After 23 incredibly successful years running the Penn football program, Al Bagnoli is retiring.
At a surprising press conference in late April, outgoing athletic director Steve Bilsky W’71 announced that Bagnoli would step down at the conclusion of the 2014 season and that longtime defensive coordinator Ray Priore would step into the role as the George A. Munger Head Coach of Football.
“It’s obviously bittersweet,” Bagnoli said. “When you’ve been here so long and you get an opportunity to call Franklin Field your home, and you get an opportunity to work with some great student-athletes … I’ve been truly blessed. Not many people have had the opportunity to be a head coach as long as I’ve had the opportunity to be.”
Bagnoli will leave Penn as the winningest coach in Penn’s illustrious 137-year football history and as the only Ivy coach to capture nine outright league championships. He is currently the active wins leader in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA).
“They are legendary,” Bilsky said of Bagnoli’s accomplishments. “In my opinion, they rank among the greatest coaches in Ivy League history—or really football history, for that matter.”
Relishing the chance for more free time and not wanting to “overstay his welcome,” the 61-year-old Bagnoli said he started thinking about retirement over the past few years, during which he and Bilsky began to formulate a succession plan.
While it will be hard for anyone to replace such an accomplished coach, Bagnoli believes his handpicked replacement is up to the task. Priore, after all, has been coaching at Penn even longer than Bagnoli, having joined the staff in 1987 and risen through the ranks.
“I’m very lucky to be at the right place at the right time,” Priore said.
Priore added that he feels lucky to spend one more season on the sidelines with Bagnoli. And Bagnoli, who hopes to remain at Penn in an administrative role in the future, plans to make his last season a special one.
“I’m happy to point out he’s still our coach,” said Bilsky, who will be succeeded as Penn’s athletic director by M. Grace Calhoun on July 1 [“Gazetteer,” May|June]. “And I can’t think of a better ending to his career at Penn than to hold up that trophy in November after we play Cornell [in the season finale].
“Or it’s OK if he wants to clinch the championship earlier.”
—Dave Zeitlin C’03