Sporting Life

Back in blue

After three seasons at Harvard, a former Yale assistant returns as head football coach.

Alex Goldberger ’08 is an Olympics researcher at NBC.

Sam Rubin ’95

Sam Rubin ’95

Tony Reno was hired as head coach after a lobbying campaign by alumni who'd played for him when he was an assistant at Yale. View full image

Former Yale football coach Jack Siedlecki didn't know much about Tony Reno when he hired him to be a part-time receivers coach for the 2003 season. But he needed someone who could handle the long hours and itinerant lifestyle of the recruiting trail, and the 29-year-old Reno, who had a modest résumé of small-school coaching stints, came recommended as a hard worker. 

Reno, a former safety at Worcester State University in Massachusetts, impressed his boss. He became the full-time defensive backs coach after his first year, and later he added the title of assistant head coach, a promotion reflecting his increasing role with the defense and as the coaching staff's liaison to school administrators. "You knew he was a guy who was eventually going to become a head coach," says Siedlecki, who retired in 2008 after 12 seasons. "I was just trying to find ways to hang on to him a little bit longer because I just thought he was outstanding."

In January, after six years in New Haven followed by three more at Harvard, where he coached the defensive backs and special teams, Reno returned to Yale as the program's 34th head coach. He replaces Tom Williams, whose three-year tenure ended ignominiously when he resigned December 21 amid an investigation into whether he lied on his résumé about being a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship.

Reno was not the only candidate Yale interviewed. Multiple reports suggested that UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown, a former Yale assistant, was the front-runner. But Brown withdrew his name from consideration January 9, and Reno was introduced at a press conference three days later. In his prepared remarks, Reno voluntarily addressed the perception that he was a backup plan. "I am the right man for this job, and I firmly believe that," he said.

Regardless of the circumstances, the hiring was cause for celebration among many of Reno's former players. Within hours of Williams's resignation, young football alumni had launched an e-mail campaign in support of Reno. There was no bigger champion than Casey Gerald '09, a cornerback who started on the 2006 team that shared the Ivy League title. Gerald had been inspired by his former coach's dedication to his players—the Renos hosted him for Thanksgiving break one year when he couldn't make it home to Dallas—and he delighted in the prospect of a Yale program built on Reno's blend of earnestness and elbow grease. "He's not there to put on a tweed suit and be a philosophy teacher," Gerald says. "He's there to win football games."

On December 28, Gerald and 63 other former players sent a letter endorsing Reno's candidacy to athletic director Tom Beckett, and later to president Richard Levin '74PhD and provost Peter Salovey '86PhD. Twelve days later, their man got the job.

Still, questions remain as to whether Reno, who has limited offensive experience and none as a head coach, will be ready to run a team on game day. In an interview in late January, Reno likened his offensive role to that of a CEO, stepping in to make the critical decisions but leaving play calling to his new coordinator, former UMass head coach Kevin Morris.

Reno hopes to mold the team for both physical and mental toughness. He mentioned several times the importance of being able to handle adversity—part coaching philosophy and part acknowledgment that this off-season has been a trying time for the program. "Yale football is so much tradition, so much history, so much pride, and so well respected," Reno says. "We're going to get back to that." 


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