“When people ask me my plans, I tell them my plan is one of two things: to die here or retire here.”
Lafayette football coach Frank Tavani said that in January of 2014, when he was rewarded with a contract extension after the Leopards won the 2013 Patriot League championship.
On Wednesday morning, he officially put one part of that plan into action, although not quite the way he may have envisioned it a couple of years earlier.
Tavani, 63, who resurrected the Leopards’ football program at the beginning of this century, announced his retirement at a time when it looked like he was preparing to dedicate himself to another major comeback after going 3-19 in the last two years.
“This is not a sad day; it’s a happy day,” Tavani said Wednesday during an exclusive interview with The Morning Call. “It’s a celebration of 40 years of coaching.”
But in his office in the corner of the Bourger Varsity Football House, which was a major part of a Fisher Stadium-area expansion in which he had a big fund-raising role in bringing to fruition, he choked up and teared up several times while talking about his life on College Hill.
“I’ll take these with me,” he said as he reached across the desk and opened a box in which he keeps seven large rings – one for each of the league championship teams he has coached – 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2013 as the head coach, and 1988, 1992 and 1994 as an assistant.
Since succeeding Bill Russo as the head coach in 2000, Tavani has compiled a record of 84-107 overall, making him the second winningest coach in Lafayette’s storied history – only Russo had more victories.
The last two years, which came on the heels of an historic 27-7 Yankee Stadium victory over Lehigh in the 150th renewal of college football’s most-played rivalry, were hard for him to take, but he never lost his resolve to turn things around at some point. And when he spoke to The Morning Call after the season, he talked about schematic changes that were already being discussed for 2017.
But Tavani will not be instituting those changes. A press release from the college Wednesday stated that offensive coordinator Mickey Fein will serve as interim coach while the college conducts a national search for a successor.
Tavani said that after some earnest discussions with Lafayette administrators, a “mutual agreement” was reached, allowing him to retire on his terms. He didn’t discuss the settlement agreement, which is being finalized.
“Coach Tavani’s success on the football field only begins to tell the story of what he has meant to our student athletes for nearly three decades,” Lafayette President Alison R. Byerly said in a statement announcing Tavani’s decision. “He has been a dedicated teacher, adviser and mentor to hundreds of young men who will forever value the life lessons he taught.”
Tavani said his voicemail box, his email box and his cell phone message system were being jammed with messages from well-wishers – former Lafayette players, former coaches, current coaches, alumni supporters and friends. He was visibly moved when he mentioned how people spoke about him.
One that touched him especially deeply was from the mother of Brian Keller, the Leopards tight end who was killed in an automobile accident less than a month before the start of his senior year.
“I’ll keep that one for a long time,” he said.
He was also particularly proud of the challengegiven to him to transition young men from the point of adolescent high schoolers to college graduates, while also enabling them to play football at the Division I level.
“I’m proud of the way we have conducted our program and of the young men who have dedicated themselves in the classroom as well as on the football field,” Tavani said.
Lafayette athletic director Bruce McCutcheon said in the college’s release, “I want to congratulate Frank on his excellent career at Lafayette and thank him for his many years of dedicated service. His mentorship of scores of football student-athletes over the decades was remarkable and worthy of praise. Our football program saw many highlights including championships and thrilling wins over Lehigh under Frank’s leadership and we salute him for those accomplishments. We wish Frank and his family the very best in his retirement.”
Fein, who came to Lafayette in 2008 and was named offensive coordinator a year later, said, “Obviously, Coach T had an unbelievable run while being the head guy here for 17 years. I wish him nothing but the best in retirement. My main focus now is on the kids. That’s the most important thing. Make sure they’re all right, finishing the semester strong academically. And athletically, making sure they are excited about what’s to come.”
Fein and the rest of the assistant coaches are now in limbo, but Fein deflected any talk about his own future, saying, “All the other stuff is secondary. I want to make sure everybody’s OK and moving along and doing the right things so they can be successful in whatever they do.”
Tavani met with his players on Tuesday evening and McCutcheon met with them Wednesday.
Matt Mrazek, the Leopards’ outstanding wide receiver, and Brandon Bryant, the rugged linebacker who was injured midway through the 2016 season, are key members of the upcoming senior class that will need to step up and keep the team together .
“You’re never really expecting a change like this to happen so quickly, and we were sort of out of the loop,” Mrazek said. “This is the time for everyone who is a part of this program to look in the mirror. We all need to do better, seniors especially, myself included, to create that winning culture and turn this thing around.”
Mrazek has a vivid first memory of Tavani. While making an Eastern trip to look at Ivy League and Patriot League schools, he and his dad visited Lafayette. He had already been offered a scholarship by assistant Ian Dell, but had no details.
“We were sitting in Coach T’s office and he told me, ‘If you end up deciding to come here, the only thing you’ll have to bring is the money in your wallet. We’re going to pay for it all.’ That was the first time I heard about a full scholarship offer and it was a really cool moment for me and my dad.”
Bryant, who said, “There’s no better guy than Coach T. He’s the only person that gave me a shot. I didn’t have any other offers, and he’s the one who pulled the trigger. I’m grateful for everything Coach T has done, and he will always have a special place with me for the rest of my life.”
Bryant remembers talking with Tavani, who said lots of nice things “but didn’t actually say anything about a scholarship. I said, ‘Does that mean I have a scholarship?’ He said, ‘Yes, that’s what it means.’ That was a special moment.”
Tavani said that being retired doesn’t necessarily mean what it implies. “I’m retiring from this phase of my life,” he said. He’s not sure what he would do as a totally retired person and he still has an interest in coaching or being part of the game in the future.
“But I don’t want to be committed to 18 hours a day,” he said.
Retired sports columnist Paul Reinhard is a freelance writer.
Reinhard’s blog: www.ramblingsfromthebench.blogspot.com.
FRANK TAVANI’S CAREER
•Football coach for 40 years, 30 at Lafayette
•Head coach, Lafayette College 1999-2016
•Associate head coach, Lafayette, 1987-1999
•Assistant coach, Lebanon Valley, 1986-1987
•Assistant coach, Franklin & Marshall, College, 1976-1986
•2004 Patriot League Coach of the Year
•2004, finalist, Eddie Robinson National I-AA Coach of the Year Award
•Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, inducted Nov. 2006
•Lebanon Valley College Hall of Fame, inducted Oct. 1988
•First player in Lebanon Valley College history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1975), earning Associated Press All-America honors
•Lebanon Valley College, Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, 1975
Source: Lafayette College
- How Tony Gemignani’s pizza performance spun off a dining empire
- Henry Cisneros gives life lessons on building dreams
- Book World: In Michael Eric Dyson's new book, Jay-Z is the living embodiment of American ideals
- 2019 in books: what you'll be reading this year
- The Complete Guide to Jay-Z’s New Album
- Missouri coaching candidates: Mike Norvell, Bryan Harsin lead replacements for Barry Odom
- Preet Bharara: A crusader's tenure, a hero's exit
- What time is Daniel Dubois vs Ebenezer Tetteh? Start time and ring walks
- Celebrity deaths 2019: The famous faces and notable figures we said goodbye to this year
- The Ultimate Guide to Mortal Kombat: Games, Stories, Facts, Secrets
- Made for this: Derek Stingley Jr. is a can't-miss prodigy
- Sundance Unveils Female-Powered Lineup Featuring Taylor Swift, Gloria Steinem, Abortion Road Trip Drama
- Premiere Recap: Faster Than a Speeding Death Drop
- Sundance Film Festival Announces 2020 Lineup, Most Diverse Ever
- She was hanged in California 168 years ago — for murder or for being Mexican?
- The best albums of 2018
- Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’: A Track-by-Track Guide
- All 274 Jay-Z Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best
- How to Give Your Room a Cyberpunk Design Makeover
- Why Pastor Kumuyi cannot be wrong
Frank Tavani's legacy: Titles and teaching at Lafayette have 1533 words, post on www.mcall.com at November 29, 2016. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.