Exclusive: The Dant Interview, Part One

Could you imagine Navy football coach Paul Johnson as the Commandant of Midshipmen? Not only could current commandant, Navy Capt. Margaret Klein envision it, some of her recent decisions may have been ripped right from Johnson's playbook in an attempt to bring structure back to the Brigade of Midshipmen. Now the question is, can the Navy captain deliver similar results as the football coach?

When Paul Johnson took over at Navy in 2001, some say he inherited a team with a ‘country club' mentality.  It didn't take long for Johnson to fix that state of mind.  He gave the Midshipmen just what they needed - discipline and lots of it.  Practices under Johnson became significantly harder, and much more effort was expected and demanded out of each player.  The North Carolina native told the team, in his Southern accent, that the football program wasn't "club med" and if they didn't like it, "they could quit."


Six years later, a new administration at the Naval Academy led by Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler and Commandant of Midshipmen, Capt. Margaret Klein, say they found a similar culture prevalent throughout the entire Brigade of Midshipmen.  And it didn't take long for Klein to do something about it.  Actually, she was looking at possible changes even before her new boss was sworn in on June 8. 


"In March and April [of 2007] I started saying that I [wanted] to cut down on liberty and the Brigade was hearing about it…the rumors just spread like wildfire," said Klein in an exclusive interview with GoMids.com.


Klein's ideas, as it turned out, matched the new superintendent's vision to cut down on distractions for midshipmen.  And when the Brigade returned from summer leave and training, Fowler explained his vision, and Klein followed by dropping the hammer.   Among the changes for mids was the banishment of weeknight liberty, as well as a significant drawdown in the number of weekends they could take each semester.


"Last year the structure that was not in place…the structure that's in place this year is aimed at getting [the midshipmen] to stop thinking about just themselves [and] to start thinking about the people around them," said Klein.


Some critics have said that the new policies, which include mandatory study hour each weeknight, will not teach midshipmen how to properly manage their own time.


To that argument, Klein says, "I'm just trying to put them in a box that is smaller but doesn't include drinking four nights out of 5 weeknights."


It seems for the most part that Navy football fans, especially those who gather on the GoMids.com message boards, supported the changes regarding weeknight liberty. 


However, when news broke that the new policies also meant fewer opportunities for midshipmen to support their football team at away games, Navy fans flooded the internet to voice their displeasure.


And since the changes went into effect less than two weeks before the Mids' opening game against Temple on August 31 in Philadelphia, it didn't take long for the new policies to have a direct impact on the Navy football season.


Instead of the nationally-televised road game being a showpiece for the Naval Academy, less than 150 midshipmen traveled to the contest which prompted some disgruntled fans to display ‘Free the Brigade' signs in the stands. 


A source at the Naval Academy recently told GoMids.com that at one point 1,000 seats were reserved for midshipmen to attend the Temple game.  Even Temple officials, hoping to capitalize on the pageantry of Navy football, offered free admission to every midshipmen.  However, the new liberty policies in place at the Academy prevented more than half of the Brigade from being allowed to leave the Yard to view the game on television or in person.


According to Klein, there wasn't enough demand amongst midshipmen, who were eligible to attend the game under the new policies, to warrant an official movement order that would have included government transportation.


Klein said less than 120 midshipmen actually purchased tickets for the game.  "We had no [first or second class midshipmen] ask to go to that game that we turned away."


Regarding the offer of free admission, Klein admitted that she "heard of that" gesture, but she says, she "didn't have anybody go that said [they didn't] want to pay for the ticket.  We just didn't have that kind of feedback at that point."


To some Navy followers, the lack of midshipmen attending the nationally-televised Temple game was seen as a lost opportunity from a public relations and recruiting standpoint.  And since even fewer mids attended the Rutgers game, also carried on national television the following Friday, it too would seem to have been a missed chance to capitalize at invaluable advertising. According to the Nielsen Ratings, 1.8 million people tuned in to the Rutgers game on ESPN.  Statistics were not available for the Temple game - carried on ESPNU – because the station is not tracked by Nielsen.


And while the lack of support at these two games angered many Navy fans, a more frequent and consistent argument made by alumni, parents and even a faculty member regarding the new policies was that the midshipmen needed to be empowered and that they needed to have some ownership of the changes.

According to Klein, that is exactly what is happening, and she points to the policy regarding this Wednesday's game against Pitt as an example.


"The brigade commander said to me, ‘the Brigade would really like to watch the game.'  So, we put the wheels in motion to make Alumni Hall available to the Brigade to watch…and [that decision came] probably just a couple of weeks into the semester, maybe after the Temple game," said Klein.


Rumors were rampant amongst the Navy faithful that ESPN played a part in allowing the midshipmen to watch the Pitt game.  A few midshipmen even speculated to GoMids.com that once the leadership at USNA found out the cable network wanted to show them cheering during the game, priorities may have shifted to accommodate the request.  Not so, says Klein.


"The ESPN part was a late addition…a really late addition…the AD said if you're going to have the brigade there, can I bring in ESPN?   [Now what] we're trying to figure out with the battalion officers is if ESPN is going to be there, do we care if there is a [partially] empty Alumni Hall after a certain point…if people want to go back to study."


As it turns out, ESPN isn't even footing the bill for the coverage of midshipmen cheering in Alumni Hall during the Pitt game.  According to Navy Sports Information Director, Scott Strasemeier, the Navy Athletic Association thought the footage would be such a benefit for the school that they are paying for the satellite truck and the costs associated with it. 


Strasemeier also noted that the original request to have ESPN show video of the midshipmen in Alumni Hall (like they did for the 2004 Air Force game) came from members of the Brigade leadership."


Furthermore, up to 200 first and second class midshipmen are being allowed to travel on an official movement order to Pitt on Wednesday to see the game.  So far about 100 midshipmen have signed up for the four-and-a-half hour bus ride that will require some to miss classes and mandatory study hour.


So whose idea was that?


"I made a proposal to the superintendent – what if I allow a limited number of mids to go [to the Pitt game] based on merit knowing that six week grades would be out," said Klein.


However, unlike in the past when grades and physical fitness were primary factors in determining eligibility for movement orders, Klein now wanted an official endorsement from the midshipmen's company officer.


"I just told [the company officers] – we don't want to take a minimalist approach to this – we don't want someone just barely scraping by and just doing the minimum to be allowed [to go]. [We want] somebody who is proving themselves and their ability to understand leadership.


Klein continued, "One of our intentions was to make sure that we were trying to get mids out of the attitude of saying, ‘Well I'm not unsat so I should be able to go.' [We are] trying to raise the bar."


As for the nearly 4,000 other midshipmen on the Yard watching the game, Klein eliminated the intramural period, moved up study hour, and threw the ‘mandatory' label on viewing the game from Alumni Hall for the Brigade.


Mandatory?  But, just over a month ago, less than 150 midshipmen were able to watch the nationally televised Temple game in an official capacity mainly due to the new policies put in place. Now, only weeks later, and on a Wednesday night, all midshipmen will be required to watch at least part of the Pitt game.


Sounds like a victory for Navy fans everywhere.  It also sounded like a bit of a course change from the new administration.  Should Navy fans assume some softening of the policies had taken place?


"I would say that our emphasis from the very start was putting structure back into the schedule, and so moving study hour from the evening to the afternoon still maintained some semblance of structure," said Klein. "But the Brigade feedback was ‘hey we really want to watch the Pitt game…we understand it's a Wednesday night.' [So] as we try to align the Supe's vision - that's my job - with the Brigade – [we are just] trying to do the right thing." 


But would the commandant say there has been a course change?


"Maybe evolving on both sides is the right answer…the Brigade is really trying to do the right thing…they are as innovative as they always are…they want to support the team… I think it's more the Brigade trying to figure out how they fit in with the Supe's vision."




If you would like to comment on this article, send David an email. 




Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part Two of GoMids.com's exclusive interview with the Commandant of Midshipmen.  Topics covered will include: Who is responsible for morale on the Yard; Empowering midshipmen; Sitting in a dunking booth; ECAs; Feedback from alumni; and of course…the Dant's thoughts on Navy football and Paul Johnson.  Part Two will be for premium members, so be sure to sign-up for your free trial today.  For more information, click here.

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