Legendary University at Albany head football coach Bob Ford said moving into the powerhouse Colonial Athletic Association this year was like going into a gunfight with a sharp knife.
So he jumped the gun and announced he will retire at the end of the season, no matter how well the Great Danes perform.
Ford, who enters his 44th season at UAlbany, including 40 years at the varsity level, is the NCAA Division I active leader with 264 career victories. His overall record is 264-180-1. He has 255 victories with the Great Danes and was named the NEC Coach of the Year four times.
The architect of UAlbany football not only started the program at the club level, but also led it through the Division III, Division II and Division I Football Championship Subdivision levels.
Ford could have waited until after the season to announce his retirement, but he didn’t want to make it look like he was bailing out on the team if it struggled.
“I didn’t want to turn it over to brand new coaches and let them take the hit,” he said Tuesday at the Great Danes’ annual media day.
Ford, whose team will compete in a brand new 8,500-seat stadium this season that is named after him, said he wouldn’t mind staying around the program in some capacity, but that he wouldn’t be seen on the sidelines. He also said that associate head coach Ryan McCarthy is ready for the job.
However, UAlbany officials didn’t name a successor. UAlbany athletic director Lee McElroy said there should be a smooth transition.
“What we want is a person who will be successful as a coach and a leader,” said McElroy. “We will assess where we are during the season. Obviously, the loyal coaches that have stayed with Bob for the last five years will be considered. We also expect to have a national search. Moving into a new league with a new stadium will certainly draw plenty of interest from around the country.”
McElroy said Tuesday’s press conference in SEFCU Arena’s Hall of Fame Room shouldn’t be seen as a sad day.
“I’ve worked with him for 13 years. I’ve also worked with such legendary coaches as Jack Pardee, and I played for the great Tommy Prothro. There are none better than coach Ford. He’s been a tremendous teacher, leader and coach. He has set the tone for this program, and whoever succeeds him has large shoes to fill.”
UAlbany junior quarterback Will Fiacchi said the news stunned the team, but that will provide added motivation.
“Obviously, this came as a big surprise to us,” Fiacchi said. “But it will be just another motivation for us. We want to send him out the way he deserves to go out, and that’s as a champion. We will do our best to have the greatest season that we can have.”
Ford admitted that the era of coaches staying around as long as he did at one school is coming to an end.
“That will never happen again in American athletics. People are too impatient,” he said.
Ford, who will turn 76 on Sept. 11, graduated from Springfield College. He got his master’s degree at St. Lawrence and his doctorate in physical education at Springfield. After four years as an assistant coach at St. Lawrence, Albright and Springfield, he served four years as the head coach at St. Lawrence and then one more as defensive coordinator at Springfield before becoming UAlbany’s first head coach in 1970.
“I was lucky at age 26 to become the youngest head college coach in America,” Ford said. “Then at 30, I was the youngest head coach to be fired. This is a seven-day, 80-hours-a-week job, and it requires a lot of enthusiasm. I still have a lot of enthusiasm, but as you get older, you lose some of that energy.”
Ford is still looking forward to coaching his team this year, despite all the retirement talk.
“My stepping down is a part of life,” he said. “I have mixed emotions about this. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I have so many great memories. I hope to hold the staff in place. In the last five years, we didn’t lose a coach, and I hope my successor comes out of the program.
“I enjoy the role of underdog,” he continued. “We have a new stadium, and we have a lot of excitement around the program. We will lose some games, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of this season. Certainly, we have a chance to win some games. I remember one of the biggest upsets we ever had was against one of the teams in this league, when we beat Joe Flacco and Delaware at Delaware. So it can be done.”
The Great Danes open the season Aug. 31 at Duquesne. Their first home game at the new Bob Ford Field will be Sept. 14 against Rhode Island.
“This has been a dream come true for me,” Ford said. “I’ve been fortunate to never have worked a day in my life. I love what I do.”