The Lehigh program officially began in 1894 when student and future journalist Richard Harding Davis organized fellow students, forming Lehigh’s first team. Lehigh began playing neighboring Lafayette College immediately, establishing a rivalry which continues to today. At the start of the 2011 season, Lehigh is ranked among the institutions that have played the most games (1,241), compiled the most victories (637). Since 1986, Lehigh has been a charter member of the Patriot League, formerly called the Colonial League. Lehigh has won nine Patriot League titles and has played in 18 post season games, winning 8 of the contests. Along the way, Lehigh has won a Division II National Championship (1977) and has been national runner up in the I-AA tournament in 1979. Most recently, Lehigh was unbeaten in Patriot League play in 2010, earning a berth in the FCS playoffs. The Mountain Hawks went on the road defeating Northern Iowa before dropping a contest to the University of Delaware. Delaware went on to play for the championship.
Following the founding of the team, Lehigh, then known as the Engineers, was guided for the first eight years by volunteer coaches. The teams won 123 of those first 276 games (44%), playing an average about 9 games per season. Lehigh’s first really successful period came in 1912 when Tom Keady was hired as head coach. During this period, Lehigh’s program grew stronger and the team moved into its new home, Taylor Stadium. Taylor Stadium would serve as the home for Lehigh football for 73 seasons (from 1914 through 1987.) Along with the Yale Bowl and Harvard Stadium, Taylor was among the earliest concrete stadiums in America. Keady’s teams would go 55-22-3 (68%) during his nine years as head coach and produce many fine players, including All American quarterback Pat Pazzetti.
The years between the end of World War I and the end of World War II were somewhat poor ones for Lehigh. Seven coaches came and went, managing a record of 73-124-17 (34%) during this time. Better days were coming though, in the form of a young head coach named William Leckonby. Leckonby arrived in time for the 1946 season and within a year, had the fortunes reversed. Leckonby’s teams won 16 of their next 27 from 1947–1949. This set the table for Lehigh’s first undefeated season, 1950. That team went 9-0, defeating Delaware, Carnegie Tech and Lafayette by a combined 125 – 0. Overall, the team outscored opponents by a score of 301 – 77. The team was led by the backfield tandem of Dick Gabriel and Dick Doyne. Gabriel’s name is still etched in the Lehigh record books having achieved 42 career touchdowns, 16 TD’s in a season and for having returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Leckonby’s teams would win 85 games in his 16 years as head man, and take the 1961 Lambert Cup in his final year. Leckonby’s teams managed seven wins over Lafayette, including a 17-14 going away present in 1961.
A brief period of poor results came following Leckonby’s departure. Between 1962 and 1964, the overmatched Engineers managed just five victories. Fortunately, they managed to go 2-0-1 against their arch rivals. Frederick Dunlap arrived for 1965 and was faced with a major rebuilding job. Dunlap’s first three teams managed 2 wins. The 1966 squad was particularly challenged, managing just 106 points and zero wins during the year. Dunlap’s plan for improvement was to implement the Delaware Wing T offense in an attempt to score more points. This offense was popularized by Delaware coach Tubby Raymond and featured misdirection, ball handling, multiple runners and numerous passing targets. The offense was perfect for a team with smaller players like Lehigh. Within a couple of years, Lehigh’s version, coupled with good recruiting resulted in scoring and eventually wins. By 1971, Lehigh, with quarterback Kim McQuilkin at the controls was scoring 362 points. The Engineers finished 8-3 that year and set a tone that would see plenty of points scored, lots of wins and a long line of excellent quarterbacks. Dunlap’s teams would finish 36-13-1 (72%) over his final five years as coach. Dunlap returned to his alma mater Colgate University to coach and later serve as director of athletics. Dunlap’s replacement was John Whitehead. Whitehead served as an assistant under Dunlap and success continued. Following a 6-5 first season, Whitehead led the Engineers to a remarkable 1977 season which resulted in a national championship. Lehigh had participated in two of the first three Division II tournaments (1973, 1975) so they were prepared for the rigors of post season play. Following a 9-2 year, Lehigh was invited to the tournament, but they had to play all games away from Taylor Stadium. Led by an explosive offense, Lehigh outlasted Massachusetts 30-23, outscored the University of California (Davis) 39-30, then clobbered Jacksonville State 33-0 in the Pioneer Bowl final in Texas. Lehigh spent one more season in Division II before joining the newly formed Division 1-AA for the 1979 season. Lehigh finished 9-2 that season, made it to the national finals before losing to Eastern Kentucky 30-7.
The past 30 seasons have been mostly successful at Lehigh. The program joined the new Patriot League and Lehigh has a 208-122 (63%) mark during this time. In addition to a national championship and national runner up status, Lehigh has won nine Patriot League titles, has participated in the FCS playoffs eight times, have been declared Lambert champs seven times as well as winners of 14 Middle Three championships (Rutgers, Lafayette). Over the years, Lehigh has had seven 9 win seasons, four 10 win seasons, an 11 win season and three 12 win campaigns. All but four of these marks came since 1975. In 1988, Lehigh moved into Goodman Stadium, a 16,000 seat state of the art concrete structure located on the mountain top campus. The stadium is part of a complete sports complex serving the university. In 1995, the school changed the name of its athletic teams to “Mountain Hawks”.
The annual contest between Lehigh University and Lafayette College has been in effect for 126 years and for 146 meetings. It is college football’s most played rivalry. The discrepancy between the number of years and the number of games is due to the fact that the teams played each other twice a year prior to the turn of the 20th century. The game was not played in 1896. This was due to an issue involving the eligibility of a Lafayette player. Only once have Lehigh and Lafayette played other than in Easton or Bethlehem. In 1891 the teams played a third game in Wilkes-Barre. In 1950, Lehigh’s victory ended a 15 year losing streak against Lafayette. In 1963, the game was delayed for one week due to the death of President Kennedy. In 1964, the 100th game ended in a 6-6 tie. In 1987 (game 123), Lehigh defeated Lafayette in the last game played at Taylor Stadium. Although Lafayette won the first game played at brand new Goodman Stadium in 1989, Lehigh has won 8 of the last 10 at Goodman, and 15 of 24 since Patriot League play began. Lehigh has won the last three contests, including an overtime thriller in 2009. The overall record stands at Lafayette 76, Lehigh 65. There have been 5 ties.
In recent years, Lehigh has enjoyed great success under winning coaches. Former assistant Kevin Higgins coached the team for seven seasons, compiling an overall record of 56-25-1 for a winning percentage of 68%. His teams captured four PL championships and went 30-9 in league play. Lehigh enjoyed high national rankings during this period. Lehigh went 6-1 against Lafayette under Higgins and was 2-3 in five playoff appearances. Both wins were road victories. Higgins joined the Detroit Lions of the NFL following the 2000 season. The coaching job went to Lehigh assistant Pete Lembo in 2001. Lembo’s team promptly went 11-0 and won the Patriot League. The team made to the quarter finals of the national tournament. In Lembo’s five years as head coach, Lehigh won 44 games, claimed two Patriot League titles, made two playoff appearances and dominated league play (26-7). His teams were also nationally ranked in three of the five years. Lembo took on the challenge presented by the Elon University and left Lehigh following the 2005 season.
Lehigh went outside of the program to hire Andy Coen. Coen had been offensive coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania. Coen had been a Lehigh assistant under Higgins, between 1995 and 1999. Under Andy Coen, Lehigh has compiled a winning record and has won 69% of Patriot League games, including two titles. Last year’s team lost only three games, all to full-scholarship members of the Colonial Athletic Association. His team made it to the second round of the playoff tournament.