If you've watched the story of Navy Athletics unfold in the 21st century, "0-10" is simultaneously a time the mind wants to forget, but the heart always wants to remember.
The heart clings to something such as "0-10" because the appreciation of what it feels like to be in the dumpster, to hit the ocean floor, makes a Naval revival that much sweeter. The ship of the Navy football program had sunk to the lowest of lows, just three months into Chet Gladchuk's tenure in Annapolis. After that winless season on the gridiron in 2001, Navy had to face facts.
It had won a couple of games against Army, but the memory of the 1996 Aloha Bowl win over California couldn't last forever. The Midshipmen had averaged 2.25 wins in a four-season span under then-coach Charlie Weatherbie. When that futile 2001 season ended, Navy had lost 7 of 10 to Army, and 11 of 16 to the Black Knights. A total rebuild was necessary, and from the rubble of that moment -- in December of 2001 -- Gladchuck had to select the man who could engineer a turnaround on the field.
Gladchuck tabbed Paul Johnson as the one to lead Navy out of the wilderness, out of the periphery in the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy competition and out of bowl-season emptiness. The Midshipmen had to eat a 2-10 season in 2002, but a thumping of West Point at the tail-end of that journey showed that the light which had been smothered over the previous several seasons was about to shine through once again. The 2003 season delivered a bowl bid, and you know the rest of the story over the next few years.
A bowl win. A 10-win season. A win over Notre Dame in South Bend.
Paul Johnson didn't create modest improvements. He upended every sense of what was humanly possible for Navy football in the 21st century, a time when the stature of service-academy football is not -- and can never fully be -- what it once was in the early 1960s and the decades preceding that part of history. Having done more than anyone expected, Johnson then left for Georgia Tech, where he's won an Orange Bowl and an ACC championship.
Gladchuk had to make sure he kept Navy football on track.
Did he go outside the program? Did he insist on what other athletic directors might refer to as an "aspirational hire" in order to ensure Navy continued to generate buzz?
Gladchuck could have over-thought this move. He could have made it more complicated than it needed to be.
He didn't. He promoted Ken Niumatalolo within the program.
Nearly a full decade later, Navy is flourishing to an even greater extent, basking in the glow of the first 11-win season in the history of the program. A Navy player -- Keenan Reynolds -- entered the Heisman Trophy conversation. Navy came one win away (versus Houston) from playing in a prestigious New Year's Six bowl game (the Peach Bowl).
No, you're probably not going to see Navy play a 1-versus-2 bowl game for the national title as it did in January of 1964 under Roger Staubach, and again, service-academy ball won't ever regain every last ounce of what it once was. Yet, Navy came darn close to forging the kind of achievement which would have given the program a supreme stage, shared with the big boys of college football.
There can be no denying of the point: Chet Gladchuk -- the hirer of Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo -- set the wheels in motion.
That he has also helped bring a bowl game to Memorial Stadium and shrewdly opted to bring Navy into a conference (The American) aren't merely "side details" on his resume, but "The Streak" over Army and two hugely successful football coaching hires are what give Gladchuk a higher place in the pantheon of Navy athletic directors over time.
If "it all starts at the top," Navy's had a head start over most of the competition in the 21st century. Chet Gladchuk is a keeper... in the sense that he'll always keep his rightful place in Navy football lore.