Off the Yard 6: Coach B, Army Panel and more

I took a quick break from the column to report a bit more on the Army football study group. The response, both on the message boards and to to that article has been enlightening. At the end of this volume, I'll weigh-in a bit more on the study group and share some comments I received from both Army and Navy fans.

In my previous column I added a remark about my family which brought a few messages to my inbox. Specifically, my recent mention about my newborn son's gastrointestinal issues caught the eye of a few "Off the Yard" readers or "Off the Yarders" as I like to call them.  A few such column subscribers thought my comments about the study group were "pretty good" and even "dead on," but when coupled with my family insights, in their opinions, it lost some of the effect on the intended audience (West Point). On the other hand, a "Yarder" emailed me with a recommendation to my infant's problem – a solution in which my wife and I had not thought of.  Yet another loyal reader suggested that a blog may be a better place for me to chat about which baby wipe works the best.  All in all, I appreciate the feedback and I try to answer each comment as quickly as possible.  I will definitely discuss all of the suggestions with my editor and see what we come up with.  In the meantime let me get back to some unfinished business.


Charlie Weatherbie 


I was absolutely shocked to see his name come up in this article as one of the four worst service academy coaches of all-time.  Navy football was dead on arrival in 1994 and Charlie Weatherbie brought it back to life.  The 1996 season alone should have been enough to keep him off this list.  According to my research, Weatherbie was at the helm during six of the biggest Navy wins in the last decade.  Furthermore, before Weatherbie, the last time Navy had a winning season was in 1982.  That's 14 years of frustration that he ended.  For some perspective, Army currently has had ‘only' 10 consecutive losing seasons.  Imagine how thrilled Army fans would be if you told them that in four years a coach will end their losing ways and lead the team to nine victories including a bowl win over a PAC-10 power.  That coach would get naming rights to any building at West Point.  Navy fans felt the same way about Weatherbie in 1996, and for good reason.  He showed Navy fans that you could win at a service academy not named Air Force, and of equal importance, he surrounded himself with people like…well, you know who.  True, Weatherbie left on a sour note, but I think it is important to look at the entire picture with each coach.  I am definitely not qualified to put such a best and worst list together but you would have to think that based on wins and losses alone, Weatherbie (30-45) should have been spared being included in such a compilation.  Former Navy coaches Elliot Uzelac (8-25), Rick Forzano (10-33), and George Sauer (3-13-2)…would probably agree…


Why Play Notre Dame?


Keith in Davidsonville, Maryland wrote to tell me that he wants Navy to stop playing Notre Dame every year, and really, can you blame him?  The reasons we keep losing…err…playing the Irish each year are well documented.  From Navy's perspective, the series continues because of the money, the exposure, the opportunity/thrill for the players, and for the money.  From Wikipedia's perspective, Notre Dame continues the series because, like many colleges, the South Bend campus faced severe financial difficulties during World War II and the US Navy made Notre Dame a training center and paid enough for usage of the facilities, with federal tax money, to keep the University afloat. Notre Dame has since extended an open invitation for Navy to play the Irish in football and considers the game annual repayment on a debt of honor.


Having personally attended all four contests against Notre Dame while at the Academy, including the contest in Dublin, Ireland, I have to say that I thought each year we had a chance to win.  Sure I was an over-the-top optimist and rabid fan, but I thought that the win could have come on my watch and if it did then I would have been a member of a very exclusive club.  Heck, less than 100,000 people will eventually be able to say that they were there to witness a truly historic moment...and that includes only a few thousand mids.  Unlike me, Keith in Davidsonville believes the streak will never end and he would rather us string it out a bit and play a Michigan or Penn State instead of Notre Dame once in awhile.  Let a team other than the Irish deal with the triple option on a week's worth of practice is Keith's argument.  Perhaps a team without any players on their respective rosters who have played against Navy's scheme for one, two, or three years in a row may be a more beatable big-time opponent. 


Keith makes a lot of sense.  Maybe he should be writing this column.  I honestly like his idea, but unfortunately I don't think it is going to happen.  As a fan, I wouldn't mind seeing us play Notre Dame every other year, but I doubt current or former players would agree.  I think as much as every Notre Dame player doesn't want to be a part of the team that loses to Navy, the same can be said about the Mids.  From the recruiting trail to gameday, each Navy football player probably believes (as I did as a fan) that they have a legitimate shot to end the streak.  I imagine this opportunity invigorates them each and every season.  I'd love to hear what former players think - drop me a line at ( ).  I'd bet they would rather lose four times to Notre Dame than be a part of the class that discontinued the series.  I'm not insinuating that the players are the decision-makers, but if I was the AD, I'd respect their opinions on the subject.  Thanks to Keith for the question.  I'll be happy to share the opinions of other fans and/or players in an upcoming column.


Waving Money at Paul Johnson


Gary from Parts Unknown USA doesn't want me to even suggest the possibility of Army luring away Paul Johnson from Annapolis like I did here.  I presume he is basing his concerns on the "If you build it, they will come" principal.  The fact of the matter is there is only one place in the college football universe where Johnson could possibly be more beloved than in Annapolis, and that's West Point.  Navy fans don't want to hear it or even think about it.  It is the nightmare scenario.  Unlike Gary, it is my hope that by continuing to mention the possibility of Johnson going to Army down the road, maybe he will come out and say, "It will never happen."  However, a scenario could play out that has Johnson coaching a BCS team (Duke for example) in five years.  And if that experiment does not work for some unfathomable reason, it is rational to think that Johnson would return to service academy football at some point.  I realize I'm getting deep into crazy speculation here, so I'll stop while I still have some credibility.


Study Group Feedback


I have to admit that it's tempting to enter the back and forth on the message boards about my story on the Army study group.  But I won't.  However, if someone sends me an email at and provides some feedback or has a question, I will use this column to address it.


John from El Paso, Texas wondered if I can really have any credibility as a Navy grad talking about Army sports.  While Andrew in Houston, Texas believes that "most Navy fans want to see Army do better."    Andrew also said that "unless (Army) is ashamed about their program (and shame is never a trait the military should exhibit), there is nothing but good that can come from openness and honesty.  After all, this is a game and not only do people want to see their program do well, but they also want to hear the ‘feel good' stories of their program and its players as they improve.  It's just silly what they are doing and it is detracting not only from their program, but from the military in general."  Thank you, John and Andrew for your comments.


My take is simple.  If I called either the Navy or Air Force athletic departments to ask them about a study group that they formed to look at a program, I would get answers.  By giving me access, this allows them to control their message.  I would have no choice but to make these answers the basis of my story.  Not to do so would be unprofessional.  Army has answers to my questions.  But for some reason, they are not giving them to me, to CNN, to anyone. 


As far as a Navy grad not being able to write objectively about Army, I would expect such an opinion from someone who has not graduated from either institution.  However, any Naval Academy graduate, (not sure if John from El Paso is one) who does not respect and even openly root for West Point when their team is not playing them, in my opinion, has lost sight of the big picture.


In the coming months, I will write feature stories about both Navy and Air Force student- athletes, but none about Army student-athletes.  I will get their opinions about sports, their futures, their goals and their dreams.  I will share these stories with fans, alumni and perhaps most importantly with perspective applicants who visit the network of web sites. I'd love to do the same about Army athletes. 


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