Santos Joins Columbia Staff as QB Coach
Ricky Santos, his BHS jersey being retired.
Ricky Santos wants to be an offensive coordinator, and the former Bellingham High football star took a giant step in that direction last month when he joined Columbia University’s football staff as its quarterback coach.
The 31-year-old Santos had been the University of New Hampshire’s receivers coach for the last three years; but, when the opportunity to coach quarterbacks occurred at the Ivy League level, Santos decided it was time to leave his alma mater for a position that no doubt will present some challenges.
“To coach quarterbacks gives me a chance to fulfill my goal of becoming an offensive coordinator,” Santos said from New York. “I’ve made this move because it’ll help in my professional development. The job will be challenging because quarterbacks have to play well for a team to succeed. Working at Columbia in the Ivy League is a great opportunity to build tradition. The team went 2-8 last year, and two years ago the squad was winless. The program’s been down, but being a competitive guy, I think our staff can change the direction and produce a big turn-around.”
Santos will be working for Al Bagnoli, who’s in his second year as Columbia’s head coach. Bagnoli coached at the University of Pennsylvania for 23 years and is highly ranked in career victories. “During my first week on the job, I saw how prepared coach Bagnoli is and how he’s assembled a capable staff,” Santos noted. “Right now, we’re in the process of coming up with new plans, ideas and an identity.”
When Santos coached at UNH, he was dealing with players focused on catching passes. Now, he’s working with players aiming to make those passes accurate. “I’ll be teaching QBs to read defenses, make good decisions and eliminate negative plays,” he said.
At UNH, Santos had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Justin Mello and R.J. Harris in his first year on the job. Harris finished his career with the most yards all-time in the Colonial Athletic Conference. “I felt I did a good job at UNH, but I also had great kids with talent who were coachable,” Santos said. “At Columbia, we’ve got some good QB prospects. I’m excited to be working with returning starter Skyler Mornhinweg, whose father, Marty, was head coach of the Detroit Lions. Skyler could be a special player.”
Santos plans to live in Manhattan, where Columbia is located, but he’ll be on the move when it’s time to recruit. He’s been given the following states to scout: all of New England (except CT), Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Arizona and Nevada. “I’ll be watching thousands of kids,” Santos said. “Recruiting now will be a bit more national than it was at UNH. I’ll be selling Columbia, but it’s a world class school and it really sells itself.”
Leaving New Hampshire, where he spent four years as a player and three more as a coach, isn’t easy; and leaving a boss like head coach Sean McDonnell was difficult. “He was instrumental in my development as a player and coach,” Santos said. “He helped me grow and mature, always teaching commitment. His energy and passion for football inspired me. He’s been a great mentor.”
Santos also had high praise for his coaches at Bellingham and again emphasized the love he has for the community where his career began and where he was so successful in leading the Blackhawks to a pair of Super Bowl triumphs and a state title in basketball. “I’ve always tried to give back to the town,” he said. “A coach like TJ Chiappone is a great ambassador for Bellingham. Also, coaches like Dale Caparaso, Rich Blue and the late Barry Hutchinson taught life lessons. I’ve still got family there and it’ll always be home.”
Once a fifth-string quarterback, Santos rose to all-American status and finished his UNH career with 123 touchdown passes for 13,212 yards. He led the Wildcats to four straight berths in the 1-AA playoffs, passed for 165 yards and a touchdown in the Hula Bowl and had his number (2) retired at UNH in 2007. Santos also won the Walter Payton Award as a junior, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy at the 1-AA level.
Santos, who had a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, played four years in the Canadian Football League, first for the Montreal Alouettes, then for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. When he was released after his second stint with Montreal, he left Canada with two Grey Cup rings. The Grey Cup is the equivalent of the Super Bowl, and Santos was a reserve quarterback when the Alouettes won their two championships.
Before accepting UNH’s offer to coach receivers in 2013, Santos taught physical education at South Elementary and the Primavera School in Bellingham. He also worked as a volunteer assistant for Bellingham High’s football squad.
When June rolls around, the Bellingham native will return to New Hampshire for induction into UNH’s athletic Hall of Fame. He’ll be thanking many people, but he no doubt has already thanked UNH’s offensive coordinator Ryan Carty, who played a key role in helping Santos get his new job. Columbia officials contacted Carty to see if he’d be interested in joining the Lions’ staff. When he declined, the next question for Carty was whether Santos would make a move. Carty relayed the news of the vacancy and the rest is history.
Ricky Santos now is working for an Ivy League university and a step closer to becoming an offensive coordinator.