Seven years ago, David Archer ’05 crouched on the Red offensive line, protecting his quarterback alongside Super Bowl Champion Kevin Boothe ’05. This year, he will stand proudly on the sidelines as the 27th head coach of Cornell football, protecting the Red’s hopes of its first Ivy League title in over 20 years.
A former captain of the Red’s football squad, Archer will take the reins as head coach after the departure of Kent Austin, who has accepted the joint position of vice president of football operations, general manager and head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Austin made an impact early on in his three seasons with the Red, guiding the team to its first .500 campaign since 2007 in just his second season on the sidelines. Though Austin’s sudden departure did come as a surprise to the football program, the Cornell community respects his decision.
“Coach Austin felt so strongly towards Cornell; he loved it here,” Archer said. “Football is such a crazy business that you’re always on the market. He turned down several opportunities, but this was something that came his way that he couldn’t turn down. He had to do what was best for his family. We wish him the best of luck with Hamilton.”
Austin came to Cornell in the same year as junior quarterback Jeff Mathews. He coached him to a unanimous Ivy League Rookie of the Year selection in his first year and a Bushnell Cup Award for Offensive Player of the Year in his sophomore season. Because Austin is the only head coach Mathews has known as a Red player, he said he feels that Austin played an integral role in molding him into the successful college quarterback he has become.
“I learned so much from him as far as how to play the game, definitely offensively and learning defensive game plans,” Mathews said.
Though Austin had age and experience on his side — he spent two years as the offensive coordinator at Mississippi and 15 seasons as a CFL player, assistant and head coach — Archer has the advantage of inside knowledge on the workings of Cornell football. According to Mathews, putting together a team to compete in the Ivy League is a much different job than at schools that have athletic scholarships readily available.
“The key thing to understand is this is a different coaching job than elsewhere, because to recruit student athletes is a narrow search process compared to other schools,” Mathews said.
Similar to Mathews and his teammates, Archer was recruited to play at Cornell and understands the pressure and responsibility this brings.
“Coach Archer realizes the opportunities Cornell brings to players and this is huge. He’s been here for so long and I think this has some advantages. I’m excited to play for him,” Mathews said.
Archer also acknowledged that the time he spent as a player at Cornell will have a profound effect on the way he coaches this team. A former economics major in the College of Arts and Siences, Archer cannot overlook the work ethic that is synonymous with being a successful student-athlete.
“I hope it helps me keep a pulse on what it is like to be a student-athlete here at Cornell. I understand you can’t always block out having a prelim and just go concentrate on football,” Archer said. “I’m proud of my Cornell degree every day and I know what these kids are going through.”
After graduating from Cornell in 2005, Archer spent two years with the Teach for America program before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. He had the difficult job of creating well-rounded recruiting classes, some of which included Mathews, senior wide receiver Shane Savage and freshman running back Luke Hagy — another candidate for Rookie of the Year.
“As recruiting coordinator I was the lead of that effort, but we had guys on the staff that worked incredibly hard,” Archer said. “Each guy had a different territory in the country, so several guys chose to come here and I didn’t have much of a hand in it, while others I had a lot to do with.”
According to Mathews — one of those players Archer helped bring to Cornell — his new coach’s familiarity with the recruits will be especially important.
“He’s had the role of bringing most of the players to Cornell; I was one of them,” Mathews said. “He understands the type of athletes that will do well here and he does a great job of getting guys interested.”
Archer, however, remained humble about the impressive job he has done as recruiting coordinator these past few years.
“I in no way take credit for what’s been going on here,” he said. “That’s what I love about football, it’s the ultimate team game and I want to be part of an effective team.”
At just 30 years old, Archer is now the youngest Division I head football coach in the country. His youth, however, does not seem to bother his players.
“We’re not worried and he isn’t either,” Mathews said. “I think the most important thing is he fits in at Cornell because he understands how we run as a unit … age and experience is not really something we worry about.”
With a wide network of support at Cornell, Archer is also confident that his age will not be a hindrance.
“I think if I were taking a job at a school that I hadn’t been at, it would be a challenge,” Archer said. “But I have a great relationship with the team and parts of campus and I look forward to the increased role I will have.”
After working alongside Austin for three years, Archer has seen what it takes to mold a successful football program and will continue to build on the solid foundation Austin created.
“We always want to do what our players are good at, we want to work tirelessly as coaches to be in the best position to be successful,” Archer said. “The key word in football is balance, multiplicity in what you do, but also balance. If you are predictable, you are vulnerable.”
Age and experience aside, his biggest challenge as head coach will possibly be gaining some much-needed support for his football program. Archer has certainly embraced this, taking the microphone during halftime of Saturday’s basketball game in order to get the crowd excited for the upcoming football season. He hopes to attack this obstacle in a similar manner to the way he recruited players.
“I need to recruit everybody,” he said. “I need to continue to recruit great players, but also fans and the entire campus and get them excited about Cornell football, because it’s all about the people.”