100 Wins and Counting: Jim Margraff reflects on his time as the Johns Hopkins football coach

 
Coach Jim Margraff
 
Coach Jim Margraff
 

Oct. 28, 2005

Johns Hopkins head football coach Jim Margraff won his 100th career game on October 14 with a 14-0 victory over Gettysburg. Never one to draw attention to himself, Margraff couldn't understand all the commotion after the game and seemed almost embarrassed when Director of Athletics Tom Calder and team captains Zach DiIonno, Adam Luke and Max Whitacre presented him with a game ball at the conclusion of the game.

Despite a hectic schedule that had him in the office preparing for the following game against Muhlenberg nearly 18-hours a day, we were able to find time to meet with Margraff to discuss not only his 100th career victory, but some of the other key moments during his 15-plus seasons at Homewood.

HopkinsSports.com: It has been a few days since you picked up your 100th career victory. Can you share any thoughts you've had since then relative to the victory?

Jim Margraff: In season there is little time to think of anything but the next opponent. With Muhlenberg next on the schedule there was little time for reflection. When I first read that we were approaching100 wins I realized how long I've been here at JHU and I'm thankful that I'm at at institution and working with the type of student athletes and administrators that make it fun to come to work every day.

hs.com: Were the players on the team aware of the significance of the game?

JM: I'm not sure ... we never spoke about it. Actually, just before the game the PA announcer read the starting line-ups and introduced the coaches and stated their records. A couple of the guys heard "99" and confidently came over to tell me that number 100 was coming right now.

hs.com How special is it to have had the level of success you have at the place where you set numerous records as the starting quarterback?

JM: I know this will sound crazy, but I've never had any feeling of "nostalgia" since returning to JHU as head coach in 1990. I've always wanted to coach ... something I knew even as a youngster. The one special aspect of our recent success that I've enjoyed most is how so many alums, some who did not experience much football success during their careers, have embraced our present players and take pride in the fact that JHU has won four consecutive Centennial Conference Championships.

hs.com: When you came back to Johns Hopkins to take over as the head coach prior to the 1990 season the Blue Jays were struggling. What did you see at the time that made you think you could turn the program around?

JM: I felt, and still feel, that Hopkins Football is a program with great potential to achieve on so many levels. When I arrived in 1990 we had some terrific football players here even though the team had produced 1-9 records the two previous seasons. Some of the things that make playing football at JHU a unique experience (strong admissions requirements, demanding course schedules and class times, being "multi-divisional") were being looked at as "negatives." Quite honestly, nearly every "negative" I heard about from the outgoing senior class I saw as a positive. The players bought in to our ideas early and we've never looked back.

hs.com: In your first year the team posted a 5-4-1 record to give JHU its first winning season since 1985. As a young coach, how important was it to you and those players to have a certain level of success right away?

JM: I think most new coaches would be happy with any improvement in their first year, but we made a quick jump to competing with the top teams in the Centennial Conference. It gave our players a huge jump-start for several years to come. The players on that first team have turned out to be some of our most loyal and active alumni.

hs.com: From 1990-98 the team was one of the most successful in the Centennial Conference, but came up just short of grabbing that elusive conference championship on several occasions. After a couple of down years the team rebounded in 2001 and has been a force since? What has been the biggest difference in getting the team to the next level?

JM: I believe that it was a simple formula that for a few years we were playing very good football, but a few other teams were playing "great" football. Our rise in the last few years is due to several factors. The first is that we have good players. As students are the most important part of any university ... players are the most important part of any football team. We have also upgraded our staffing situation. Most Centennial Conference staffs consist of five coaches "in the office" (3 full time, 2 interns). For a number of years we were at a disadvantage in that area. Several years ago we added a full-time position that now enables us to have four coaches in the office. Although we are still at a slight disadvantage the quality of coaches and the stability of the staff has enabled us to put our athletes in better positions to compete at a high level.

hs.com: Are there a couple games during your career that standout as special? Why?

JM: Our first two wins in 1990 were special. The first was our first home game of the year on a Friday night on Homewood. The players were just going crazy in the locker room. When I brought in a few boxes ... opened them and started throwing T-shirts to them that read "HOPKINS FOOTBALL: WE'RE BACK" it was absolute bedlam. The very next week we played Gettysburg, a team that Hopkins hadn't beaten in football since 1915, and we just stoned them. I'm not sure if I've ever coached a more confident team. I still talk about that game with our present players.

hs.com: You have always been a coach that stresses team first, but some of the top players in school history have played for you. Looking back, who are some of the individual players who have had the biggest impact on the program (they don't necessarily need to have been the best players, but the ones who impacted the program)?

JM: You're right. And because of that I can't answer this question the way you'd like. We have had some tremendous people play on Homewood Field for Hopkins Football and there are far too many that have had an impact on our football program, and me personally, to pick out a few. There are several guys who rarely played a down for us but have done more for our current players than they'll ever know.

hs.com: You keep in close contact with many of your former players and they often send emails in the days leading up to big games. Does this have an affect on the current members of the team when you post the emails in the locker room and they all end with the Hopkins football mantra of "Pride and Poise"?

JM: It's important for our players to realize that there are a great many alumni who pick up the paper on Sunday mornings ... go directly to the sports page ... and look to see if Hopkins Football is in the "left hand column." Actually, I'm surprised at how many people look forward to listening to our games on the internet or following live through "Game Tracker." We do receive a bunch of e-mails each week from alums. I often post these e-mails so our players get a better feeling for who they represent. This week's e-mail is from Wes Moore, who was not only a Hopkins Football player, but also a Rhodes Scholar. Wes is currently stationed in Iraq and works closely with former Hopkins Football Captain Mike Fenzel (class of '89), who is also overseas.

hs.com: You are one of seven current head coaches at Johns Hopkins that ranks as the all-time winningest coach in their sport's history at the school. Does the overall success of the Blue Jay athletic program provide a certain level of motivation for all the teams and coaches?

JM: We have a tremendous group of coaches that reside here on Homewood campus. I take full opportunity of the knowledge and experience that is around me, whether that be speaking with Bob Babb (baseball) about how he organizes practice or George Kennedy (swimming) about team building ideas or just going to watch a men's or women's lacrosse or basketball practice to get a feel for the tempo and attitude of a program. I also believe there is an unspoken "peer" pressure around athletes and coaches that we each should be successful. I joke with our players that it is our job to set the tone for Hopkins Athletics each fall, but there is a little bit of truth to that.

hs.com: If you weren't the head football coach at Johns Hopkins what would you be doing right now?

JM: I couldn't imaging doing anything else.

That's just what the Blue Jay faithful wanted to hear.

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