A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN (FOOTBALL) INFAMY
The football team of the United States Military Academy set a record that is unlikely to be surpassed: In being drubbed by Navy for the second straight year, they became the first team in NCAA Division I-A history to finish with an 0-13 record.
This is another sad chapter for a team that was once a powerhouse in college football, routinely competing for national titles and producing Heisman Trophy winners. It’s amazingly difficult for an elite academic school like West Point to recruit blue chip football talent, especially when coupled with the rigourous demands of cadet life and a five-year military commitment upon graduation. Air Force has done better, but flying jets is more appealing to an 18-year-old than slogging through the mud. Plus, Air Force has played in the incredibly weak WAC, giving them a fighting chance to win.
Navy was in the same place Army is now three years ago but has turned themselves into a respectable program under a superb coach in Paul Johnson. William Gildea notes,
It’s not the easiest thing to find such a coach, or persuade one to take on an academy job; within the last day or so, Army reportedly was turned down by Frank Solich, who had a 9-3 record at Nebraska this season before being fired. Solich would have been good for the kind of grind-it-out offense that Army traditionally used successfully. But apparently, among perhaps other reasons, Solich did not feel familiar enough with recruiting the kinds of student-athletes required by West Point. And recruiting, Johnson happened by chance to mention in the wake of Saturday’s victory, is one of three keys to success in coaching at the academies.
“Recruiting,” he said. “Then you try to make sure everybody gets better, that you give them a system they can handle, that and the scheduling. You have to be smart [about the scheduling].”
As an independent, Navy has been smart, sprinkling its schedule with teams it can beat or compete against with a reasonable hope of winning. Army, meantime, has made two big mistakes in recent years: joining Conference USA, for the most part schools it had little in common with, and trying to install a more exciting, passing offense. Neither idea worked. Todd Berry was fired as coach this season, replaced by an interim coach, John Mumford; and this season was the Cadets’ last in Conference USA as they resume being independent, as least temporarily.
Playing as an independent will allow Army to at least play other weak schools. Perhaps the best idea would be for Army and Navy to join the Ivy League, where they would be matched against similar schools. But the academies don’t want to hear about moving down to Division I-AA.