Big Green Is Back: The Resurgence Of Dartmouth Football

Nov 11, 2014

If you opened one of Buddy Teevens’ veins, no one would be surprised if the blood that flowed was colored Dartmouth green.  Over the school’s 125-year football history, it would be difficult to find someone  whose life has been more closely tied to the program than Teevens’.

Teevens, 57,  is on his second tour as the school’s head football coach. It has taken time, but he has made Dartmouth relevant again in the Ivy League after it fell out of the competitive conversation for a decade. The Big Green is 6-2 overall and 4-1 in conference play heading into Saturday’s final home game against Brown.

But coaching is only one element of Teevens’ connection to Hanover. He was a star quarterback for the Big Green, leading the team to back-to-back Ivy League titles and earning conference player of the year honors in 1978. He was a letter winner on the Dartmouth hockey team that finished third in the NCAA championships in 1979.

Teevens followed his father (a hockey standout in the early 1950s) to Dartmouth and he was, in turn, followed by his younger brother (football and hockey) and sister (an All-East track and field performer).

“Dartmouth has been a huge part of my life,” Teevens said. “And it has been deep source of satisfaction to see things turn around here.”

After graduating in 1979 with a degree in history, returned to Dartmouth the first time in 1987. After a 2-8-debut season, he went 24-14-2 in the next four, including a combined 12-1-1 in conference the final two years.

That success led to head coaching jobs at Tulane and then Stanford. But the closest Teevens came to even finishing at .500 was back-to-back 4-7 seasons at Stanford in 2003-04.

Let go by the Cardinal, Teevens came back to Hanover in 2005 but it was anything but a soft landing. Dartmouth had been 16-53 the previous seven seasons and the competitive hole Teevens had to fill was gigantic. He went 9-41 in five years, including a 0-10 campaign in 2008.

“Essentially, nothing had changed and that was a big part of the problem,” Teevens said of the football and athletic environment. “Everyone had moved forward with resources, facilities, everything. “It was like I had stepped back in time – even the wear marks on the carpets were the same.”

But change was in the air. A renewed commitment from the administration, athletic department and alumni provided the financial backing for major upgrades in facilities, recruiting budgets and infrastructure.

A FieldTurf artificial surface was laid down on Memorial Field in 2006 and lights were added in 2011. The Floren Varsity House opened in 2007, allowing athletes to trade a tiny weight room in a converted attic in Memorial Field house for 10,000 square feet of training, dressing and conference facilities.

“We had little wins and the Floren Center was a game-changer,” Teevens said. “We had meager gains in terms of wins and losses but I saw steady improvement. I’m indebted (to the school administration) that I wasn’t giving my walking papers because it would have been easy to have given me a pink slip.”

Teevens and his staff not only had to change the culture but also the perception of Dartmouth football from prospect recruits and those on the outside measuring the merits of the program.

“We were undermanned and the word was that if you valued football, Dartmouth wasn’t the place to go,” Teevens said. “We had to preach a team-first mentality and we needed for some guys to take a chance on us.”

One of those who embraced this approach was A.J. Zuttah, a junior defensive tackle from New Jersey. Teevens had recruited one of Zuttah’s older brothers at Stanford before illness ended that brother’s football career.

“Coach T. coached my brother and I always admired the way he conducted himself,” Zuttah said. “I really wanted to be a part of building something, of turning things around and this was a chance to do that.”

The turning point came with 2010’s 6-4 record. The Big Green has gone 23-15 since then, 17-10 in conference, closing the gap on current kingpin Harvard.

“Earlier, the feeling inside the locker room may have been that guys didn’t take football as seriously as they should have,” said Sean Ronan, a senior captain from south Florida. “But now we have players who have signed on to the idea that we can be a championship program.”

At the epicenter to Dartmouth’s resurgence has been junior quarterback Dalyn Williams, the Ivy League rookie of the year as a freshman. He has thrown for just under 1,600 yards with 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions this year while rushing for running for six more scores.

Running back Kyle Bramble has more than 900 combined yards rushing and receiving while scoring 10 times and wide out Ryan McManus has caught 45 passes for 629 yards and four scores.

“We now have a championship caliber team,” Teevens said. “What does that mean? It means we can play well and contend for titles. That didn’t exist when I first came in. But now I know I can go out and get this done.”

MIDDLEBURY/NORWICH

Middlebury College capped another successful season Saturday by thrashing Tufts 48-13 to finish 6-2 and third in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Coach Bob Ritter’s Panthers are 20-4 over the last three seasons and junior quarterback Matt Milano is a star on the ascent.

Milano took over for record-setting QB McCallum Foote and completed 62 percent of his passes while throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Matt Minno topped a full house of talented receivers who will return next season with 456 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Norwich will carry a 7-2 record and a five-game winning streak into its season finale Saturday against Castleton at Sabine Field in Northfield. The Cadets, 5-1 and in second place behind Husson in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, has relied on senior running back Al Georgio. He has rushed for just under 800 yards and six touchdowns.