The Bobby Ross Hire in Historical Perspective

If you follow the bouncing coach, you'll quickly be able to appreciate the full momentousness of the hiring of Bobby Ross as Army head football coach. When you look at the recent histories of Army and Navy football, including and especially the programs' greatest moments and most decorated eras, one notices a trend in which successful coaches at one school were followed by successful coaches at the other.

The give-and-take of Army-Navy competition consistently flows through the past six decades, and Bobby Ross's hiring represents Army's bold effort to start a new winning era.

Observe:

In 1941, Earl "Red" Blaik—the greatest coach in the history of service academy football, anytime and anyplace—assumes the head job at Army. Blaik leads the Cadets to two national titles earned by Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, who also won consecutive Heisman Trophies in 1945 and '46. In Blaik's final season—1958—Pete Dawkins gives Blaik a third Heisman winner.

In 1950, after a decade of total Army dominance, the Midshipmen bring aboard Eddie Erdelatz, who takes Navy to Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl victories. Wayne Hardin takes over in 1959 and presides over the Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach era, which leads the boys from Annapolis to appearances in the Orange and Cotton Bowls.

Though still posting winning seasons, Army football had sagged behind Navy in the early 60s, but after Hardin's departure as coach (and Staubach's exit as a player), the Black Knights enjoy the better of the competitive rivalry in the late 60s under Tom Cahill, who coaches at West Point from 1966 to '73, during which Navy football falls off the map.

Just as Cahill winds up his tenure in 1973, Navy brings aboard a new football skipper in George Welsh, who stays in Annapolis for nine seasons and compiles a winning record at the Naval Academy while leading the Middies to three bowl games. Welsh is the last coach at Annapolis to have a winning record in a completed/no-longer-active tenure.

Soon after Welsh's departure in 1981, Jim Young takes over at Army in 1983 and puts together a winning record in his eight seasons in West Point. Navy football encounters another period of decline in the post-Welsh era, and takes a long time to find its footing. When Young leaves, Army football struggles as well: Young is the last Army coach to have a winning record in his completed tenure.

Both programs fall on hard times throughout the 1990s and on into the very beginning of the 21st Century. Navy, though—the longer-suffering program—strikes the first blow of hiring Paul Johnson, who has brought a bounce back to the step of the Brigade. Last year's Houston Bowl appearance capped a sensational season in Annapolis, the best since Charlie Weatherbie's one really good season, the Aloha Bowl year of 1996.

And now, Bobby Ross comes onto the scene, the fruit of Army's efforts to counter Navy's recent surge.

Aside of the past 60-plus years of sparring between Army and Navy, Ross—though never associated with either program—has a fascinating, if indirect, connection to the neverending battle for gridiron supremacy between the Cadets and Midshipmen.

Ross' link to this long series of jousting at the coaching positions of the Army and Navy programs comes through George Welsh.

You may remember that Welsh and Ross coached against each other in the ACC. When Welsh left Navy after the '81 campaign, he went to Virginia in 1982. At the same time, Ross assumed the head coaching job at Maryland, where he stayed for five seasons before switching to ACC rival Georgia Tech in 1987. Ross and Welsh would stare each other down for a solid decade, until Ross left for the NFL's San Diego Chargers in 1992. The quality of Ross and Welsh as football coaches is proven by the fact that their Georgia Tech and Virginia programs attained exceptionally lofty heights, so much so that their November 1990 game—won 41-38 by Tech in the final seconds—had a central role in deciding both the ACC and national titles that year. Virginia was ranked number one heading into that classic contest, an amazing feat for Welsh and the Cavalier program; but what counts is where you're ranked at the end of the battle, and on the night of January 1, 1991, Georgia Tech had a share of the national championship with Colorado after a rout of Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl.

Therefore, if Army fans want a good omen, they have it in the form of Ross' ability to win the biggest battles of his college coaching career (Ross would win many battles in the NFL, enough to get his 1994 Charger team to the Super Bowl) against Welsh, the last great coach in Navy football history.

Bobby Ross' hire is Army's attempt to once again turn the tables in the Army-Navy rivalry. Given his history against George Welsh and the trajectories of the coaching careers in West Point and Annapolis over the past six decades, the history books say he'll more probably succeed than not.


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