Colgate Thriving Under Coach Dick Biddle
HAMILTON, N.Y. (AP) _ When Fred Dunlap coached at Colgate University, there was one thing he never mentioned to his players.
``We never talked about scholarships,″ Dunlap said. ``We felt it was an excuse for not winning _ they’ve got scholarships and we don’t. It would give the kids a way to rationalize a loss, and we wanted to challenge them.″
That coaching philosophy certainly worked for Dunlap, who retired after the 1987 season with a 77-49 record in 12 seasons. And now it’s working for Dick Biddle, whose Patriot League champion Raiders are 15-0 and in the Division I-AA championship game for the first time in school history.
Colgate, which will play Delaware for the title on Friday night in Chattanooga, Tenn., is only the second nonscholarship team to make it this far since the division was formed in 1978. The other was Lehigh, which lost to Eastern Kentucky for the 1979 title.
Colgate, a private liberal arts school 35 miles southeast of Syracuse, has an enrollment of 2,750, high academic standards and a hefty annual cost of over $30,000. And it has had a rich football tradition for decades without ever using to scholarships to lure talented players.
Andy Kerr’s amazing 1932 team was undefeated, untied and unscored upon. Those Raiders beat their nine opponents, among them Syracuse and Penn State, by a cumulative 264-0 and nearly received a Rose Bowl bid. Rich Erenberg, Marv Hubbard, Mark van Eeghen and Mark Murphy also starred for the Raiders before excelling in the NFL.
Still, there have been difficult times, none worse than eight years ago when the lack of scholarships and soaring tuition were taking a toll. For the first time in school history, the Raiders failed to win a game, going 0-11 in 1995 under Ed Sweeney to cap their sixth straight losing season.
Enter Biddle, and things haven’t been the same since. The Raiders have not had a losing season since he succeeded Sweeney and are riding a 21-game winning streak.
``He’s one of the best coaches out there and he doesn’t get the recognition,″ said running back Jamaal Branch, who had 430 carries and 29 touchdowns, both NCAA records, and set a division record with 2,271 yards rushing. ``It’s kind of hard sometimes to figure him out, but he could make any team great.″
Biddle shuns taking any credit.
``We made some changes, won a game, the kids got some confidence, and that’s really what it was. It’s not my success. I just think it’s a pretty good fit,″ said Biddle, 46, who lost his first four games and has gone 69-22 since. ``I feel comfortable here and I feel comfortable with the players and I think they feel comfortable with us and the coaching staff. It may not work somewhere else.″
It has worked awfully well here. Biddle has a .723 winning percentage in his first head coaching job. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who didn’t know what he wanted to do when he graduated from Duke in 1971 with a history degree.
``I kind of fell into it,″ said Biddle, who started his coaching career at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania in 1973.
And at the right place. Before taking charge at Colgate, Biddle coached under Lou Holtz at Minnesota, and was an assistant at both Navy and Virginia Tech. He also had two stints totally 10 years as an assistant under three coaches at Colgate and knew the unusual challenge he would face _ overseeing a program that relies on need-based financial aid and tradition to attract talented players.
``I didn’t really think about the difficulty of turning things around,″ Biddle said. ``It was an opportunity to be a head coach in a kind of unique situation, where you could only get better.″
Dunlap is somewhat amazed by the team’s success this season _ the Raiders defeated UMass and Western Illinois at home in the playoffs in driving snowstorms and beat Florida Atlantic 36-24 in the semifinals at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturday. However, he did expect Biddle to turn things around _ after all, he hired Biddle in 1987 as an assistant and recommended him for the top job.
``It reflects his never-give-up attitude. The players really kind of mirror his personality, and his strength is his personality,″ Dunlap said.
``He brings a toughness to this program that I don’t think was here before,″ tight end John Frieser said. ``He’s the kind of guy you totally trust and will follow. That’s really brought the team together.″