HARRISONBURG – In his 44 years of coaching football at the college and professional levels, no stop along the way has meant more to Bob Colbert than his stint as Bridgewater College’s offensive coordinator from 1998-2005.
Over his final six seasons with the program, the Eagles never missed the Division III playoffs – reaching the quarterfinals twice, the semifinals once and the title game once, finishing as national runners-up to perennial juggernaut Mount Union in 2001.
Now, the 67-year-old Colbert is once again joining forces with BC coach Michael Clark, albeit in a much smaller role.
Clark said Sunday that his longtime friend will act as a paid tight-ends coach during preseason practice from Aug. 14-30 before returning home to Pennsylvania. Colbert, who was relieved of his duties as head coach at Division III Saint Vincent (Pa.) College in November after compiling a seven-season record of 10-61, will continue to live in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, during the regular season, and Clark said he is not expected to be involved in BC’s game-day coaching.
“We’ve been 0-10 together and we’ve played for a national championship together – and [have] probably been to every other place in between,” Clark said of his relationship with Colbert, also a former offensive coordinator under Rip Scherer at James Madison University. “My hope is, when you’ve had a disappointing year like we did a year ago, you like to try to pull people in and back to the program that can give it good energy.”
In Colbert’s time away from the program, BC had winning seasons six times but failed to make any NCAA Division III postseason appearances. The Eagles are coming off a 4-6 campaign in 2013. Clark said his team has been using essentially the same offense since Colbert departed, although Clark added the Eagles do use more zone-running schemes these days.
With Colbert acting as the offensive architect during BC’s glory years, the program compiled a 64-11 record and fielded an I-formation attack that produced an average of 443 yards and 38 points per game.
Colbert – who also has had jobs with the Washington Redskins and old Baltimore Colts in the NFL – left Bridgewater for Saint Vincent in 2006 with hopes of “building something that was not there.” The Bearcats’ varsity program had been in a 45-year hiatus when Colbert took over. He helped take the program to unparalleled success in 2011 – its first postseason appearance since 1949 – but a 21-game losing streak to close out his time at Saint Vincent ultimately spelled his doom.
Colbert said his new role with Bridgewater comes as somewhat of a surprise but is a nice change of pace from the daily administrative rigors that come with a head coaching position.
“This is what I do. This is what I’ve always done,” he said. “I think I can still contribute on some level, with ideas.”
The idea of Colbert rejoining BC’s staff first came about in January, when he and Clark had a chat during the American Football Coaches Association convention in Indianapolis.
At the time, Colbert said he initially pitched his services as an off-site evaluator. His current role was ultimately agreed upon in May. BC and Saint Vincent faced each other in each of the past four seasons, with the Eagles prevailing each time.
“Most of the time when you’re competing against people, it’s tough to maintain friendships,” Clark said. “But I’ll be honest with you: That was never really the case with Bob, Coach Colbert. And I think that says something about how I feel about Bob and what our relationship has been.”
In addition to his preseason duties at BC, Colbert is hoping to serve as an off-site consultant during the season, with a focus on assisting in film study and preparing scouting reports.
Bridgewater also recently also announced the additions of two other assistant coaches: wide receivers coach Bret Colbert, Bob’s son, and defensive specialist Willie Lam.
Bret Colbert is a former Bridgewater player, while Lam starred at Spotswood High School before moving on to play at Wake Forest. The younger Colbert, a Turner Ashby High School graduate who began his college career at William & Mary, was St. Vincent’s offensive coordinator.
In February, Clark added former James Madison defensive coordinator Kyle Gillenwater to his staff as a defensive line coach. Meanwhile, J.D. Shaw is entering his third season at BC’s offensive coordinator.
“As a head coach, I like having assistants that I don’t have to spend time coaching. You know, you don’t like to coach the coaches,” Clark said. “And certainly with the additions that I’ve been able to make this offseason … we’ve pushed this thing in the right direction.”