Rich Ellerson's seat not even warm yet

Recently a thread posted on the Black Knight's Alley forum discussed whether or not Army football head coach Rich Ellerson was on the "hot seat" and in danger of being fired. The initial poster cited a Bleacher Report article which was essentially taken from the web site which ranks the projected fate of college coaches.

Ellerson was in the dreaded red area and listed 14th out of 120 FBS coaches in the rankings which describe how precarious is their job security. Interestingly, Ellerson was ranked just ahead of perennial hot seat candidate Todd Berry with his lifetime .336 winning percentage. If you're looking far outside the program over the Lusk reservoir and barely peering into Michie Stadium a program outsider might say Ellerson is in trouble as he enters his fourth season as Army's head football coach. Army struggled through a miserable 3-9 campaign last fall after Ellerson led the Black Knights to their first winning season in 14 years in 2010. It was the worst season in Rich Ellerson's 12-year college coaching career. With the second half meltdown against Air Force and the tenth consecutive loss to Navy, his record against Army's two top rivals fell to 0-6. Those two events would probably get you fired at a football factory. At least someone would have started a FireRichEllersonnow web site. West Point, for both good and bad when it comes to the football program, is different.

Ellerson's job is secure right now because he embraced and understands the West Point mission of developing Army officers. Ellerson told me a few years ago that he planned to leverage the experience of the players as part of the Corps of Cadets to be more successful on Saturdays. Before the 2010 season he stated that, "we will win because of West Point, not in spite of West Point." His intellect is respected by the West Point leadership. He has entered into constructive engagement with the Superintendent, the Commandant, Brigade Tactical Officer and the administration at all levels. He's worked hard to make sure there is a proper balance of a Black Knight player's responsibilities as both a member of the team and as a cadet. His family's Army background assists him. It seems that West Point, more than the other service academies, values a link with the Army. Ellerson may have bailed out of the Naval Academy as a plebe after a trip to Hawaii but his father and two brothers who attended West Point give him credibility with graduates. Many of Ellerson's ideas, such as early morning spring football, allows players the appropriate balance of practicing, conditioning, study and rest has benefited the players both on the field from a conditioning stand point and in the classroom. His idea of having the spring football at Doughboy Stadium in Fort Benning, Georgia was a stroke of genius and worked in every way imaginable.

Right now he has the overwhelming support of the athletic director, the Superintendent, the administration and most of the fans. Still, in the end, Rich Ellerson will be judged by his record the same as any coach. If he loses to both Air Force and Navy again this year and has a losing record then the hot seat conversation would literally heat up and become real. Right now most of the fans are taking a wait and see approach. The question that Army fans should ask, "is where is the program right now entering year four of the Ellerson era?"

My opinion is that he has started to turn the corner but may be a year away on the defensive side of the ball. There is no doubt that the team is generally better prepared than it's been in the past. Last year's chronic fumbling was out of character for the program. It was a reflection of the youth of the program last year. The inability of the Black Knights to protect the football neutralized and overshadowed the effectiveness of the nation's best rushing offense. I believe Army will return to its positive 2009-2010 turnover margins with so many experienced starters returning on offense. The defense will benefit from an influx of talented plebes along the front line and in the secondary.

Some have questioned Ellerson's recruiting including those who should know better. (Link I don't. I follow the Army prep team as close as anyone. While Army's recruiting isn't as consistently deep or as talented as Air Force and Navy, it has improved each season. Ellerson's initial 2009 recruiting class was a fire drill after being hired in January of that year. He recruited some talented players who have been successful at mostly FCS schools, a few at FBS schools but they were a bad fit for Army. He learned from that mistake and ever since the attrition from the United States Military Academy Prep School has been down. Overall, the team speed has increased dramatically at USMAPS and should be evident the next few seasons as Ellerson's recruits join the program. Anyone who thinks this team isn't faster hasn't been paying attention to the incoming prep talent. The overall lack of team speed was the Achilles heel of Stan Brock's and Bobby Ross's teams. Ellerson proved his system can work at West Point in 2010 with the players Bobby Ross recruited on defense. To me, at least, it's not exactly fair to judge him by the rather empty cupboard Stan Brock's recruiting classes left them on defense. In 2013 every player in the program will have been recruited by Ellerson and his staff. By next season we will have an idea if Rich Ellerson is the right man to coach Army football. I believe he is. Time will tell. Top Stories