Bob Surace ’90, a key member of the 1989 Ivy League champion Princeton football team, has been named the Charles W. Caldwell Jr. ’25 Head Coach of Football at Princeton University, it was announced Dec. 23 by Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67. Surace has been an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals for the last nine seasons and has helped the team to the cusp of an AFC North title in 2009.
“I’m so excited about coming back to a place that is so special to me,” Surace said. “I was honored to be a player here, including being part of an Ivy League championship team. I look forward to being the head coach and making this a special place for our student-athletes here at the best university in the world.”
The 22nd head coach at Princeton, Surace was a first-team All-Ivy center when he helped the 1989 Tigers to a 6-1 league mark and a share of the Ivy title. In addition to his tenure with the Bengals, Surace was also the head coach at Division III Western Connecticut State University, where he put together an 18-3 record in 2000 and 2001.
“We are thrilled that Bob Surace will be our new head coach, Walters said. “He has experience as a player here at Princeton, as well as in the NFL and as a college head coach. He is also a product of and a believer in the Princeton concept of education through athletics. We will work with the Bengals to accommodate what works best for them and for Princeton through the end of their season.”
Surace (pronounced "suh-RACE") has served as assistant offensive line coach for the Bengals for the last six years; prior to that, he served two seasons as an offensive staff assistant. In addition to his work with the line, he played a key role in the entire offensive staff’s game preparation. In 2009, that offense has helped the Bengals to a 9-5 record and a sweep of their AFC North rivals, including the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Working closely with assistant head coach/offensive line coach Paul Alexander, Surace has helped mold a line that has led the way in rewriting the franchise record for fewest sacks allowed in two of the last five years. The Bengals set a then-record low of 21 in 2005, during the team’s AFC North title run, and two years later the bar was reset at 17, a total led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL.
This season, the Cincinnati offense shifted into a strong rushing offense and enters Week 16 of the NFL season with the sixth-ranked rushing offense in the NFL.
“We are sad to see Bob go, but we’re excited for him and his family that he has achieved a career goal, being named head coach at Princeton,” Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Bob has been a huge part of our staff and of the success we’ve had. We wish him only the very best, and I know he will do a fine job for Princeton.”
Under Surace’s leadership, Western Connecticut advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III Championship and won the Freedom Football Conference title in 2001; the win in the NCAA playoffs was the first in school history. In 2000, the Colonials won the Northeast Championship ECAC playoff game. In both of Surace’s seasons, the team ranked in the top 25 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association poll.
Surace grew up in a coaching family. His father, Tony, was head coach for his high school football and baseball teams in Millville, N.J.
Surace began his coaching career in 1990 as running backs coach at Springfield (Mass.) College, where he also earned a master’s degree in sports management in 1992.
In 1994, when the Canadian Football League fielded teams in the U.S., Surace was with the Shreveport Pirates as the assistant to head coach and general manager Forrest Gregg, the former Bengals coach who guided Cincinnati to Super Bowl XVI.
Surace was born April 25, 1968 in Harrisburg, Pa. His wife, Lisa, was a four-time letterwinner in women’s soccer at Princeton and is a member of the Class of 1992. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology and practices in Cincinnati.
They have a daughter, Alison, and a son, A.J.
Surace rejoins one of the richest traditions in all of college football. Princeton was involved in the first college football game ever played on Nov. 6, 1869, and has played a total of 778 all-time games with an all-time winning percentage of .675 and five former head coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame: William W. Roper, Fritz Crisler, Tad Wieman, Charles W. Caldwell, Jr. and Dick Colman.
Surace is the first Princeton alumnus to serve as head coach since Bob Casciola led the team from 1973 through 1977. He is also the eighth current Princeton graduate to serve as head coach, joining Jim Barlow (men’s soccer), Bob Callahan (men’s squash), Marty Crotty (men’s lightweight crew), Greg Hughes (men’s heavyweight crew), Sydney Johnson (men’s basketball), Jeff Kampersal (women’s ice hockey) and Paul Rassam (women’s lightweight crew).
Princeton will open its 2010 season Sept. 18 at Lehigh and will make its home debut Sept. 25 against Lafayette.