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Ryan Larsen Leading New Era of Carnegie Mellon Football



For the first time since 1986, the Carnegie Mellon football program entered the 2022 season with a new head coach at the helm.

The university opened up its first coaching search after storied 36-year head coach Rich Lackner retired and it may have found the perfect fit.

Ryan Larsen, a 13-year coaching veteran, was named to his first head coaching gig back on Feb. 21. With his past experiences and connections, it is no surprise that he was the correct piece.

After spending two seasons playing quarterback at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in California, Larsen immediately turned to coaching. Once he got into coaching, it was then that he started to build his resume working for heavier academic programs.

Larsen rose through the coaching ranks from a small position with Indiana University. He made stops at Wabash, Rhodes and Stevenson before becoming the quarterback coach at Columbia University.

“It has definitely been a focal point of my career,” Larsen said. “I have always really enjoyed those academic environments. I like the idea that football is really important and a big part of the educational process, but it’s not the only thing that matter. I think there’s a good balance to it in the academic world.”

While Larsen was with the Ivy League program, he worked underneath legendary head coach Al Bagnoli, who trails only Nick Saban with the most wins as an active coach. Thanks to Bagnoli, Larsen learned and developed as a coach.

“[Al] taught me how to deal with a program and how to have a vision,” Larsen said.

It was also at Columbia where Larsen, unbeknownst to him, started to make some connections with players he would one day become the head coach of.

Junior quarterback Ben Mills spent time prior to his senior year of high school at a Columbia football camp where he had his first experiences with Larsen.

“Funny enough, I actually worked with [Larsen] when I was going into my senior year,” Mills said. “I went to the Columbia football camp and was able to work with him there and I really liked him there.”

During the camp, Larsen remembers vividly discussing Mills’ play with Carnegie Mellon offensive coordinator Andy Helms.

“We liked Ben a lot at Columbia,” Larsen said. “Andy Helms was at the Columbia camp working, and I pointed at Ben and I said ‘I think he’s really good and if we don’t go on that kid, you got to get that kid. That kid could change a program.’ It’s funny how it comes full circle.”

Along with the foundation he built with Mills at the camp, Larsen also recruited some players while at Columbia that he now coaches at Carnegie Mellon.

“It was good to be able to walk in and have some guys on the team I knew,” Larsen mentioned.

With some connections already built, it was a near seamless transition for both Larsen and the players this offseason moving from the Lackner era. Although Lackner retired, he still remains an important figure for the program, and Larsen and the players still keep in contact with the former head coach.

As Larsen stepped onto campus and began to make his mark on the football program, he made sure to continue what Lackner built.

“He did a really good job of keeping the culture going that we had, but also building onto it and bringing in his way of coaching,” Mills said.

Like Mills, the rest of the team bought in quickly to some of the new philosophies Larsen brought to the table.

“Relationships and alignment were the two big things I wanted to focus on in my first spring here,” Larsen said. 

With the new ideas incorporated, the Tartans through the first four games of the 2022 season are unbeaten and currently sit at No. 18 in the poll.

The team has been through a lot of adversity early in the Larsen era with injuries causing different players to step up, but the mindset has stayed the same – take it one game at a time.

“We know our ultimate goals aren’t finished yet, so there’s definitely a lot of motivation there,” Mills said.

For every game, Larsen preaches a similar message to his team.

“Keep focusing on the present, keep focusing on this week,” Larsen said. “What can we do to put ourselves in the best position to win.”

Six more games remain for the Tartans as they hope to secure their second consecutive postseason berth, the first under Ryan Larsen.


Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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