New coach Jon Poppe sets Ivy League title goal for Columbia


Columbia football has a new coach — and he brings a reunion with lofty expectations.

When an energetic, impassioned Jon Poppe approached the podium inside Columbia’s gymnasium on Wednesday, he spoke of promises to fulfill, goals to reach and a culture to build, but made one thing clear: he was hired to bring Columbia a championship.

For a Columbia football program with a singular Ivy League title — won back in 1961 — championships are hard to come by.

Jon Poppe was clear in his intentions to bring an Ivy League title to Columbia. Columbia University Athletics / Stockton Photo.

But Poppe, who spent three seasons at Columbia as a secondary coach and recruiting coordinator from 2015-17, appeared ready to accept that challenge.

“We will never be complacent,” Poppe said.

“The hunger is always going to exist. We’re going to focus on recruiting efforts on the best and brightest. … We want young people here that desire to be challenged.”

The 38-year-old New Jersey native returns to Morningside Heights after successful stints at Harvard as a secondary and special teams coach and one year as a head coach at Union College.

Poppe won three Ivy League championships while on Harvard’s staff. Columbia University Athletics / Stockton Photo.

Poppe led the Garnet Chargers to a 10-2 record and the second round of the Division III Tournament last season, adding four wins to the team’s record and earning him a look when the Columbia job became available.

He succeeds interim head coach Mark Fabish, a former offensive coordinator who stepped into the head-coaching role unexpectedly in 2023 when Al Bagnoli, a nine-time Ivy champion, retired six weeks before the season opener due to health concerns.

Bagnoli, who served as a head coach for 40 years and compiled 274 wins, was coaxed out of retirement in 2015 to resurrect a Columbia program that had finished winless in consecutive seasons.

He did just that, the team’s best season during his tenure coming in 2017 when the Lions went 8-2 and came within one win of a sought-after conference championship.

“We’ve come close here in my time,” Poppe, who helped recruit members of the 2017 team, said. “And sometimes the football bounces a funny way. So hopefully we’re preparing our young men right in practice, to get that ball to bounce the right way. We’ve got to get Lady Karma on our side, that’s a big part of football sometimes.”

Poppe inherits a team that stumbled during a transitional 2023 campaign, posting a 1-6 Ivy League record for its worst year since 2015.

Poppe was part of the 2017 team that came close to accomplishing its title goal. Columbia University Athletics / Stockton Photo.

Fortunately for Columbia, Poppe has reached the Ivy League mountaintop before.

During Poppe’s initial three-year stint at Harvard from 2011-14, the Crimson took home three conference championships as he led its secondary and special teams groups.

Now, Columbia will look to Poppe to take the school where it hasn’t been in over 60 years.

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