Army Coaching Search: The Boo Corrigan Trio
OLD AGE AND TREACHERY, YOUTH AND SKILL, OR A MIDDLE GROUND?
MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES ON THE NEXT ARMY COACH
The Winter Olympics are just around the corner. As Army and athletic director Boo Corrigan seek their next head football coach, a sober and levelheaded assessment of the situation suggests that three candidates stand on the medal podium. You can determine your gold, silver and bronze medal selections, but one of the following three men needs to become Army's next sideline sultan. Corrigan has three options that stand out from the rest: Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, ex-Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe, and New York Jets special teams coach Ben Kotwica. Any selection would be reasonable and fairly well received, but Corrigan obviously needs to choose the person and path that give Army the best chance of beating Navy on a reasonably consistent basis.
This discussion begins with a fundamental question: What is a realistic expectation of what Army's offense can both achieve and become, especially against Navy? The 12-game losing streak to the Midshipmen has substantially been the product of deficient offensive performances, so this coaching search needs to drill deep and arrive at a solution on the offensive side of the ball. If Corrigan can walk away from an interview convinced that Army's offense will be able to outmaneuver Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green in the middle of December, he should extend an offer. Warinner, Grobe and Kotwica offer three avenues for Corrigan as he tries to find the West Point coach that can knock off Navy more than a few times.
Let's look at these three coaches together. Warinner was born in 1961, Grobe in 1952, Kotwica in 1974. Warinner's background is that of an offensive coordinator. Grobe has thrown his hat into the ring as an older head coach looking for a fresh start and, most likely, the final job of his career. Kotwica is an NFL special teams coach who dominated Navy as an Army player. In making distinctions among the three men, Warinner and Grobe are the older candidates with the more extensive resumes. Warinner and Kotwica have deep connections to the Army program and would be instantly familiar with the way things are done on campus. Grobe and Kotwica would likely see this job as an important career boost, albeit for different sets of reasons, while Warinner – currently serving under Urban Meyer at Ohio State – would view this job (should he obtain it) as more of a mission than an upward career move. These and other distinctions will shape the culture that seeps into the locker room and the practice field. It's up to Corrigan to identify the coach whose blueprint is most likely to create a winning culture, especially against the athletes from Annapolis.
A major question Corrigan needs to resolve in his mind is the age of his coach, and whether that should matter in his decision, one of the most consequential moves he will make as Army's athletic director. Army's coaches over the past 30 years have generally been no younger than 48 years at the time they were hired, but Todd Berry (39) was the last coach to beat Navy, and Bob Sutton (40) enjoyed a very successful nine-year career against Navy in the 1990s.
It could be that Grobe will scare off Corrigan and Army fans because he might represent something too familiarly close to Bobby Ross, a quality coach from the Atlantic Coast Conference who – near the end of his career – ran out of answers.
Kotwica's youthfulness might create a change in mindset that could breathe fresh life into the program. With respect to Army's offense, Kotwica might not have the credentials of Warinner and Grobe, but his attention to detail – you don't become an NFL special teams coach if you don't have an eye for detail – could be just the thing that weeds out the lack of ball security that has destroyed Army against Navy.
The more one thinks about this coaching search, Grobe and Kotwica are the polarities, with Warinner being the candidate that stands between the two. Grobe's best asset is simply that he's a proven head coach, but more than that, a head coach who knows how to do a lot with comparatively few resources. Over the past decade at Wake Forest, Grobe won one more ACC championship than the University of Miami (and North Carolina, and Boston College, and Maryland, and Virginia). His tenure did run out of steam toward its end, but Wake Forest still made five bowls in 13 seasons while winning six games (but not making a bowl) in a sixth season. In the 2011 Music City Bowl, it was clear that Mississippi State owned a lot more natural talent than Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons – due to superior coaching – made that game a 60-minute fight in which the Bulldogs had to do everything they could to pull out a close victory. Grobe's ability to do more with less is pronounced, and that's why the Army job appeals to him.
Kotwica's resume is quite different from Grobe's. Kotwica can't point to substantial head coaching accomplishments, but unlike Grobe, the former Army star is just beginning to build a career in the coaching business. He could bring fresh eyes and an ability to relate to athletes in a way that Army's last three coaches – Ross, Stan Brock, and Rich Ellerson – never could. If Grobe's main selling point is that he's proven, Kotwica's main selling point is that he's young and relatively new. It's reasonable to think that something new is precisely what Army needs against Navy, so that's why Kotwica best represents that particular option for Corrigan.
What about Warinner, though? It's not that easy to fit the 52-year-old into a neat and tidy box… and perhaps that's the very reason he might be the best of the three candidates, the gold medal selection who should be given an offer before anyone else… if he wants to leave Ohio State.
Warinner isn't the young pup Kotwica is, but he doesn't have Grobe's experience as a head coach. Warinner is an offensive mind, but his system and concepts aren't limited to one area of expertise. At Kansas, Warinner coached Todd Reesing. At Ohio State, Warinner has guided Braxton Miller. Those are two very different quarterbacks. Reesing was primarily a dropback passer, Miller a dazzling open-field runner who flourishes in tandem with a superb running back such as Carlos Hyde. The men Warinner has worked for over the past several years – Mark Mangino (Kansas), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), and Meyer (Ohio State) – all have their own distinct concepts on the offensive side of the ball. Warriner's understanding surpasses one specific system or approach to offense.
When you think about it, isn't this what Army and its offense truly need against Navy? The triple option has certainly racked up plenty of rushing yards and has made the Black Knights potent at times, but Navy – being a triple-option team in its own right – understands exactly how to defend that offense and generally has better players on its roster. Army's inability to pass the ball has been a huge liability against Navy. Obtaining balance – not for the sake of balance, but for the sake of being able to surprise Navy's defense with a big play that can score a 50-yard touchdown – is what Army needs against Navy. The Black Knights have certainly seen how Ken Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper have been able to establish the run over the years and then unsheathe the change-of-pace pass play that hits a home run. Army needs to capture this big-play lightning, and Warriner's textured, multi-layered understanding of Xs and Os might hit the sweet spot for the program.
Three distinct options. Three mixtures of advantages and uncertainties. Three careers at different stages and ages. Boo Corrigan certainly has his work cut out for him, but if he lands on the names of Warinner, Grobe or Kotwica, he will have done well.
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