recruiting coordinator.
Following two head coaching changes, Archer finally received his opportunity to attempt what so many have failed to establish – building a consistent winning football program at Cornell that contends for the Ivy League championship year in and year out. This feat has actually never been accomplished because, although the Big Red hold stakes in three Ivy League titles, the program has not won an outright league championship.
“I look at it as just a tremendous opportunity,” remarked Coach Archer. “I’m thankful for it everyday.”
After taking over the reigns in January of 2013, Archer has only compiled a total of four wins in two seasons, including just one victory last fall. However, even though he inherited Jeff Matthews – one of the best quarterbacks in Ivy League history – he also took over a very young team.
With Matthews in his final season at Cornell in 2013, Coach Archer led the program to a mediocre 3-7 record, but the squad relied too heavily on number nine. “I never talked about it,” admitted Archer. “I never use any type of excuses, but, certainly, the style of play you would play with a guy like that is different than what I envision as a long-term style of play that can be successful for Cornell and for the program.”
After Matthews graduated, Coach Archer confessed, “it was basically like starting over.” He was dealt a young team filled mostly with freshmen and sophomores, which was also plagued by injury. Due to this issue, Archer was forced to start four different quarterbacks last season, one of whom was a freshman, Jake Jatis, who became one of only two Big Red quarterbacks to ever start a game as a true freshman – the other being Jeff Matthews.
The good news for Coach Archer is that all of those freshmen became sophomores, and many of them gained valuable experience. For example, Nick Gesualdi was a freshman safety last season thrown right into the heart of the action, but he concluded the fall as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Gesualdi finished second on the team with 58 tackles and set a Big Red freshman record by tallying four interceptions. He also set a program record with four Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors and was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week once. Gesualdi received crucial playing time and will now be relied on heavily on the defensive side of the ball.
On offense, running back Luke Hagy returns for his final season in the Red and White after becoming the first player in Cornell history to eclipse 1,000 career yards rushing and receiving. He was a second team All-Ivy selection and ran for three consecutive 100-yard games last year. Hagy is a versatile back and will lead the running game of a balanced Big Red offensive attack.
“Once you have balance, what you want to do is feature your players,” stated Coach Archer. “Hagy is an obvious offensive threat, and we’re going to work very hard to get him the ball in a variety of different ways.”
In 2014, Cornell ran the ball about 53% of the time, so Archer hopes to continue this stability between the passing and running games. In terms of the pass, the Big Red possess a deep receiving corps, so a number of returning guys have an opportunity to step up and make plays. Junior Collin Shaw led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, so he will be depended on as Cornell’s top receiving threat. In addition, Coach Archer will look for wide-outs such as junior Marshall Deutz and seniors Chris Lenz and Ben Rogers to break out, as well as some younger players like sophomore James Hubbard, who has shown some flashes in training camp.
The quarterback situation is a bit murkier because four different passers received playing time last season. By the conclusion of 2014, current junior Robert Sombron earned the most minutes and played most consistently, so he has been receiving the majority of reps this fall. However, Archer plans on waiting until the first game of the season to name a starter.
“When I name a starter, it’s going to be from the entire body of work, and, with the quarterback, it’s even more important that he’s a leader off the field and doing the right things, but then also producing in games,” described Coach Archer.
Archer is hoping his strong defense can repeat as Ivy leaders in turnovers and that his offense can take better care of the ball. “We want to lead the league in fewest giveaways, lead the league in the most number of takeaways, and we have to get better at executing and making plays,” said Coach Archer. “I’ve always been extremely proud with the amount of effort we’ve played with. Now, it’s time to translate that effort into making plays that are going to make a difference to win the football game.
The Big Red also possesses an extremely underrated key weapon – junior punter Chris Fraser. He has been named to the All-Ivy team his first two years and earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Year selection in 2013. Fraser has tremendous skill and represents a great tool for Cornell because he can completely flip the field on the opposing team. If the offense gets stopped in or near the opponent’s side of the field, Fraser rests in Coach Archer’s back pocket to pin the other team deep in its own territory.
After gaining lots of experience last fall by adding an additional year under the belts of many young talented underclassmen, the Big Red has a very high ceiling. Still, many outsiders doubt the talent of this team, but don’t make this mistake – the 2015 Cornell football team will surprise you.
Asked if he feels like there’s any additional pressure to win with this program, Coach Archer immediately responded by stating, “Nobody will put more pressure on me than myself, regardless of what happened in the past. I have a good amount of pressure each game to succeed for the kids that I coach, and that’s the reason I do this job.”
“A turnaround doesn’t happen automatically. Don’t lose faith. If you do, just come by practice, and your faith will be restored right away because I’ve got some great kids and great coaches.”