Academy Football History Series-Crossover Men

If you have followed college football over many years and have burrowed into the sport's history, you're aware of "crossover" figures, the people who enriched one school as an athlete and then helped a rival program as a coach or administrator. Army, Navy, and Air Force are not exceptions to this dynamic.

History is part of the lifeblood of a service academy. Knowing the history of a place and the people who improved it is important in West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. History is also a rich part of college sports, due to the fact that a school's history retains so much more personal significance for the local fan base when compared to the more volatile and transition-filled world of professional sports. College fans are typically alumni of the schools they cheer for, a link whose intimacy and depth exceeds the bond forged by professional sports. If history matters, it's not forgotten when individuals cross boundaries in one form or another.

Vince Dooley played football at Auburn but then became an iconic coach at Georgia. Pat Dye played football at Georgia but then became an iconic coach at Auburn. Today, Will Muschamp – a graduate of Georgia – coaches the Bulldogs' foremost SEC East rival, the Florida Gators. Darrell Royal, the Hall of Fame coach at the University of Texas, attended the University of Oklahoma as a student. John McKay attended Oregon but then coached USC to multiple national championships. This happens in college sports. Getting a coaching or administrative post means real money in the pocket. A playing career offers an association with a university as a student and an alum, but the job market isn't able to neatly accommodate school ties.

Even in the special and set-apart world of the military academies, crossover figures exist.

Old-timers – those versed in the history of the three service academy programs – will know this, but younger fans might not: Army and Navy produced All-American athletes who then became athletic directors at Air Force.

Yes, Francis Merritt – an All-American left tackle on the 1943 Army team that finished No. 11 in the country – became the athletic director in Colorado Springs in 1967, serving through 1974. Merritt did not fire then-Air Force coach Ben Martin in 1967, after the Falcons drifted through a fourth straight season with fewer than six wins. Martin made the 1971 Sugar Bowl, and the program remained on stable footing until the final year of Merritt's tenure.

Merritt's successor was not a football All-American at Army; he was a basketball All-American at Navy. John Clune graduated from Annapolis in 1954 and then became Air Force's new athletic director in 1975.

The noteworthy aspects of his 17-year tenure (through 1991) are reprinted here from Air Force's official athletic department website:

"One of the most respected athletic administrators in America, he spearheaded Air Force's successful move into the Western Athletic Conference in 1980. He initiated a comprehensive 10-sport women's program at the AIAW level in 1976 and then moved the women's program to Division II in 1983. Clune served as the president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (1984-85), was the chairman of the Board of Directors for the College Football Association in 1988, the associations' president in 1989 and was the chairman of the Division I-A football committee. He was instrumental in working with Colorado Springs officials to bring the Olympic Training Center to Colorado Springs and worked with the Air Force Academy Foundation in 1986 to build the visitor center."

Air Force's basketball gymnasium is named after Col. Clune.

Falcon Authority Top Stories