Bob Surace '90, a man who both won an Ivy League title as an All-Ivy center and met his future wife while at Princeton, returned to his beloved alma mater on Dec. 23, 2009 with the goal of restoring the program to its past glory.
Within four seasons, he achieved that mark in record-breaking fashion.
Surace, a 2013 finalist for the Eddie Robinson Jr. National Head Coach of the Year award, led Princeton to the 2013 Ivy League championship while setting Ivy League records in both total offense and scoring offense. Despite being picked to finish fifth in the league, and only two years removed from a 1-9 season, Surace guided Princeton to an 8-2 season and road victories over the top three teams in the preseason poll.
Princeton, which averaged 43.7 points per game, placed a league-best 17 players on the All-Ivy team, including six on the first team. For the second straight year, a Princeton player earned the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year; one year after current Kansas City Chief Mike Catapano was named the league's Top Defensive Player, quarterback Quinn Epperly earned the Top Offensive Player award.
Epperly was one of two Princeton players to attend the Bushnell Cup banquet in New York City, as senior Caraun Reid was a finalist for the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year award. In addition, Reid made Princeton history in two impressive ways. He became Princeton's first two-time First-Team All-America honoree in 20 years when he was named to the 2013 All-America team by The Sports Network, and he became the second player in program history to earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Princeton was explosive throughout the season; after scoring 50 points only four times in a span of 469 games entering the 2013 schedule, the Tigers did so five times during their eight wins, including victories over historic rivals Harvard and Yale. That clinched a second straight bonfire at Princeton, a tradition saved for a "Big Three" title.
While the 2013 season will be remembered forever for earning the program's 10th Ivy League championship, it actually didn't mark the same level of improvement as Surace's 2012 season. After back-to-back 1-9 records, Princeton improved by four games and finished the 2012 campaign with a 5-5 record. The Tigers stayed in the Ivy League championship race until the final day of the season, and they earned the first bonfire — a Princeton tradition for sweeping the Harvard-Yale series — on campus since 2006.
Of course, that doesn’t tell the full story of those two wins. Princeton rallied from a 24-point fourth quarter deficit to stun nationally ranked Harvard 39-34 last October; the Tigers scored 29 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes, with the final touchdown coming on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining.
Three weeks later, Princeton scored 29 unanswered points again; this time, a Princeton-record 100-yard interception return ignited the Tigers’ first win at Yale since the 2006 Ivy championship season.
Surace guided a team that earned 10 All-Ivy League honors, including the Bushnell Cup for Catapano. The senior defensive lineman and 2013 draft pick joined Reid on the FCS All-America teams.
Surace has been given the responsibility of rebuilding the Princeton football program, and he saw some impressive performances from his first two recruiting classes. Leading that charge was 2011 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Chuck Dibilio, who rushed for more yards (1,068) than any other true freshman last season. Princeton had the top rushing offense in the Ivy League in 2011, and the Tigers have had 16 All-Ivy League players in Surace's two seasons.
Dibilio suffered a stroke following the 2011 season, and was not able to play in 2012.
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.
Surace (pronounced "suh-RACE") had served as assistant offensive line coach for the Bengals for the last six years of his time with Cincinnati; 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 helped the Bengals to a 10-6 record and a sweep of their AFC North rivals, including the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
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.
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 is now the Lower School Head at Princeton Day School.
They have a daughter, Alison, and a son, A.J.
Surace is part of 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.