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Albany coach content with his home
UAlbany football coach Bob Ford is telling the story of his dad Christopher, and how he moved young Bob and the rest of his family all over New England.
“We lived in all six New England states and 14 towns in Massachusetts,” Ford said the other day after practice. “Almost ever spring he would say to my mom, ‘Pack up, I have a chance at another job.’ ”
Dad peddled pots and pans, sold insurance, ran a gas station, worked border patrol and construction and for the railroad and a bunch of other jobs the son can’t recall or never learned about.
“He was always in search of The Job. And he never found it. And I found it right out of college.”
Now it made sense, it seemed, why Ford stayed all these years in Albany, turning down opportunities at Syracuse and Bucknell decades back, why he’s in his 42nd year here (39th with a varsity program) with no signs of slowing down or letting up.
Uh, coach, I’m no psychologist, but do you see the link, moving around so much as a kid then staying in one place so long even in a business known for its nomadic ways?
“Should I lie down for the next couple of questions?” he said with chuckle. Ford laughs a lot for a football coach, for anybody. “It was certainly the opposite of how my dad lived his life.”
The 74-year-old waved the question off at first and talked about his path in coaching coming out of Springfield College. But pressed again about his roving youth and rooted career, he sincerely said he never thought about a connection — hard to believe, but you believe him. No, he finally says after some thought, he stayed because he liked the area, and because of the program he built from scratch. He was going to see it through.
Forty-two years is a ridiculously long time in one place for one coach. That’s Joe Paterno-like — the only man he trails among active Division I coaches in victories. But that seemed normal to him.
“My first coaching job was at a little school down in Pennsylvania, Albright College,” he said. (That actually came after a year at St. Lawrence, where he would return for four years as a head coach.) “Down there the head football coach goes 35 years. The head basketball coach goes 35 years. I thought that’s the way it was done.”
Now consider it’s been 34 years since Ford last took a Great Danes team to an NCAA playoff appearance, then in Division III.
There have been postseason games since, to be sure, and three bowl games, and some great, great seasons. But the tournament has been out of reach. But with the Northeast Conference getting an automatic bid in 2010, the NCAAs are now back in play — very much in play.
“We were Division III and independent,” Ford said. “Back then they didn’t select as many teams to go to the NCAA playoffs. Then we got into this conference, and we didn’t have an automatic bid. So there was no way to go anywhere.
“Now we have a shot at it if we keep winning.”
UAlbany is 3-0 in the NEC (4-2 overall) with key tie-breakers heading into Saturday’s game at Central Connecticut State. The Great Danes could still absorb a conference loss and win a title, but as Ford said “you’d rather shut the door.”
Normally toward the end of November Ford is heading off to his second home in Cape Cod for Thanksgiving with his family. Maybe not this year, not with this team. He’s already told them to be prepared to spend the holidays here — or points unknown.
This has been an unexpected season, a different season, in so many ways. The emergence of senior quarterback Dan Di Lella, both as a strong-armed passer and a surprisingly effective runner, as well as a cadre of young skill position players complementing returning starters, gives Albany a bevy of weapons and a promise of something special.
Unexpected. It’s even more jarring to see a UAlbany team run a spread offense, which is what it does more than half the time. It’s startling at first to see a program known for smash-mouth football using the pass to set up the run.
“You have to go with the personnel,” offensive coordinator Ryan McCarthy said. “When things are working, it’s a heck of a lot easier.”
Ford said the changes came when the staff realized the Danes didn’t have the bruisers up front to push people around. Principles and identity are one thing, flexibility another. And there’s this:
“There is some survival instinct in this business.” That he has.
Why leave now? Ford and his wife Donna are in good health. He’s toyed with public speaking, and says he makes a mean birdhouse, but there’s nothing else beyond coaching he would like to do more. (A master story-teller, he really should write a book.) The 12-hour days have yet to overwhelm him.
It’s a different job than the one he took, obviously, when he had to write and print the programs and take it to the printers in Ballston Spa.
“I started it with a club team. We were going to have six full-time coaches and a stadium and all those things.
“I was here three years and we got our first full-time assistant.
“I was here six years and we got our second full-time assistant.
“And then I waited 32 years to get our third full-time assistant.
“Now I’ve waited (42) for a stadium. I’m still looking …”
Like father, like son: Still searching. Does anyone have a couch for a counseling session?
Nah. You can dismiss that one with a wave of the hand and chuckle. Ford found what he wanted years ago.
by Mark McGuire, Times Union