Philadelphia, PA – Bob Ford figured he would stay on as the University of Albany football coach for about three or four years after he was hired in 1970.
As a young coach, he anticipated the Albany position would be a professional stepping-stone to one at a bigger school.
Forty-three seasons later, Ford remains Albany's only head coach since the program was reinstated after a 46-year absence.
Once at Albany, he soon learned, "It was a little different than just a job because I started the program. It was more of my baby. This is my child, this is something that has special meaning to me, not just a place I happen to work for three or four years."
Now 75, he doesn't feel like the oldest head football coach in Division I. He's energetic, positive and can laugh at himself quite well. Plus the student-athletes in the program have helped keep him feeling young.
Ford started the program as a club team and since taken it to NCAA Division III, II and now I on the FCS level. He has a 252-158 varsity record at Albany with another 12 wins on the club level.
After leading Albany to a fifth NEC title and its first FCS playoff bid last year, the Great Danes are eyeing another bid this season as they sit alone in first place. They feature the FCS' leading scorer, senior running back Drew Smith, an excellent group of receivers and linebackers, and a team determined to leave the NEC as champions again.
A year from now, Albany will move from the Northeast Conference to the larger CAA Football.
In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Ford discusses his many years at Albany and what lies ahead.
Let's kick off:
TSN: Your team has played well against a strong schedule. What have you learned about this year's group?
BF: I love them, I absolutely love them. My wife said to me about five weeks ago, 'You really like this team, don't you?' And I said I really love 'em. They are a great, great bunch of kids. We've got a good smattering of seniors, juniors, sophomores and a couple redshirt freshmen in there. There's leaders at every position. They've got a strong work ethic, they take great pride in what they do. As important, they are just superb kids as well as being pretty good football players.
TSN: You've been at Albany for 43 years. What have you found to be most meaningful about coaching football and leading people?
BF: Well, I think my goals have never changed since I got into this business. I went to a school called Springfield College and they really emphasized the human being-aspect of things. I've always felt that my No. 1 goal was to try to turn out what I call good human beings. I know that sounds kind of cliche and trite, but I think you're blessed with kids 17 to 21 for a short period of time. It's nice if you recruit all Eagle Scouts; that's virtually impossible. So I say to the squad when we start the season I have three grades of sandpaper in my drawers, and it's light sanding, and then there's medium and then there's heavy grit.
But our job is to turn out good kids who can impact society. I think our second goal is to turn out good students ... I think the things they learn by becoming a good student - time management and meeting deadlines and doing the best you can - says volumes about preparing them for the next stage in life. And then our third goal is to turn out pretty good football players. That keeps us employed. You can't accomplish the other two unless you're employed. I think that's what we try to do. Our staff does a good job of turning C's into B's and the B's into A's. I think if you're doing that on a regular basis and you can stay healthy, then you have a fighting chance of turning out a decent product.
TSN: There's a considerable jump from the NEC to the CAA ("Major," Ford interjects). What tells you that your program is ready for that?
BF: Well, I'm not sure we are because we're not at 63 scholarships. And at the same time, we've beaten Maine two out of the last three years with 35 scholarships. We beat Delaware at Delaware (in 2006) with I think it was 31 scholarships at the time. Now it's one thing to play one of those teams a year. It's another thing to go Villanova, Delaware, James Madison and the University of New Hampshire four weeks in a row. I don't know whether we have everything we need to go on that level and have some degree of success.
We're moving from 38 scholarships, which is what our conference allows, (but) we're only at 35. We're going to try to go to 54 next year. Obviously, that will help. At the same time, most teams don't win with a whole bunch of freshmen. You win with upperclass guys for the most part. So it will be an interesting transition. I think that's where the institution belongs. How long it will take us to have success there? It's hard to say.
TSN: How does the move to the CAA affect your retirement plan?
BF: (He laughs). Well, there's two ways at looking at it, I think. And that's what I'm doing. One says, let's win the conference championship this year, let's go out ranked, let's go to the NCAA playoffs, see if we can get an NCAA win, see how far we can take this team and then ride off into the sunset and say, 'It's been a hell of a career here.' The other side of the coin says, they're just naming a field in your honor, they're building the stadium, we're entering the CAA, wouldn't you love to have that challenge?
TSN: You wear a cowboy hat in your official team headshot. What can you tell us about that kind of style?
BF: It's kind of interesting because first of all I love country and western music. But my dad suffered from skin cancer at one point in his life. You're out in the sun coaching a lot, especially in preseason. Saratoga, which is a local community about six miles from where we live, has this hat store, and they have great people up there during the summer months. Anyway, I bought a straw cowboy hat and I wore it all through the fall - September, October. And it sort of became a trademark, not only just wearing it, but it just sort of became a trademark. Now when it gets to be November, I no longer have a straw hat because you look like a dufus in November with a straw hat, so I have one of those winter hats. I guess you call them cowboy type-looking hats.