Buddy Green's Sabbatical: What It Means
When histories of programs are written, naturally the head coaches get most of the credit and the ink and the television time. When college football fans in the year 2070 read about the sport in the early 21st century and the late 20th century, they’ll see that Urban Meyer did great things at Florida, but they might not appreciate how essential Charlie Strong was to the Gators’ rise to prominence. College football fans in the distant future will read about Nebraska thriving under Dr. Tom Osborne, but they might not realize that longtime Osborne sidekick Charlie McBride, the program’s defensive coordinator in its salad days, was every bit as vital to the prosperity the Huskers enjoyed on a relentlessly annual basis over the course of multiple decades.
Head coaches are the foremost cornerstones for college football programs, but many of the schools that have succeeded for prolonged periods of time have also benefited from the presence of cornerstone coordinators. They matter almost as much, sometimes equally.
Such has been the case with Buddy Green, the defensive coordinator at the United States Naval Academy through the entirety of the Paul Johnson-Ken Niumatalolo years. Green was there at the beginning. He was there during the transition to Niumatalolo in December of 2007 and into the 2008 season. He was there last year.
Green will still help the 2015 Navy coaching staff, but this year, he won’t be on the sidelines on gamedays.
In a story that is impactful, but felt like much more of a thunderbolt when it initially broke on Thursday afternoon, Green will not coach with the Navy team this season. The initial news made Navy fans wonder if Green would have any appreciable amount of contact with the team or its operations during the season. Subsequent clarifications and additions to the full context of the story have made it clear that Green will consult with interim defensive coordinator (and longtime Navy defensive line coach) Dale Pehrson, and that Green will therefore have a role in shaping defensive game plans. That’s a relief to fans, because it’s a big benefit to still have that service provided by Green. Yet, we’re still left with the reality that for one season, Green won’t be in the arena himself. That voice, that presence, that defensive mind, will be missed on gamedays, and it’s up to Pehrson and Niumatalolo to make this different arrangement work.
This move was made at Niumatalolo’s urging, since Green was coming off neck surgery and needed to go through a proper rehabilitation process… but did not make the first move to withdraw himself from the daily activities of the team and coaching staff. Niumatalolo intervened, which can create all sorts of speculation from the outside world, but is ultimately a good thing for Navy, because it represents a coach taking control of his program. Green needed this downtime, so in a sense it’s a little worrisome that he didn’t step away himself, but it’s good in the sense that Green still feels he has a lot to contribute to the program. If the rehab process goes well, Green should be back on the sidelines in 2016.
For now, though, Navy has to enter its first season in the American Athletic Conference without the coordinator who has meant so much to the program, and has been a constant ever since the Midshipmen became winners again in 2003 (and in the growing-pains 2002 season which preceded it).
How much has Buddy Green meant to Navy football? Several thousand words are needed to fully tell the tale, but let’s give you a condensed version in several hundred words. The first and foremost indication of Green’s value to Navy is that he’s shut down Army. In 13 meetings going back to 2002, Army has scored more than 17 points only twice, and never more than 23 points (that being in a 42-23 loss, when Navy rolled up a 35-10 lead late in the third quarter). You can count the number of meaningful Army touchdowns in the past 13 years against Navy on one hand. Green’s defense has often saved the day against the Black Knights, usually by putting up a wall in the first half and giving the offense enough time to find itself in the late second or early third quarters. Army has averaged only 10 points per game in the last three outings against Navy. The Black Knights went three years (2007 through 2009) in which they didn’t score more than three points against Green’s defenses.
The second point which magnifies the value of Buddy Green is that he’s contained Air Force, a much better program than Army and the main competitor to the Midshipmen for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. Air Force has won three of the last five games against Navy, and in two of those instances, the Falcons reached the 30-point mark. Those are the only two times since 2003 that Air Force has in fact scored 30 on Navy. In the other 10 meetings between the schools since 2003, Air Force’s offense has been held in check. Accordingly, Navy’s record in those games is 9-1, with the only loss being a 14-6 decision which was obviously the fault of the offense.
In the Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State; in the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee; last year against Ohio State; and on so many other special occasions, Green’s defense has done its job. Yes, the 2007 season spiraled out of control on the defensive side of the ball, but with generally undersized players, it’s extremely impressive that Navy – playing Notre Dame every year and also testing itself against other brand-name programs with the ability to score 40 or more points a game – has usually been able to hold opponents to an average of under 26 points per game. The Midshipmen have normally reached that threshold, and on a few occasions, they managed to allow an average of fewer than 20 points per game. Doing so with the resources afforded him in Annapolis has made Buddy Green a cornerstone coach – verily, an anchor coach – for Navy football.
The focus now shifts to Dale Pehrson, who will benefit from Green’s consultations but must ultimately handle the heat of gamedays himself, with added input from Ken Niumatalolo. Before this first AAC does begin, though, take a moment to absorb just how much Buddy Green has meant to the Navy football family… and wish him well as he attempts to make a full recovery, one that will place him with the team and inside the stadium a year from now.
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