The opinions of R. Nelson are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ArmySports.com.
Army Football's most prized recruit will arrive a month earlier than the Class of 2018 when Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen becomes the new Superintendent at USMA. Army football did not appear to be a priority for Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon. Under Huntoon's watch:
• Army's record was 5-19
• Army did not utilize the maximum number of Spring practices in 2012 or 2013
• Practices were moved from the afternoon to 90 minute sessions in the morning before class
• Army failed to join a major conference although several invitations were offered
• Army retained a Head Coach, who by all counts, has been a failure
From an observational standpoint, it is mind boggling how a team can be so undersized, look so unprepared for their football games and have a head coach who practices the team for only 90 minutes a day and does not conduct the maximum number of spring practices. From Rich Ellerson, we hear statements that contain the phrases "West Point Type Ball Players" and "Leadership Development." The organizational structure of the team very much resembles that of the Academy itself so that "leadership development' is happening in the locker room. We can only think that Ellerson has been directed by Huntoon to do such things. This is the only way that Ellerson could not be held liable for the performance of the team and maintained his job.
Over the past 10 years, the Superintendents of the US Military Academy have had many more important responsibilities than creating a top 20 football program. These other responsibilities have been magnified because the US Army has been at war and West Point Graduates have led soldiers in combat. It is completely understandable why a Superintendent would not want to pay attention to the football program and even treat it like a worthless, meaningless nuisance.
That is, until sequestration budget cuts hit and the Academy doesn't even have enough food in the mess hall to feed the Corps, much less take the Spring game on the road.
As we have written numerous times before, the biggest revenue generator the Academy has is the football program. These last two seasons the football team was an abject embarrassment on the field, yet the Academy brass couldn't seem to care less. Suddenly football matters again, and the desperately needed potential revenue a halfway decent football program can generate matters a whole lot.
We hear the new Supe is coming in with a "football mandate" from General Odierno. Now those of you who, like us, have heard this kind of thing before have every reason to be highly skeptical. Undoubtedly this means another Supe's Committee (which would be the third since 2003) will be formed to brainstorm what needs to be done. They will debate such utter nonsense as "playing option football" (we see how great that worked out), and "competitive scheduling" (which sounds great until you realize you can't entice recruits with the opportunity to face Stony Brook or Morgan State). They will look at the cadet schedule and give strong consideration to giving football players an extra 15 minutes sleep a day. They will look at the incredibly bad recent recruiting record and probably blame it on the war in Afghanistan. Maybe they will analyze the game day stadium operations and debate whether cadets manning concession stands and selling hot dogs is really consistent with the Academy's mission.
And in all likelihood, they will ignore the biggest problem they have - a lack of continuity and direction.
It is not the responsibility of this column to criticize the development of leaders at the Academy. However, it is our job to criticize the performance of the team, and any football fan will tell you that Army is barely an FBS team. If Army is to compete in the middle of the FBS or better, they must prioritize the recruitment and development of the player, and they really need to give the players a chance to concentrate quite a bit more on football during the season than they have. We saw tremendous improvements in the recruiting and in the quality of play under Bobby Ross in a very short time. Stephen Anderson, Josh McNary, Patrick Mealy, Colin Mooney and Caleb Campbell were some of the players recruited under his tenure, and the players he recruited lead Army to the Armed Forces Bowl in 2010. Since his departure, the players have become smaller and slower, and the team seems totally disorganized and unfocused.
Bobby Ross was the culmination of the first Supe's Committee formed by William Lennox after Army's record-breaking 0-13 season. Less than 3 years later another Supe's committee was formed that basically undid everything that was done to accommodate Ross, such as the lowering of admissions standards and paving a pathway to the NFL for gifted players. One of the most unfortunate conclusions the last committee came up with was that Army must play "option football" to be successful. Well, 5-19 isn't very successful. What offense should they try running now? Another unfortunate conclusion was that the schedule under Ross was "unrealistic" – no more scheduling games against Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Ohio State…instead, Army would schedule teams like Rhode Island, Fordham, Stony Brook. The problem is, when beating Stony Brook becomes "unrealistic", where do you go from there? Now there's going to be someone new coming in with a new set of ideas. It's really ridiculous – they need to take the football program out of the hands of these Superintendents who know nothing about the way the game operates today. Our biggest hope is that someday, they will revisit the era when Carl Ullrich was the Athletic Director. He had autonomy to run the athletic programs as he saw fit, with no limit to his term of employment. Seems to us that so many of their problems could be solved if one man was given the opportunity to instill an organizational philosophy and maintain continuity, without everything getting thrown into upheaval every time a new Superintendent comes in.
Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen is a former football player and will have among other things a mandate to fix the football program, but we aren't buying the notion that everything is going to get straightened out. It takes a minimum of four seasons to build a program, Caslen will be gone before that time passes, and some other supe will come in with his own ideas. It is a crazy way to operate, and it explains a lot about what ills Army football.
What's to come in 2013
The sequestration hit all the service academies so hard that, for the first time, the Army "A" Club assigned a ticket manager to each season ticket holder. No sooner did the final whistle blow on yet another loss in the Army-Navy game when Lommer started getting calls from the assigned manager about renewing for next season. The manager subsequently called four more times to make sure the deadline was not missed and the big parking "donation" was made. Of course, this opportunity to discuss the football program revealed two very interesting nuggets of information:
• Feedback from the season ticket fan base has been extremely negative regarding Army's scheduled game on September 14th against Stanford. It appears the "fans" want Army to play teams it can beat.
• Cadets working the stadium concession stands as an assigned duty is something the "A" Club claims to be unaware of.
On the first point, all you have to do is look at Army's 2013 home schedule and really wonder what West Point Nation is thinking these days. The opener is on Friday, August 30th, against Morgan State. Morgan State? The fans would rather watch Army play Morgan State than Stanford? Really? It makes you start to wonder what kind of feedback the Academy Brass is responding to when they decide to even schedule Morgan State. That game might not draw 10,000 people. Meanwhile, the next home game is against Stanford, and considering the national profile of their program and the fact they never appear on the east coast, that game will not only sell out, it's entirely possible CBS will make that a national broadcast on the parent network. Army might beat Morgan State 59-0, and they might lose to Stanford 73-0, but which game is going to be more valuable to the program in terms of generating revenue and creating tremendous exposure? Besides, there aren't that many teams out there that Army can beat right now, anyway.
On the second point, we have heard feedback from our "readers" that West Point's mission is not to develop football players. The "haters" out there, who presumably were insanely jealous of football players in their time at the Academy, have done all they can do to prevent football players from being released early from their graduation obligations in order to pursue careers in the NFL. Well, now that the Academy has no money to hire civilian employees to work the concession stands, and training cadets to sell hot dogs is now part of the Academy Mission, the attitude has changed a lot. There are now three recent grads who have signed contracts with NFL teams. The Academy brought the New York Yankees in for an exhibition baseball "fund raiser" that was successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Suddenly the most hard core "haters" understand better the value of the exposure that a football player can bring to the Academy by "flying the flag" every Sunday on the NFL stage. There won't be much of an improvement in the talent level of the football team short term with the current coaching staff, but we suspect the next coaching staff will benefit greatly long term from being able to pitch the NFL dream to future recruits. That will raise the talent level, that will improve the on-field product, and that will make Army a hot commodity. Hopefully then, cadets can quit the concession stands and go back to training for war.
As for this season, the Orlando Sentinel has projected Army as the 117th ranked team in the nation for this upcoming season. Last season they projected Army to finish in the top 50. Just like last year, we think they have rated Army much too high. We suppose it is a good thing after all that Morgan State is on the schedule because that assures this team won't go winless. Other than that, to say the picture is bleak is an understatement. The problems? Where do we start?
• The QB position: With a four year starter in Trent Steelman, who set all kinds of offensive records, they still finished 2-10 last year. In spring practice, A.J. Schurr and Angel Santiago were battling it out for the starting job. Reportedly, Coach Ellerson was "pleased" with their performance. Great. Here is hoping somebody comes from the prep school who can win the job in the fall.
• The Defensive Line: Army currently has 21 defensive lineman on its spring roster. Not one weighs more than 265 lbs. Only five weigh more than 247 lbs. Just like last year, Army will have no chance at stopping the run, and when they try bringing extra people into the box to try to stuff the run, their defensive backs will be left in man coverage against superior athletes. At times last year, Army defenders served as little more than speed bumps against opposing offenses. We suspect this coming season will be no different.
• The Discipline: Fumbles, fumbles, and more fumbles. That basically said it all these last two seasons. There have been a lot of unforced fumbles on the center-QB exchange, and on the QB-FB exchange. There have also been a lot of bobbling and juggling on these exchanges which may not have resulted in fumbles, but certainly messed up the timing on a lot of plays. Yet this coaching staff has never been able to address and fix this. We see no reason why it should be any different this season.
We do not foresee Army winning any of its away games (we can't even remember the last time they won a road game). Army can't lose to Morgan State, can they? Most likely they will pull one nice upset at home (but certainly not against Stanford), and they will drop a game everyone thinks they should win (probably against Western Kentucky).
3-9 sounds just about right, and then maybe they can move on in 2014 with a new coaching staff that finally gets them moving in the right direction.
Army spring report; an opinion
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