When he arrived at Fisher Stadium as Lafayette’s newly appointed Fred M. Kirby II ’42 Head Football Coach in December 2021, John Troxell ’94 was stepping onto familiar turf.
Not only did the Phillipsburg, N.J., native grow up across the Delaware River; he also spent time on College Hill as an assistant football coach from 2001 to 2005. But what gives Troxell the greatest sense of home—and competitive edge as a coach—is the fact that he once wore a Leopard jersey: From 1990 to 1994, he played as starting free safety at Lafayette, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in government and law. He’s the 29th head coach of Lafayette football, but only the third alum in the program’s history to hold that position.
Having wrapped his first semester back—and armed with 16 years of head coaching experience he gained at Franklin & Marshall College (F&M)—Troxell is ready to guide the Leopards as they take on their Patriot League competitors in the fall 2022 season, during which they’ll play six home games for the first time since 2015.
Get to know the man whose mission to lead Lafayette football to greatness isn’t just professional, but personal.
The foundation for Troxell’s career as a coach was laid in the classroom: “I was a first-generation college student, and education was important to both my parents.”
While Troxell was working toward his bachelor’s degree at Lafayette, coaching wasn’t yet part of his plan. But the student-athlete—who played on the 1992 Patriot League Championship team and received the Unsung Hero Award—knew by his senior year that his passions lay with football. “When I was a senior, my mom asked me, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ I wasn’t sure. When she asked me what I love, I told her I love football.
And she said, ‘Make a career out of it.’”
Troxell earned his master’s degree in sociology and education in 1997 at Columbia University while also serving on the school’s football coaching staff. “Once I started coaching there, I got hooked. I loved every minute of it.”
Assistant coach, Columbia University (1994-1996): Troxell served under head coach Ray Tellier. His talent for turning around teams was first put on display in 1994, when the Ivy League school recorded its first winning season in 23 seasons. An 8-2 mark and the program’s best finish in 15 years followed in 1996.
Various roles, Muhlenberg College (1997-2000): Troxell worked as the special teams coordinator, quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, and offensive coordinator. Muhlenberg progressed from a 1-9 season in 1997 to the Eastern College Athletic Conference title with a record of 9-2 in 2000. That year, the offense ranked 22nd in the nation.
Assistant coach, Lafayette College (2001-2005): Under then-head coach Frank Tavani, Troxell worked as running backs coach, recruiting coordinator, and special teams coach. He helped kick off a stretch of three straight titles for the Leopards from 2004 to 2006 that coincided with the program’s first three NCAA FCS Playoff appearances.
Head coach, F&M (2006-2021): Troxell’s leadership molded a once-struggling program into a consistent winner. In 2010, the team finished with a 9-2 record and continued to climb, subsequently reaching the postseason on nine occasions. Troxell was named Centennial Conference Coach of the Year in 2017 (the Diplomats captured a conference championship that same year) and in 2009 (when Troxell also was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year national award). In his 16 seasons, Troxell posted a 92-67 overall record, ranking second in career coaching wins at the school, where he coached 111 all-conference selections.
“Playing sports was all I had as a kid; my family didn’t have a lot of money. I would go outside in the morning and come home when the streetlights went on. I played football my whole life, and the important role football played in the Lehigh Valley community when I was growing up made me strive to be good at it. Everything I have in life is because of this sport. This isn’t a job; it’s something I love to do.”
Troxell’s coaching philosophy is simple: help players figure out where they want to be in 20 years, and surround them with the support they need to get there. “It’s up to us as coaches to create an environment where the kids work hard in the weight room and build chemistry with their teammates. It’s about getting players to believe in each other. I tell them: ‘When you walk in as freshmen, you don’t know each other; but these same guys will be at your weddings and your funerals.’ If your players are passionate about school and football, have great relationships with each other, understand you have their best interests at heart when you push to get the most out of them on the field, and know you care about them off the field, you’re going to be successful.”
“Coming home is special. Being an alum, I care deeply about this place. I have a great passion for this program, and for Lafayette and all it’s done for me. I look at this as a chance for me to give back to the College. It’s not easy to be a Division I athlete and compete academically at a rigorous institution—I’ve been through it. I hope the students look at me and say, ‘This guy cares because he’s invested in the place.’”
Troxell’s summer is dedicated to physically and mentally preparing his players to compete—and win—on the field come September. He says there’s work to be done, and his goal is to tap into and strengthen the high-caliber talent of the team. “We’re going to put an exciting product on the field, and I think the College is going to be proud.”
Troxell grew up watching the annual matchup between Phillipsburg and Easton Area high schools. And having taken part in the Lafayette–Lehigh Rivalry, going head-to-head with the Mountain Hawks is one aspect of the fall 2022 season he’s most looking forward to.
“I remember, after playing in my first Rivalry as a freshman, walking back to my room, and there was a Lafayette student and his dad walking in front of me. They were both bleeding—everyone stormed the field after the game, and people were battling for goalposts. The dad put his arm around his son and said, ‘Man, we had some fun today.’ It’s something that always stayed with me and resonated with how important the Rivalry tradition is to so many in the community. It’s a great day for school spirit, and it’s a day every guy who puts on the uniform will always remember.”
“Down the road, I’d like to be remembered as a good, hard-working coach, teammate, and person. I hope my legacy is that I did right by the College, and that people can look back and say I gave everything I had to make Lafayette great.”
Tickets for the 2022 season are now available for purchase at GoLeopards.com/tickets.