Mac Football pushes for change from top down

By William Kennedy

Entering the off season, Macalester’s football program needed a sea change after yet another dismal year. Now a new head coach is looking to provide. Glenn Caruso, previously the offensive coordinator at the University of South Dakota, took over the position on Dec. 15 of last year, a month after the resignation of Dennis Czech. Young and contagiously enthusiastic, Caruso is looking to improve everything about the team, from its record to its image on campus. “I want people’s reaction to be a positive one when they think of Mac football,” he said. “Right now it isn’t.”

A Connecticut native and 1996 graduate of Ithaca College in New York, Caruso played center for his alma mater’s football team and since then has used his knowledge of the game to recruit, train and coach players for several teams.

One of over 90 applicants, Caruso was selected quickly for the job, athletic director Travis Feezell said, in part so that he could begin recruiting for next year, in part because Feezell wanted him to meet the players before break, and in part because he emerged as the man for the job.

“He rose to the cream of the [applicant pool] crop,” Feezell said.

The players, for their part, have also responded positively to Caruso. “I like him a lot,” said line backer Peter Christenson ’07. “He’s got a lot of energy and that makes it easy to get on board.”

Along with his energy, Caruso’s previous achievements are some of his best recommendations. Under his guidance, the offense at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire averaged over 30 points and 400 yards a game. At the division II USD, he improved those numbers to almost 600 yards a game and nearly 50 points. Caruso hopes to continue that trend of success at Mac, but that won’t be easy, as many are well aware.

Even among Caruso’s friends and family, Mac’s troubled reputation set off alarms. Upon accepting the job, Caruso said that he received some “congratulatory” calls, asking if he was crazy.

If winning is the new coach’s goal for the program then there may be some basis for those concerns as Caruso has arguably accepted one of the hardest jobs in football: making Mac football a winner. The college has just one victory in the last two seasons and according to the new coach, has the smallest squad of players in the nation right now. Judging from these facts there does not appear to be much material for building a program.

Those facts however, do not appear to faze Caruso, who recognizes the challenge before him, but adds that the outlook for the program is not as bleak as it might appear.

“The team is not in intensive care anymore, but its still on life support,” he said. “I know this [that success] will be a very tough hill, but I also know that things here are in place for good athletics.”

Caruso sites the pledge to fully support football from President Brian Rosenberg and the athletic department as a good sign for the program’s future, but also the commitment of the few players the team has.

Caruso had an opportunity to meet with the team before break and liked what he witnessed.

“I saw a lot of guys who want to be led in a positive manner for a common goal,” he said. The number of players, however, was not to his liking, and Caruso acknowledged that the team needs more players to be successful.

“You need to have somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy plus guys even just to practice right,” he said. “We need to get the numbers back up to a level where we can compete in every single game.”

Subtracting the graduating senior class from the roster, the team currently has 32 players, which means Coach Caruso has less than half a full squad right now. Carleton College, by contrast, is slated to return over 70 players next year.

In the past Macalester has found itself trapped in a nasty cycle: wins invariably bring recruits, but it is a good recruiting class that brings in wins. Lately Macalester has been short on both. To make the school more attractive to players, Caruso is looking to highlight the appeal of Macalester, mainly the school’s location, academics, and campus–the same things, Caruso said, that lured him away from his previous job.

Assisting him in these early efforts, Caruso selected Travis Walch, formerly the offensive coordinator of Carleton, to make up a key part of his new staff. Walch’s role on the team is not yet decided, as Caruso plans to take the lead with the team’s offense himself, but Caruso said that Walch’s general football knowledge and particular knowledge of coaching at a highly academic college will prove invaluable to the team, whatever his official capacity ends up being.

The pair are certainly not wasting any time in their effort to revamp Mac football and have already changed the team’s website to make it friendlier to recruits. In addition, a recruiting weekend was held over break to introduce potential football first-years to the school. At least two more of these weekends are planned for the coming weeks.

Another essential piece of Caruso’s plan to change football at Mac is to close a divide that he sees between the football team and the rest of campus. At a school whose rallying cry could be “we’re not a football school” this may be another long-term project, but again Caruso is optimistic.

“Mac Celebrates diversity in so many ways,” he said, “there has to be room for Mac to embrace football.”

Caruso believes that mending this relationship may help football move ahead on its practical goals of getting some wins and ultimately getting back into the MIAC.

“Good football and a good liberal arts education aren’t mutually exclusive,” Caruso said. If there are students on campus who have played football in the past or are interested in playing but for whatever reason haven’t come out yet, he added, “my door is always open.