Academy Football History Series-Quiet Coaches
Army head coach Earl "Red" Blaik (photo at right) is not just the greatest head coach in the history of service-academy football; he's one of the elite college football coaches of all time. Navy's Gil Dobie – just as World War I was ending – was in the process of forging one of the better careers in the first third of the 20th century. Wayne Hardin – a man who brought Temple to a bowl game in 1979 – presided over the two most magical seasons in Navy history, the Heisman-and-January-bowl specials of 1960 and 1963, aligned with Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach.
Air Force fans can point to Fisher DeBerry as the man who turned the Falcons into the elite service-academy team during his 23 seasons in Colorado Springs. DeBerry (photo at left) alone won 14 Commander-In-Chief's Trophies, one more than Navy's overall total (13) and more than twice Army's overall haul (6). DeBerry made 12 bowl games and won at least 10 games in four separate seasons. These are the icons in West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs; their places in the history books – and in the minds and hearts of fans – are secure.
However, what about the coaches who exist a notch below the icons? Will they be remembered by the non-diehards and the non-historians? Let's give them their due.
Army's best coach in the CIC Trophy era (which began in 1972) is clearly Jim Young (photo at right), whose body of work at Arizona and Purdue (before he came to Army) made him an above-average coach to begin with. Young, though, saved his best work for Army, winning three Commander-In-Chief's Trophies in eight seasons and contesting the trophy with Air Force on relatively even terms during the 1980s. Young also brought Army its first three bowl bids in the history of the program (owing to the fact that Army chose not to play in bowls during its heyday, but the feat is still noteworthy). Young won the first two bowls he coached in, the 1984 Cherry Bowl over Michigan State and the 1985 Peach Bowl over Illinois. Young revived West Point football, and none of his successors has been able to match his work, though Bob Sutton continued to outfox Navy in the 1990s.
Air Force's quiet coach is Ben Martin (photo at left), a man who – very simply – took the reins when the Falcons were just one year old as a program. In Air Force's infancy, Martin quickly delivered a stunning result by making the 1959 Cotton Bowl and tying a formidable TCU squad to complete an unbeaten season (9-0-2). Martin later made the 1963 Gator Bowl and the 1971 Sugar Bowl to cement his place in Air Force lore.
If Dobie and Hardin are Navy's icons, and if Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo bask in modern-day affection as cherished members of the Navy football family, the quiet man within the larger history of the program has to be Eddie Erdelatz (photo at right), who served as the coach for the Midshipmen from 1950 through 1958. When Navy's glory days are referenced, most college football fans will reflexively gravitate to 1960 and 1963, the Bellino and Staubach seasons. However, it might escape the notice of many observers that Navy earned a Sugar Bowl berth in the 1954 season and a Cotton Bowl berth in 1957. It was Erdelatz who won the 1955 Sugar Bowl against Mississippi and the '58 Cotton Bowl over Rice. Navy, under Hardin, failed to win the 1961 Orange Bowl against Missouri and the '64 Cotton Bowl against Texas.
Was 1963 Texas better than 1957 Rice? Unquestionably so. Was 1960 Missouri better than 1954 Mississippi? Quite possibly, though that's more debatable. Nevertheless, Erdelatz – who stumbled to a 5-12-1 start in his first two seasons in Annapolis but then compiled winning seasons in his last seven years on the job – performed a lot of heavy lifting as Navy's head coach… without Joe Bellino and Roger the Dodger.
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