‘It Was Quite The Day’

  • Claremont Middle School coach Larry McElreavy, right, gives his players advice during practice at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., on Sept. 26, 2011. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Newport head coach Larry McElreavy talks with player Josh Murphy at halftime of the game against Mascoma in Newport, N.H., on Sept. 13, 2014. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New York — Columbia University’s football team won eight games for the first time since 1996 this past fall. It’s safe to say there might have been a party or two on the New York City campus to celebrate.

But compared to when the Lions ended a 44-game losing streak with a win over Princeton in 1988? There’s no comparison.


“The stands began filling up as the game went along,” said Larry McElreavy, the Claremont native and former Newport High head football coach who also coached at Columbia from 1986-88. “When it was over, the goalposts went into the Hudson River, the administration bought beer and pizza for entire student body, and it took an hour for me just to wade through the TV people to get to my team.”

McElreavy finally got to his New Jersey home later that night. He put his wife and two children into the car and drove back to the school just to witness the joyous campus.

“It was really strange what was going on and what we saw as we walked around,” McElreavy said. “Not only did we end the streak, but we beat a Princeton team with Jason Garrett (now the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys) as the quarterback. It was quite a day.”

The following Monday morning, McElreavy got a courtesy ride to New York City and was a guest on NBC’s Good Morning America. If it hadn’t sunk in yet, being on national TV must have done the trick.


All of it was a far cry from the agony of the losing streak. Twenty of the 44 losses were games coached by McElreavy.

“I had a lot of detractors at that time and one day driving to work I noticed the blue lights in my mirror,” McElreavy said. “I pulled over and one of those cops with the big boots, trooper glasses, strut and mean look took my license and went back to his cruiser.

“A little while later he comes up and asks if I am the coach of the Columbia football team. I told him I was and he handed me my license back and told me to get out of here.”

“’You have enough problems,’” he said.


Columbia got one more win during that 1988 season, beating Brown in the season finale. That victory was important to McElreavy.

“It proved that our win over Princeton was no fluke,” he said.


That win over Brown also was the last that McElreavy coached at Columbia; he resigned after the season, accused of professional misconduct charges that were never proven.


“Those charges are completely untrue,” MeElreavy told the New York Times at the time. “But I cannot subject those I love and admire to further public abuse. I have therefore decided to step down as head football coach even though the administration gave me a vote of confidence.”

McElreavy still stays in touch with some of his former players, and five years or so ago he once again walked around the Columbia campus. He even applied for an offensive line coach position at Columbia, but never heard back.

These days, McElreavy harbors no animosity toward the school. “They have upgraded the facilities which was needed and they now practice sometimes on campus, which I think gets the students involved,” said McElreavy, who had to make travel arrangements for the coaches and players to get to the playing field which is more than a mile away from the campus.


McElreavy, a Claremont native, Stevens High and the University of New Hampshire graduate, said the school did everything it could to help end the losing streak. “I had a full-funded recruiting budget and I went all over the place — Texas, California, Florida. One day, I was talking to a recruit’s father in Alabama and I could not understand a word that came out of his mouth,” McElreavy said. “Another time I was driving to Dallas and got delayed on a road because of a bank robbery.”

Using New York City as a recruiting tool also was a method to get the unsure recruit to come to Columbia. “They had paid visits where we would fly them in and have the plane land in Newark, N.J. then take them through 125th, Street, down Broadway and to our campus, which was on 116th Street in the Upper West Side.”

“New York is a great city and we had a very nice campus,” McElreavy added.


It must have worked. The three classes that McElreavy recruited went 14-4 as freshmen.


It’s been nearly 30 years since McElreavy left Columbia. The good football jobs have been scarce to come by, but he stays in the hunt even at 71 years old. He still talks about hooking on with a college somewhere.

He lives in Charlestown, sells real estate for a Claremont firm, works nights at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, and last year, put 66,000  miles on his Ford Escape. He just finished his second year as the head coach at Pembroke Academy following a stint with the Tigers.

Still, the coaching fire burns.

“But it does get frustrating,” he added.


Former Newport High football coach Larry McElreavy just completed his second season in charge of the football program at Pembroke (N.H.) Academy. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the length of McElreavy’s Pembroke tenure.