A multifaceted effort to rebuild Occidental's football program is now underway in the wake of an earlier decision to cancel the last four games of the 2017 season due to a depleted roster and player safety concerns.
The push includes hiring a new full-time assistant coach, a full-time athletics recruiting coordinator, and the involvement of such distinguished alumni as former NFL coach Jim Mora '57, National College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bill Redell '64 and former Los Angeles Raiders running back Vance Mueller '86.
Head Coach Rob Cushman's contract has been extended through the end of the 2018-19 school year, new player equipment is being purchased, and additional fundraising efforts are underway, President Jonathan Veitch wrote in an Oct. 31 message to the Occidental community. "Our goal will be to field a team with a minimum of 60 players, with enough depth at each position to play safely."
The Tigers have fielded a football team since 1894, winning 20 SCIAC Championships along the way. Oxy's most recent championship was 2008, but the team has finished in third place in the conference standings in three of the last five years. Some of the program's more recent successes include Kwame Do '16, SCIAC's all-time leading rusher, and Bryan Scott '17, SCIAC's all-time leading passer. Oxy football also produced the late Andy Collins '07, who won 26 straight regular season games and advanced to the postseason each season during his three-year tenure as quarterback (2004–2006).
See President Veitch's full letter below:
I write to update you on the football program and the steps we have taken since our last communication. Since then I have been reaching out to our alumni-athletes and doing a lot of listening. It is clear to me just how much their experience playing football at Occidental has meant to them. Football has a long and storied history that is woven into the fabric of Occidental, and I want to begin by acknowledging that.
We face two challenges: 1) determining how we can safely and effectively field a program next year; and 2) identifying what will be required to sustain a competitive long-term program.
1) With respect to next year:
We all know that the key to putting a football team on the field next year depends on the success of our recruitment efforts. That begins with the retention of our current football players. Toward that end, Head Coach Rob Cushman has been sitting down with our student-athletes to gauge their disposition toward returning. In addition, Rob and his staff are devoting themselves to the recruitment of a robust incoming class. With the cessation of the football season they can give this effort their undivided attention.
To ensure their success, the College has implemented a number of concrete steps:
- To stabilize the program we have asked Rob Cushman to stay on as head coach through the end of 2018-19 academic year.
- He will be aided by an additional full-time assistant coach who can help with recruitment.
- In addition, we have authorized a new position, a full-time recruiter for Athletics -- versed in data analytics as well as other proven tactics and strategies -- to ensure a robust recruitment effort across all sports in an effort to bring the very best student-athletes to Occidental. Until we identify the right person for this new position, we will solicit the help of an outside consultant to help with recruitment.
- We have asked Bill Redell '64 to serve as a special advisor to the football program. Bill is an Oxy Athletic Hall of Fame inductee and a legendary coach in Southern California. He will lend his expertise to our football program and help with the recruitment of student-athletes. Bill will be joined by Jim Mora '57, Vance Mueller '86, and a number of other accomplished alumni-athletes who have enthusiastically agreed to meet with recruits and make phone calls on our behalf.
- We have evaluated our pads, helmets and other personal gear and will buy new equipment based on coaches' recommendations.
- We will be canvassing our alumni (especially those who played football) to see what financial resources they are willing to devote to the long-term sustainability of the football program. This will be crucial to any effort to build a successful football team.
2) With respect to the long-term prospects of the football program:
We will continue to meet with a working group of football alumni (led by Vance Mueller and Mike Tromello '04 M'05), who have been asked for their input on the elements necessary to ensure a competitive and sustainable football program long-term. A number of issues remain unresolved, and we still have some work to do before we are aligned with the alumni working group. Our conversations thus far have been positive and productive. Their recommendations will be provided to a task force on athletics composed of representatives from each of the following constituencies:
- Football Alumni
- Senior College leadership
- Athletics Department leadership
- Admissions standards, financial aid and the demographics of the future student population
- Title IX
- The health and safety of our students
- Fundraising and long-term financial support from Oxy alumni
- Our 2014 Strategic Plan for Athletics
Finally, I hope these important and consequential discussions can be conducted with respect for all the parties involved. The record thus far has been mixed with the good intentions and even the integrity of those involved called into question. If we succumb to rancor and divisiveness we will undermine the fundamental premise of a shared community, along with the prospect of any meaningful discussion. I know we all want the very best for our students and your beloved alma mater -- even when we disagree with one another. If we keep that goal in mind, then there is no limit to what we can accomplish together.