Decades before nomination
Brett Kavanaugh wrote about college sports
Before U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 was a sports reporter for the News, penning two dozen articles over the course of three years. Here, the News has provided a sampling of Kavanaugh’s reportage — a paper trail that, while unlikely to come up during his confirmation hearings, provides plenty of insight into the championship prospects of Yale’s basketball and football teams in the 1980s.
October 25, 1983
Depressed by the performance of the football team? Take heart, the future looks bright. The 1983 freshman squad has looked impressive in its three outings this year and that is a good sign because head coach Carm Cozza has already said that he is counting on this year’s freshmen to be an integral part of next year’s team.
Big, strong, and psyched, the Bulldogs rolled over Brown in their season opener, 17–0, defeated Columbia 14–7 two weeks ago, and last Friday edged Army’s junior varsity 17–14. The team has played well in victory, despite turning the ball over too many times. The defense has held its own while the offense has moved the ball well.
This year’s squad differs from those of the past in that players on both the offensive and defensive lines are more physically imposing. This strength has made the difference in the first three wins.
On defense, tackles Steve Kline (6–1, 220) and Yves Labissiere (6–3, 236), along with Aaron Osleger (6–2, 210) have anchored the run defense. The pass defense has also been outstanding, with defensive backs Paul Lisella and Mike Flannery stifling the opposition’s chances to throw. As a unit, the defense has only allowed one touchdown in eight quarters, relying on sheer strength rather than the quickness used last year, when the Bullpups shut out their first four opponents.
The offense has shown the ability to explode for quick scores in its first two wins. The quarterback situation is stable with Mike Stewart at the helm, although three others are competing for the backup spot, including Don Mahlke, who turned in a strong performance as the number two quarterbacks against Columbia.
But it’s the line which Benato labelled as the team’s main strength, with players like tackle Chris Martin (6–2, 240), center George Matthews (6–1, 235) and guard Ken Lund (6–1/2, 195) doing the job of blocking, The loss of guard John Chrostowski will hurt, but the depth and size should be able to make up for it.
The Bullpups have been receiving added offensive punch from wide receiver David White, who has caught six passes for 64 yards and one touchdown, a 12-yard play against Columbia, and tailback Ted MacCauley, who has rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, MacCauley had a 69-yard touchdown reception against Army. Two powerful fullbacks alternate in front of MacCauley — John Risley and Tom Mercein. The only problem thus far has been the turnovers, which have prevented the offense from racking up the points it is capable of.
With such an impressive squad, the only weakness seems to be a lack of speed, which is compensated by the size of the players. The Bullpups are optimistic about their future — already the defensive unit has been pressuring the varsity offensive unit. While they realize that they will be under a lot of pressure next year, they are confident of their ability to help rebuild Yale’s football program.
January 15, 1986
After starting the season with hopes for an Ivy title and a second straight winning season, the men’s basketball team has inexplicably lost six of its last eight games. The [sic] face the possibility of being knocked out of the Ivy race by Sunday unless they win at least one out of two this weekend at Cornell and Columbia.
Yale’s game against Brown Monday was typical of its misfortune this season. The Elis played a decent game but did not convert on a last second shot in a disappointing 68-65 loss to Brown, a team not expected to be very strong this season. Last year, the same Yale team beat a better Bruin squad on a game-ending shot by Pete White. This year, however, the ball has not been bouncing so fortunately for Yale.
Two of the Elis’ losses have been the most embarrassing in recent memory. They fell at home to Clark and Trinity — both Division III teams. In both games, the Elis went to sleep against patient offenses executed to perfection by smaller, slower opponents. It is nearly impossible to explain how Yale could fall victim to those weaker teams, especially after the Blue defeated fine Fairfield and Holy Cross squads and came close to beating an excellent Connecticut team at the beginning of the season.
Perhaps, as Coach Tom Brennan suggested yesterday, the players obtained a false sense of security by winning so many close games a year ago.
But there are other reasons for the downturn. The four sophomores in the starting lineup have not jelled [sic] and played as consistently as they did in the 14-12 season of a year ago. The outside shots which must be made to keep sagging defensive pressure off All-Ivy center Chris Dudley ’87 have not been falling.
The three outside shooters in the starting lineup — sophomores Peter White, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Matt Whitehead — are all shooting below 50 percent from the floor. And Dudley has been having problems from the foul line, which especially hurts because he goes to the stripe twice as often as any other player.
One positive development has been the emergence of Paul Maley ’88. Against Brown, the 6’8’’ sophomore forward notched 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and earned himself a starting spot this weekend. His deadly outside shot could make a big difference.
Brennan appears far from panicked, although he has planned a major shakeup in the lineup. John Rice ’88, Eric Mitchell ’88, and Maley will join White and Dudley as starters. Brennan said, “Last year no one expected anything from us and we did well. This year everyone has expected a lot, and we’ve been pressing a little. The change is not a punishment but will give [the benched players] a chance to relax a little and come in a little later.”
There is no “later” for the Elis, however. They face a very difficult task this weekend in Ithaca and New York. Yale has not won at either site since 1962 and has won only two of its last 15 Ivy League road contests. Brennan said that both Cornell and Columbia are “tough and playing well, but if we go in and play well, we can win both.
It is much too early for the Elis to give up on the season despite the setbacks so far. They have the talent to match any team in the league, but must play a little harder and a little smarter to get back on track. Thus far in the season, they are striking a depressingly similar pose to the team of two years ago which stumbled its way to a 7-19 record after being highly touted for the Ivy crown. This weekend will go a long way to determining the course of this year’s season.
January 20, 1986:
The men’s basketball team earned a badly needed victory during this weekend’s games at Cornell and Columbia, and remained alive in the Ivy League race. The Elis fell to Cornell, 64-51, Friday night but came back with a gutty performance at Columbia Saturday to defeat the favored Lions, 71-70.
Center Chris Dudley was the star of the weekend, confirming his status as one of the premier players in the Ivy League. The 6’ 10” junior poured in 48 points and grabbed 26 rebounds to bring his Ivy averages to 24 points and 12 rebounds per game.
The Elis fell to Cornell Friday night as John Bajusz, the Big Red’s star guard, connected for 20 points while forward Drew Martin added 11. Dudley led the Elis with 25 points and Matt Whitehead ’88 notched 13, but the rest of Yale shot a collective seven of 31 from the floor.
The Elis trailed 26-22 at the half, but were able to tie the contest at 44 with fewer than seven minutes remaining. Cornell, which trailed only three times in the game, pulled away from that point at Greg Gilda scored six points in a one-minute period down the stretch.
Entering the game Saturday with a 0-2 Ivy record and a seven-point underdogs to Columbia, the Elis responded behind excellent performance from Whitehead Pete White ’88, and Dudley.
White turned in one of his best showings of the season as he connected on six of seven shots from the floor in a 16-point, five-assist night. Whitehead hit six of nine attempts coming off the bench. Whitehead, Brian Kasbar and Brian Fitzpatrick ’88 were benched in favor of sophomores Eric Mitchell, John Rice and Paul Maley this weekend. Whitehead played well, the best of anyone involved in the shuffle.
The Elis came out smoking in the first half and led the Lions 41-34 at intermission behind 19 points from Dudley. They increased the lead to 62-50 with eight minutes left before Columbia made a late run. The Elis hit clutch free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory, after struggling from the foul line earlier in the contest.
Saturday’s performance bodes well for Yale as it looks forward to three straight Ivy home games. The first is a matchup Saturday with league-leading Brown, who is the surprise of the Ivies at this juncture in the season. But before the league confrontations, the Elis face Army Thursday at Payne Whitney.
In order to come back and challenge for the title, Yale must do two things. First, as always, the Elis must improve their foul shooting. The Elis hit only 22 of 45 attempts on the weekend, a terrible 49 percent mark. Also, White and Dudley must play consistently. When one of the two has struggled this season, the whole team has verged on collapse.
For now, Yale can be happy. They faced a must-win situation on the road and came away with a victory. The Elis are alive in the championship race.
May 6, 1986
The search for a new men’s basketball coach is continuing and will likely be concluded within two or three weeks, according to Yale Director of Athletics Frank Ryan. Ryan said that he has received 95 applications, including 44 from from head coaches at Division I, II, or III schools. Right now Ryan is “whittling that down to a manageable number so that we can meet face to face.”
The new coach will replace Tom Brennan, who resigned last month to take the head coaching position at Vermont. Brennan compiled a 46-58 record during his four years at Yale. He left amidst a storm of controversy that included team disunity and doubts about his coaching ability.
Ryan said he is looking for a coach who is “well-equipped” to handle a “very fine squad.” He also spoke of the need for a good recruiting year in 1986-87. Last year’s team had only two freshmen, and major recruits are likely to avoid Yale this year given the present situation. Above all, Yale needs someone with “experience,” Ryan said.
Mike Mucci, Yale’s popular assistant coach, and Butch Beard, former New York Knick, are two of the 95 candidates, according to Ryan. Beard’s name has been mentioned often in reference to the position.
Ryan has the final say on the decision but said he will consult “alumni, coaches elsewhere, faculty, and administrators” before making a final choice. Ryan did not mention team members, which seems important considering the role some players had in Brennan’s departure.
The next coach does not face an easy task. Although the team has good Ivy League talent, it is torn by dissension and that is not a good sign heading into next year’s tough schedule.
Read all of Kavanaugh’s articles for the News here.