Army: Where do we go from here?

R. Nelson comments on some things that he believes could help improve Army's football fortunes. He also provides his opinions on who should be the next Black Knight head coach.


Navy held ball for nearly 10 more minutes than Army. They the gained 353 total yards and limited Army to 207. Navy dominated Army in every way humanly possible, to the point where, near the end of the game, they began running razzle-dazzle double reverse flea-flicker plays in the red zone. Navy coasted to a very easy win against the Cadets for their 12th in a row in this once great rivalry game, 34-7.

If there were any doubts that drastic changes need to be made to the Army football program, this game certainly removed them. Army was beaten by a Navy team that barely broke a sweat. Navy did very little beyond their normal game plan. They simply waited for the inevitable Army implosion and it came early.

A.J. Schurr runs the offense well, but he tends to turn the ball over often. On Army's first drive, after gaining a first down, Schurr lost the football while throwing. This turned into a 20 yard, drive killing loss. On the second drive, Army drove to the Navy 40, but a nice hit by Brendon Clements caused a Schurr fumble. This forced Coach Ellerson to bring in Angel Santiago. While Santiago tends be more reliable with the ball, he tends to be very indecisive in the option and is a poor passer.

The Army defense performed admirably, and they weren't as totally ineffective as they usually are. Nevertheless, Navy still went into halftime leading 17-0.

Army was held on three and out on their first drive of the second half, but the defense held Navy to just a single first down, and Army got the ball back. For once, the Army offense looked good. Santiago led a seven play, seventy one yard drive which featured a 29 yard pass to Xavier Moss and a Santiago run of 28 yards. Army had momentum and was within ten points.

Army held Navy to a field goal and the third quarter ended 20-7. Army had the ball on fourth and 3 at their own 42-yard line and Ellerson decided to go for it. FB Larry Dixon made a valiant effort, but was stopped short of the first down. The defense held Navy on the ensuing drive, but the momentum was lost, as was the opportunity to make a game of it. Navy pounded Army on their final two drives.

While there was a glimmer of hope for the Cadets after their first and only score, the game was never really close. The team looked under practiced, unprepared, undisciplined and nowhere near Navy's talent level.

Reliable sources had reported that Superintendent Caslen was interviewing head coaches several weeks before the Navy game, but Army's performance removed any doubt that Rich Ellerson's tenure at West Point had come to an end. This game demonstrated everything that is wrong with Army football. Of course it happened in the national spotlight, which made it all the more embarrassing for all of us who care about this team.

Where to go from here?

We believe that General Caslen was brought to West Point to fix the football program as one of the highest priorities. Caslen is very familiar with the football program and probably has a good idea of what needs to be done. There have been a couple of groups consisting of grads and college football experts working since the summer on recommendations for the program. Additionally, there are recommendations that have been left by previous committees over the years. Below is a list of what we think these changes need to be:
  • Play a competitive schedule – playing two FCS schools and the bottom 40 FBS schools does not make your program stronger. We warned back then that dropping big opponents like Ohio State and Georgia Tech was a big mistake, that "dumbing down" the schedule with lower echelon opponents so as to "backdoor" their way into lower echelon bowl games was not going to be to the long term benefit of the program. We were concerned that, once the Bobby Ross/Stan Brock recruits were gone, that Ellerson's staff would not be able to recruit against the schedule they started playing, and that the program would be in worse shape than it was under Ross/Brock. Turns out that is exactly what has happened. Please…no more games against Morgan State and Stony Brook.
  • Join a conference – it is hard to schedule and recruit when your team cannot schedule and compete against good teams. Recently Academy brass has resisted overtures to join various football conferences, and the reasons given have been related to the very negative experience with Conference USA that many feel led to the demise of Army Football. However, the landscape of college football has dramatically changed in these last 20 years, and it certainly seems the Academy could use the money that these conferences generate these days.
  • Allow players to advance to the NFL – whether the players buy out their commitment or serve their commitment in the reserves, those who get drafted into the NFL should be given the opportunity to play. We have belabored this point in the past on this and other forums. We believe that the revenue generation and promotional benefits of allowing a handful of our best players to pursue professional football is well worth the loss of a few Second Lieutenants crawling around in the dust in Afghanistan. There was already evidence that this could work – when the Academy instituted the "Alternate Service Option", and Caleb Campbell was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2008, Army had their best recruiting class since "Red" Blaik roamed the sidelines. Of course, when the Department of Defense pulled the plug on the program, nearly all of the top recruits in that class left, and the best one, QB Paul McIntyre, quit after the second game of the 2008 season. Perhaps this time, all parties involved can coordinate a sensible plan that everyone can live with. That way, the new coaching staff can bring in a higher caliber of talent who might one day carry the Army flag onto the NFL stage on Sundays.
  • Athletic Director – We don't have any issues or concerns about "Boo" Corrigan right now, but when Caslen leaves this position, he must leave an Athletic Director with the authority and the contractual security so that the following Superintendent is not able to meddle and undo all the institutional changes that he must make. The absolute biggest challenge in getting this ship righted is the turnover and the lack of continuity at the top. Every three years a new Superintendent is appointed to run the Academy, and every three years the program undergoes complete upheaval as a new "Supe" imposes his ideas and his philosophy on the football "mess" that he inherits. This must stop now. If that means giving "Boo" or some other AD a ten year ironclad contract at hefty terms that give him autonomy over the program, similar to kind of autonomy former AD Carl Ullrich had through the 1980's, then that's what needs to be. If Caslen doesn't have confidence that "Boo" is the man for that kind of responsibility, then it is imperative that he find someone who is.
  • Player Care – There is no way that 90 minute practices can prepare players for FBS football. Astonishingly, two seasons ago Rich Ellerson made a decision to move football practices to the mornings before class was in session, therefore limiting the daily practices to 90 minutes. There is nothing that happened in his tenure that was more damaging to the on-field product than this. There is no way that this amount of practice time could have adequately prepared any team to compete at the FBS level. As it turned out, over these last two seasons, Army fielded a team that struggled mightily against FCS opponents and for the most part got walloped by FBS opponents. It's hard to believe he wasn't fired after last season. We thought he kept his job because he was just following orders, but we have since found out that this was his idea. Unbelievable.
  • Hire the right coach – While it is important to hire a coach that understands West Point, it is far more important that Caslen hire a coach that has a successful track record at the highest levels. Todd Berry and Rich Ellerson were brought from successful FCS programs, but forming a winning program at the FBS level is entirely different. If you compound those requirements with the challenges associated with coaching football at West Point – it is an extremely difficult task. The best Academy coaches in the past 25 years have been Fisher DeBerry, Jim Young, and Navy's last two coaches, Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatololo. While DeBerry was groomed at Air Force, Young and Johnson had proven football backgrounds and successfully turned around losing programs.
  • Let the coach form the offense - The option attack is not required for a winning football program. Recruiting and coaching are paramount - let's not limit our options with the requirement of a certain kind of offense. They will hopefully be hiring someone with excellent qualifications and a vast expertise – someone who presumably has years of NCAA and/or NFL coaching experience – and then the Supe is going to tell him what kind of offense to run? We know that experts such as John Feinstein have published articles about how service academy teams must play option football. But look what happened with Ellerson – he was hired because he was a coach who believed in option football. What everyone seemed to overlook was that he actually had no experience as a head coach of any D-1 program, nor did he have any NFL experience. Instead of prioritizing option football as a prerequisite for this job, this time around it would be a better idea to hire a highly qualified coach and trust him to make the decisions about offensive strategy and philosophy. After all, the coach they hire should know a lot more about offensive strategy and philosophy than John Feinstein, any Supe, or any of us.

Potential Coaches
Army has interviewed or will interview:

  • Mike Sullivan '89 – Offensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Irvin Jasper – Offensive Coordinator, Navy
  • Jeff Monken – Head Coach, Georgia Southern
  • Jim Grobe – Head Coach, Wake Forest
  • Charlie Taafie – Offensive Coordinator, Central Florida
  • Ed Warriner – Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State

Our recommendation is Mike Sullivan. He is the only man on this list who:

A) Owns two Super Bowl Rings
B) Has experience as an NFL Offensive Coordinator
C) Has those NFL connections all over the country – he will have no trouble finding players
D) Not only is a West Point grad, but also has winning experience as an Army player.

We would not be disappointed if either Charlie Taaffe or Ed Warriner get the job. Reliable sources tell us Taaffe has the inside track right now.

EDITOR'S NOTE: R. Nelson's opinions are his own and do not represent the opinions of or Top Stories