It wasn't personal, and it wasn't a knock on Dale Pehrson himself.
When it was learned that Buddy Green would not be in the stadium to lead Navy's defense on Saturdays in 2015, concern flowed through the program.
How could anyone have not been a little worried about the trajectory of the Midshipmen's season? Green -- an anchor of this program and its rise to renewed prominence -- represented why Navy has enjoyed such consistent prosperity this century. Like Ken Niumatalolo and the man we profiled a few weeks ago, Ivin Jasper, Green has found a home in Annapolis. He never felt the need to coach anywhere else once he raised the Midshipmen from the ashes of the 2001 and 2002 seasons. His constant presence, his ability to handle the defensive side of the ball, his "I got this" level of expertise -- these and other simple gifts steered Navy through so many afternoons when the offense wasn't at its best. Much more than that, Green's professionalism -- and the more granular attributes which flowed from it -- enabled Niumtatalolo to slide into the head coaching spot and become the first-class leader we have observed for nearly a decade.
If someone appreciably less competent than Buddy Green had become this program's defensive coordinator over a decade ago, the 21st century would not have become a new-age Golden Era for Navy football. Green's absence from the stadium in 2015 could have mattered -- concerns about his health and his ability to guide the Midshipmen's defense were well-founded, simply because of what he had achieved.
Again, it wasn't a knock on Dale Pehrson; reaction following that news was solely rooted in an appreciation of what Buddy Green had done to restore and then sustain Navy this century.
The tricky part of the situation for Pehrson was not rooted in his long-term future with the program, or in his ability to eventually solve any problems which emerged as a first-year defensive coordinator. What a lot of people were worried about was simply this:
It's our last season with Keenan Reynolds, our last season with a generationally great college quarterback and potential Heisman candidate. It's our first season in a conference after more than 100 years of being an independent. So much is at stake in this one season.
We need our new defensive coordinator to get it right sooner rather than later.
In a sense, the 2015 Navy football season was somewhat like the current NBA season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder needed to be very good this season in order to ensure that Kevin Durant wouldn't leave, and that the franchise reached its potential. Navy -- like any college program -- can't keep Reynolds or any player for more than four years (barring a redshirt, of course), but the unifying element in the relationship with Oklahoma City was and is obvious: The program needed to capitalize on a small window of opportunity when it had the chance.
Pehrson was the person who needed to learn on the job... quickly.
He couldn't have done much better than he did.
Against Notre Dame, Navy's turnovers put Pehrson's defense in difficult positions. That was a day when the offense didn't enable the defense to be its best. In almost every other big game, Navy's defense answered the bell. It smothered Air Force. It shut down Memphis's passing attack in the second half of that huge Nov. 7 game. It carried the day against Army. In the Military Bowl against Pittsburgh, it didn't exactly flourish, but it certainly came up with the timely stands which consolidated momentum and set the table for the offense on that afternoon.
Only once -- against Houston -- did this defense fail. There's no shame in that, partly because of a brutal travel and game-time schedule, partly because the Cougars have excellent players who are coached extremely well. Ultimately, Pehrson batted 12-for-13 in his first go-round at defensive coordinator. Only once did Navy's defense represent the centerpiece of a frustrating day at the office. It's essential to point out that the offense got punched in the mouth in the first halves of games against Tulane and South Florida. Had the defense not held the fort in each of those games, Navy could have suffered a loss. The Midshipmen could have entered November without a world full of possibilities. They could have entered the Army game and the Military Bowl without a chance to make history at a supremely high level. They would not have won 11 games in a season for the first time in Navy football history.
There won't be any more concerns about Buddy Green's retirement and his absence from a stadium on Saturdays.
The person-to-Pehrson transition at defensive coordinator represents the rare and remarkable level of continuity Navy has been so blessed to receive -- and maintain -- this century. It's exactly why the Midshipmen have become all they've become in the cutthroat world of college football.