Audino not the problem at Union

We still don’t know if John Audino is headed to Columbia University to work on the staff of his form

We still don’t know if John Audino is headed to Columbia University to work on the staff of his former boss, Al Bagnoli.

Maybe Audino still doesn’t know for sure.

Columbia introduced Bagnoli as its new football coach on Tuesday, and in light of the decline in Union College’s football program over the last five years, this could be an opportunity for Audino to exit gracefully.

As the Bagnoli news came out on Monday, Audino wasn’t talking, which I guess is understandable for several reasons, especially if he hasn’t actually been asked to look at a formal contract offer yet. Maybe he’ll simply stay at Union.

Either way, Union football is at a crossroads. It’s just that this latest development provides a more comfortable and publicly palatable way to make a coaching transition, if Union is considering that route.

Thanks for your 23 years of service, John, thanks for your stellar overall record, your devotion to the program and your diligence in running a clean program that graduates its players. Congratulations on your new assignment, and all the best.

In October, when the Dutchmen were 0-4 and on the way to a 2-8 season, I asked athletic director Jim McLaughlin if Audino was on the hot seat. He said no, and that the athletic department stresses to its coaches that “it’s a lot more than X’s and O’s.”

I also asked him whether the boosters and fan base would start to get the feeling that Union has grown complacent or even indifferent toward its proud football program, and again he said no.

“The reason I have no concern about that is a simple reason: John Audino. He won’t be complacent.”

That doesn’t exactly answer the question, but, OK.

In fact, supporters of the program are not thrilled with its direction and how it’s being treated by the department, which is compounded by the fact that it puts the loyal Aud­ino in a bad light.

He didn’t suddenly forget how to coach football, but the fact remains that Union is 19-30 (.388) over the last five seasons at the tail end of a 23-year span in which the Dutchmen are 152-79 (.658).

Five years isn’t an aberration, it’s a trend.

So Union faced two scenarios – firing Audino, or not firing Audino but leaving everyone to contemplate, if Audino isn’t the problem, then what is?

Neither scenario is pleasant.

But the third scenario that presented itself via this potential Columbia story would give Union the opportunity to start fresh and deflect attention from the recent problems.

Granted, the five-year stretch includes two 6-4 seasons, but overall, it doesn’t come close to matching what the school and its supporters have come to expect from the football team.

I won’t be convinced that Audino-to-Columbia is a done deal until it’s just that, a done deal.

As he told me in October, “Union College is my second family.”

Columbia, whose football program has been a national laughingstock for years, formally introduced Bagnoli at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The obvious question was, why in God’s name would an Ivy League legend come out of retirement from Penn, where he won nine league titles in 23 years, to coach a league rival with such a history of incompetence on the field?

Well, the office job Bagnoli moved into at Penn didn’t nearly live up to what he expects from himself, for one thing.

“I’m glad I had three months to test administration, and I’m much more comfortable working with student-athletes,”

Bagnoli said. “And, I’m well rested. It was like a three-month sabbatical.”

On Columbia’s awful history as a football program — the Lions have a 21-game losing streak that is the long­est active one in the country — he drily said, “Well, if you like challenges, this is the job to take.”

And on the question that Capital Region sports fans are most interested in, whether Audino would be on his staff, he said, “We have a couple people lined up, and I would rather wait until we have people here.”

That means we probably won’t know until the end of the week at the earliest, since Bagnoli will be pre-occupied with regularly scheduled Ivy League coaches meetings today.

If Audino does go to Columbia, Union football still faces a deteriorating situation.

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