Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 52
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
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HOMECOMING: New Princeton University football head coach Bob Surace, center, together with wife, Lisa, and Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters, are all smiles after Surace’s hiring was announced last Wednesday. Surace, 41, is a 1990 Princeton alum who was an All-Ivy League center during his Tiger football career. His wife is a 1992 Princeton alum who starred for the Tiger women’s soccer team. Surace, who is replacing dismissed 10-year coach Roger Hughes, has been an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals the last eight years and was a head coach at Western Connecticut State University before that.

Former PU All-Ivy Center Surace Coming Home as New Head Coach of Tiger Football Program

Bill Alden

Bob Surace had the time of his life during his playing days on the Princeton University football team in the late 1980s.

The Millville, N.J. native was an All-Ivy League center who culminated his career by playing on the 1989 league co-champions team.

When Surace (pronounced “suh-RACE”) looks back on his days at Princeton, though, the highlights extend far beyond the football field.

“There were a lot of great memories that were made here,” said Surace, 41, a 1990 Princeton alum.

“Of teammates that I had; going to class here and competing against and working with the best students in the world. I got to meet my wife here. It is a place where we have always felt we can call home.”

Last Wednesday, Surace proved that one can come home again as he was named as the new head coach of the Princeton University football program.

Surace, who is replacing dismissed 10-year coach Roger Hughes, has been an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals the last eight years and was a head coach at Western Connecticut State University before that.

In meeting the media at his introductory press conference, the square-jawed, affable Surace maintained that his Princeton background will serve him well as he looks to turn around a program that has posted three straight 4-6 campaigns.

“I know the demands that the players have from an academic standpoint and all the challenges that they have,” said Surace, whose wife, Lisa, was a four-year letter winner for the Princeton women’s soccer team and holds a PhD in psychology.

“I know that the kids who decide to come to Princeton are kids who want to be the best in all aspects of their life. I am pleased and excited to be a mentor and a role model; somebody who challenges them on the athletic fields to reach their goals.”

As the son of a successful high school football and baseball coach, Surace has gained plenty of lessons on athletic fields.

“Being around the kids that my dad was coaching, I saw the different things that they learned on the athletic fields that they transferred on to their jobs, college or later on life,” said Surace, whose father, Tony, was a longtime coach at Millville High.

“You realize that you educate somebody as a whole. We are going to be very demanding in meetings and on the practice field and hopefully the things they learn from myself and the coaching staff are things they can apply when they become extremely successful in the real world.”

Being immersed in the world of the NFL for the last eight years has helped Surace hone his craft.

“I needed, from an Xs and Os and schematic standpoint, to work under guys like Marvin Lewis, Bob Bratkowski, Paul Alexander, and Mike Zimmer to be somebody who would be considered for this job,” said Surace, who has been an assistant offensive line coach for the last six seasons.

“What we do in Cincinnati is to break barriers, Coach Lewis is always pushing our guys to reach a new level. One thing we say is that there are no limits. We don’t set limits on the guys and hopefully they keep pushing themselves to gain more success.”

But as he takes the helm at Princeton, Surace’s experience as a head coach at Division III Western Connecticut in 2000 and 2001 may be even more relevant than the expertise he has gained in the NFL.

“I have been forced to make tough decisions,” said Surace, who guided the Colonials to an 18-3 mark as head coach.

“Whether it is from a strategic or game management standpoint or whether it is having to make a decision on who the starting quarterback is, you know that you are ultimately accountable. People here are going to look to me being accountable and being responsible for the product that is on the field. Hopefully we have a smart team, a tough team, a disciplined team, and a team that is an unselfish team. If we do those four things, I think we will be competitive with anybody.”

Since he will be splitting his time between Princeton and the playoff-bound Bengals over the next month, Surace knows he has put together a solid coaching staff so he doesn’t fall behind the Ivy competition.

“We are going to hire a really good staff; we are going to take our time and do our due diligence,” said Surace, who indicated that he would consider the assistant coaches still under contract at Princeton.

“The fortunate thing with the Bengals is that we do a lot of scouting on campuses. We get to evaluate players and while I am there I talk to coaches. I think I have a great pulse of the 1-AA football league and some of the 1-A leagues. Knowing what’s out there from the Ivy, the Colonial and Patriot and some of the leagues such as the MAC, I think that there will be a great pool of candidates. This is a very attractive place to be; the facilities here are top notch and there is not a better place to raise a family.”

Surace is chomping at the bit to get on the recruiting trail and add some new players to the Princeton football family.

“I can’t wait; this place is a unique place,” said Surace, who is the first PU alum to guide the football program since Bob Casiola (1973-1977) and becomes the eighth alum currently serving as a head coach of a team at his alma mater.

“We have a saying in the NFL when a guy has unbelievable traits, we say he is ‘rare.’ When you look at colleges around the U.S., this is a rare place. It takes a unique individual who is extremely successful in all aspects of their life to go here. It is such a special place and the kids who are here have such a special quality about them. Hopefully as the head football coach, I can find what makes them tick as football players and get them to play together.”

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