First-time starting QBs for Navy against Notre Dame

Now that it’s official that sophomore Trey Miller will start at quarterback for Navy on Saturday in place of injured Kriss Proctor — it will be Miller’s first career start — it’s time to look back on a few other first-time starting QBs who began their careers against Notre Dame.

Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Notre Dame vs Navy in Baltimore, 2006

How he got there: Kaheaku-Enhada was named the starter after senior Brian Hampton sustained a season-ending knee injury in the previous game, against Rutgers on homecoming.

How he did: Kaheaku-Enhada had 19 carries for 42 yards and 2 touchdowns. His second touchdown closed Navy’s deficit to 17-14 just before halftime. But the Irish responded with a touchdown before the half, and another to start the second half, etc. Notre Dame won, 38-14, though Navy rushed for 271 yards.

Aaron Polanco, Notre Dame vs Navy in Baltimore, 2002

How he got there:  Starter Craig Candeto sustained a serious ankle injury on the opening drive against the fifth-ranked Irish. So not technically a start for Polanco, though he did start the following week.

How he did: Polanco played the rest of the way and guided Navy to a 23-15 lead with 5 minutes left. Notre Dame scored twice, however, to win, 30-23.

Brian Madden, Navy at Notre Dame, 1999

How he got there: Starter Brian Broadwater sustained a broken clavicle, also on homecoming, in the previous game.

How he did: Fairly well by anyone’s standards. Madden rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown; Navy led 24-21 with around 1 minute 40 seconds left when the Irish converted a 4th-and-10, then scored the winning touchdown soon after.

Ben Fay, Navy at Notre Dame, 1995

How he got there: Fay made his first career start in place of Chris McCoy.

How he did: Behind Fay, Navy led at halftime, 17-14; Notre Dame came back to win, 35-17. Fay played quite well: He threw for 231 yards and rushed for 53.


Thanks to my terrible work ethic, the M.O. for this blog over the last year or so has been for me to comment on things about a month after everyone stops caring (Man, the Casey Anthony verdict is making my Twitter timeline unreadable! And can you believe the U.S. women lost to Sweden?). But I can’t move on to other things without mentioning a few items of varying levels of interest, so let’s do that first.

LACROSSE: Obviously, item #1 on the docket is the hiring of Rick Sowell as the new lacrosse coach. Sowell comes to Navy by way of Stony Brook, where he went 47-26 over five seasons. The Seawolves won the America East regular season the last two seasons, and won the conference tournament in 2010. Stony Brook was a respectable America East program when Sowell took over, but the 2010 season was the best in the program’s short history, earning the #8 seed in the tournament and advancing to the quarterfinals before dropping a 10-9 decision to top-seeded Virginia. Stony Brook again advanced to the America East finals in 2011 before losing a heartbreaker to Hartford in the final seconds (or second, actually).

I like the hire. If Richie Meade had retired on his own terms instead of being forced to resign, I think most people would share my optimism. Unfortunately, the nature of Meade’s dismissal means that some people aren’t going to give any new coach a chance.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some legitimate questions to be asked, though. Is Sowell the kind of coach that the old-timers had in mind as they spent the last 5 years calling for Meade’s dismissal? He certainly isn’t as accomplished as Meade. He could be when all is said and done, but were the ’60s laxers expecting more of a sure thing? We’ll find out the answer when we see how long it takes for them to start complaining again. And make no mistake, they will; the kind of success that they want isn’t sustainable at many schools, let alone a service academy. Keep in mind that these guys were complaining before the struggles of the last two seasons. I’ll be happy if Sowell matches Meade’s record at Navy.

Some might question whether or not he can, but the basis for some of the criticism of the hire is unfair, in my opinion. While his record at Stony Brook was better, Sowell’s overall record is just a hair over .500 at 86-81. Not all .500 records are the same, though. Sowell took on some thankless jobs. Before taking the helm at Stony Brook, Sowell started the St. John’s program from scratch. Before that, he took over a Dartmouth program that had two winning seasons in the 16 years that preceded him. By the time he left the Big Green, he had won the Ivy League and had notched the program’s first win at Princeton since 1956. Seriously, he won the Ivy League at Dartmouth. I don’t think that can be said enough. They’ve had a steady downhill trend ever since he left. So yes, he’s about .500, but with some of the challenges he took on, that’s an accomplishment.

Everyone knows what I thought about Coach Meade’s dismissal, but none of that matters anymore. The program marches on– the Mids themselves will march on– and I’m excited to see where Coach Sowell can take them. Welcome aboard.

#@$%ING CBS: John Feinstein’s 14 years in the Navy football radio booth have come to an end. After having pitched the idea of an Army-Navy documentary for a while now, he was understandably upset when CBS decided to move forward with a documentary of their own. He says that he isn’t throwing a fit, but to watch CBS working on this documentary in front of him all year would be too much to take.

It’s a little bit like dating a girl for 10 years, getting dumped and then being invited to her wedding. I just don’t want to watch it.

It certainly does sound like a hissy fit, but I’m more than willing to give Feinstein the benefit of the doubt. One, because everyone I’ve ever talked to that knows Feinstein has nothing but nice things to say about him; and two, because I have no idea how much of a slap in the face this is professionally and can’t possibly relate to any of it. I might be a little disappointed in his decision since NAAA stood by John after he dropped an F-bomb on the air, but only a little; it wasn’t that big of a deal.

In fact, I’m actually sort of glad to see him go. I’ve never liked him on the radio. His ability to tell a story makes him a great writer (and probably would have made him a good documentarian for that matter), but that doesn’t translate much to an in-the-booth game broadcast. Yes, he’s a national media voice in a time when there aren’t many others who give a rat’s ass about the Naval Academy. On the other hand, I disagree with just about everything that comes out of his mouth on the air. I don’t know if losing Feinstein will lead to decreased interest in Navy radio broadcasts, but I do know that I’ll do less in-game yelling at people who can’t hear me, so my blood pressure likes the news.

I’m sure Feinstein will be back when he realizes how much he misses the postgame Juicy Juice benders with Socci.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THAT STORY: Showtime is going to air a two-hour documentary on Army-Navy!

SPEAKING OF CBS: They’ll be showing the Air Force game. That’s CBS as in CBS, not the CBS Sports Network as usual. That’s a big deal, but the cherry on top is that the game is now going to be played at noon. TAILGATERS REJOICE. Seriously though, noon game on CBS? The decision to partner with CSTV instead of ESPN looks better every year. Unless the game is preempted by some garbage ACC game locally, in which case I will embark on a murderous rampage (just kidding) (or am I) (I am) (maybe).

OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS: Georgia Tech has become the latest program to be flattened by the NCAA regulatory bulldozer. OK, “flattened” might not be the best way to describe it, but the punishment includes probation, a $100K fine, and forfeiture of all 2009 wins after November 24 (including the ACC championship). The From The Rumble Seat reaction ranges from acceptance to WTF as details of the story became public. Those details can be found here.

If the punishment seems excessive, it is. Remember, though, that Georgia Tech was already on probation when all this was happening, so any violations that happen during the probationary period are going to deliver an extra dose of boomshakalaka. Still, I don’t know if forfeiting Tech’s ACC championship makes sense. The school plans to appeal, and while it will probably be denied like most appeals are in the new NCAA process, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point. The NCAA forces a forfeiture of wins when it finds that ineligible players were used in these contests. While they did find that one of the two investigated players received “preferential treatment” by being given $312 worth of clothes from his cousin’s roommate, the NCAA did not say that either player was ineligible in its report. If either player was in fact ineligible, the NCAA should have made that clear. If they did not determine that the players were ineligible, then Tech shouldn’t have to forfeit any wins. As for the rest of the penalties, meh.

I bring it up because Paul Johnson’s connection might be of some interest to Navy fans. His involvement in all of this is apparently that 1) he was told of the investigation when he shouldn’t have been, and 2) he then told the players in question. I know, rules are rules, but if I was in Johnson’s position I don’t think I would have done anything differently; coaches make their living in part by earning the trust of teenagers. Keeping something like this from them might feel like a betrayal of that trust, and I suspect that part of the reason why the NCAA doesn’t want coaches to know about investigations like this is for the coach’s sake. Still, if it is normal practice for schools to suspend players pending the result of inquiries into their eligibility, how can anyone not know what is happening? That sort of lets the cat out of the bag, doesn’t it? Someone explain it to me.

Anyway, for his part Coach Johnson has been pretty quiet on the subject LOL NO HE’S NOT.

WHAT REALLY SHOULD BE AN NCAA VIOLATION: Army’s duck-hunter uniforms from 2008 were certainly a violation of something. The all-camo getup against VMI had a little more to offer in gimmicky appeal, but didn’t exactly raise the bar aesthetically. Hopefully Nike takes a different direction with the Pro Combat unis they’ll be giving Army and Navy this year.


IN OTHER SERVICE ACADEMY NEWS: Troy Calhoun’s solution for graduation rates? Bribery!

NIUMAT’S CONTRACT EXTENSION: It was really just a down payment for a plane ticket to Guam.

FEINSTEIN’S DREAM DEFERRED: John will have to wait another 15 years for the Navy-Notre Dame series to end. I don’t think he’ll mind playing Marshall, though.

DAS HOOPS: The basketball schedule hasn’t been released yet, but we do know two games: Siena and Quinnipiac. Remember Quinnipiac?

My blog is sort of like the chicken pox virus: causes itchy bumps, then lays dormant for years before stress causes another painful breakout that can only be treated with herpes medication. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If you’re institutionalized and miss the pain, though, don’t forget that you can find me on Twitter even when this place is gathering dust.


This play probably failed.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, Georgia Southern Hawaii Navy Georgia Tech fans, but I think you’ve hit your ceiling. It’s time to accept the hard truth: your one-dimensional, gimmick, high-school offense has done all it can do for you. For your team to rise to the next level, they need a balanced offense. Without one, you’ll never win the Southern Conference a I-AA national title in Division I-A the WAC the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy bowl games a BCS conference a national championship. Sure, you think you’ve seen some success with this cute little scheme, winning 4 I-AA titles winning Hawaii’s first-ever conference championship taking Hawaii to the first two bowl games in the school’s history taking a winless service academy to 10-2 and #24 in both polls in 3 years ending a 4-decade losing streak to Notre Dame winning the ACC last year. And sure, you guys beat Furman Youngstown St. Montana BYU Illinois Cal Rutgers Pitt Wake Forest Notre Dame again Georgia with it. But this is different. The spread option isn’t a real offense, and once it sees the speed of a Big 10 ACC Big East SEC Big 12 Pac 10 BCS defense, it’ll be shut down. To win a national championship, you’d probably have to beat a more talented BCS team that will have a month to prepare; and we all know that is never going to happen.

The Science and The Art

The end result of a plan coming together.
The end result of a plan coming together.

Ivin Jasper has some big shoes to fill.

Not that he really needs anyone to remind him. The future of Navy’s offense in the post-Paul Johnson world has been on everyone’s mind since the former head coach in Annapolis moved on to face new challenges at Georgia Tech. The offense has been Navy’s calling card; it’s what made Navy, Navy. Under Johnson, the Mids never finished lower than third in the country in rushing, and they became the first team to lead the country in that category for three consecutive years. So far, Ken Niumatalolo has fielded most of the questions from the press about the future of the offense. But when Towson comes to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on August 30 it’ll be Jasper that’s under the microscope. The new offensive coordinator is, after all, carrying out the gameday duties Navy’s former offensive messiah. Paul Johnson was a master of both the science of designing plays for his offense, and the art of knowing just how to unleash those plays at the right time. Fortunately, while Jasper might not have been calling the plays, he was already a significant factor in Navy’s recent offensive success– both as the quarterbacks coach and as Paul Johnson’s gameday eyes in the booth. Jasper would relay what he was seeing from his perch above the stadium to Johnson, who called plays based on that input. Jasper was part of the decision-making process. That, plus his experience as a player in this offense (at two different positions), makes Coach Jasper about as prepared as one can be to get behind the wheel of Paul Johnson’s offensive machine. So it will be both nerve-wracking and exciting to see where the similarities and differences will be with Jasper running the show on game day. His X & O mastery is without question. But what about his style?  His creativity? How will he make this offense his own?

Some people don’t think it’s possible to have much style or creativity in such a “boring” option offense, but style is something that sets Paul Johnson apart. One of the more fascinating things about the way Paul Johnson calls games is seeing how far ahead he thinks. He’ll spend an entire game– hell, sometimes an entire season– setting up one play. He is very conscious of what he puts on film, and knows what his own tendencies are. He uses that to his advantage. I remember reading one of his press conference transcripts after the Notre Dame game a few years ago, talking about a play he called on third & short. He commented that he made a point to do repeat one particular play in that down & distance situation all year in order to give the Irish coaches something to pick up on in the film room… Just so he could call something different on that day and hopefully catch them off guard. It didn’t work in that case, but sometimes it works to absolute perfection. Perhaps the most easily illustrated example of this is the 2006 game at Connecticut.

Navy fans remember the game, but I’ll give a quick recap for the Georgia Tech fans that will inevitably find their way to this post. The Mids had over 600 yards of offense against the Huskies in their 2006 meeting. Quarterback Brian Hampton and slotback Reggie Campbell both had over 100 rushing yards, with Campbell’s yardage coming on only 5 carries. Navy was plagued by penalties, but still rolled to a 41-17 win thanks to big plays. The Mids’ first play from scrimmage was a 77-yard TD pass from Hampton to Campbell. Reggie followed up on that play with a 68-yard TD run on the first play of the second half. (WARNING: GRATUITOUS HIGHLIGHT)

Fullback Adam Ballard had an 81-yard run. Shun White caught a pitch and took it 27 yards. Brian Hampton had three touchdown runs, the longest coming on a counter option in the 4th quarter that went for 52 yards.

It’s that last play that is the subject of this post. Paul Johnson spent an entire quarter setting up that play. How did he do it? Let’s begin with breaking down a basic Navy counter option play to find out.

The Science

Before every game, opposing coaches and players are asked about what it takes to stop Navy’s option offense. The answer is always the same: “discipline.” But if that was the case, shouldn’t Navy’s offense get shut down more often? How hard is it to teach defenses a little bit of discipline? The truth is that it’s a lot easier said than done. To demonstrate this, we’ll start with Navy’s bread & butter, the triple option:

So here’s your basic triple option play against an even front, being run to the left (my apologies for the crude diagram). The backside slotback begins his tail motion based on the quarterback’s cadence, usually a second or so before the snap. This happens right in front of the face of the backside 5 technique, in this case a defensive end. When the 5-tech sees the slotback go in motion, he knows that the play is going to go in the same direction. So what does he do? He starts to cheat that way, especially if the fullback keeps getting the ball. It’s hard not to when you see the same thing happening over and over and over again. This is why disciplined defense is so challenging. You can preach it to death in practice, but during the game, when you’re on the field for 5-6 minute drives as the offense in front of you is gaining 3-4 yards on every play, you start thinking that maybe it’s up to you to do something to force a 4th down. Or maybe you just get tired from being out there for so long and lose your concentration. Either way, that DE starts cheating inside, sometimes without even realizing it. And when that happens, Ivin Jasper sees it from his press box perch. Enter, the counter option:

Once that 5 technique starts cheating inside, he becomes an easy target for a pulling guard to seal off and trap. And that’s the heart of the counter option play. The numbering for reads is done the same way as with the triple option (if you haven’t already, I suggest reading this post from last year for an explanation on the numbers). The same A-back goes into tail motion just as he did on the triple option play. But this time, he pivots and reverses direction on the snap. Instead of being the pitch man, he carries out an arc block to the run support (#3). The playside 5 technique sees the tail motion before the snap and cheats inside. When he realizes that the play is going the other way and changes direction to pursue, he’s met by a pulling guard that traps him. This leaves the quarterback free to get upfield and read his pitch key.

The quarterback has his own set of concerns. At the snap, he turns in the same direction as the tail motion to carry out the triple option look. At this point, he has his back to the pitch key. This makes him vulnerable; the pitch key is unblocked and can uncork a monster hit on the quarterback if he comes in on a blitz. Because of this, the quarterback should find a “soft” #2 to run the play towards. “Soft” meaning that before the snap, he doesn’t look like he’s going to blitz (speaking of easier said than done). If the pitch key does come in and attack the quarterback, the QB will pitch the ball to the backside slotback.

The Art

It’s one thing to just take what the defense gives you. On this day, Paul Johnson pulled a playcalling rope-a-dope that made the defense give him what he wanted, and then delivered the knockout blow. After Reggie’s touchdown run to open up the second half, the Mids began mixing in plays on from a new formation on their next couple of posessions, with twin wide receivers on one side. Like so:

Other than a couple of pass attempts, Navy almost exclusively ran option plays out of this formation. And on every single option play, they ran the play towards the side of the field where the wide receivers were lined up:

This went on for a whole quarter. But on Navy’s first full 4th quarter drive, PJ dropped the bomb. The Mids ran the counter option, faking towards the wide receivers then turning around and running the play the other way. You’re going to have to watch this clip a few times. The first time, watch the playside defensive end (towards the top of the screen) bite hard on the fake and charge towards the fullback. Antron Harper is the pulling guard and completely cuts him off. The second time you watch the video, notice how the linebackers and safety also completely buy into the fake. It leaves them so off balance that the outside linebacker gets blown away by a beastly block from the left tackle, while the safety panics and overruns the play, whiffing on the tackle.

The fake was so good that even though the play wasn’t perfectly executed (Zach Gallion couldn’t maintain his block and Matt Hall couldn’t get through the line of scrimmage to block the backside linebacker), it still went the distance. With a little bit of speed and the ability to make people miss, that’s the sort of thing that can happen in this offense when a play is set up so beautifully.

And that was PJ’s style. In his best games, he didn’t just take what the defense gave him. He found ways to indirectly control the defense. We saw games where PJ liked to grind it out, and games where PJ would swing for the fences. Now it’s Coach Jasper’s turn in the lab, and we’ll probably see the same thing– at least on a macro scale. But the beauty lies in the details of just how to set up for that home run, and that’s where style comes in. Coach Jasper finding his style– his way of dictating the game–will be the story of the offense in 2008.

Loose Change, 3/28/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

– Unfortunately, this week’s Loose Change leads off with news of the passing of Ben Carnevale. There is nothing that I can say that will possibly do him justice. Carnevale is in many ways the father of Navy basketball, and brought the team to the national stage during his 20 years in Annapolis. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970, and the work that he did after being inducted was just as impressive. The game, and our school, owe him their gratitude.

– Lacrosse is the big story this weekend as Navy will try to get the Georgetown monkey off of its back Saturday in a game that will be shown on CBS College Sports. The Inside Lacrosse preview of the game is here. Navy fans in the know have been reading Christian Swezey’s lacrosse blog and learned that Tommy Phelan will be the starting goalkeeper, with Matt Coughlin still nursing his hamstring injury. The Fastest Blog on 2 Feet also has a scouting report on the game from former Navy player and DeMatha coach Dick Long. Pete Medhurst will be calling the game for WNAV with the pregame show starting at 4:45 ET.

– One of the side stories in the Navy-Georgetown game is the matchup of the Mirabito brothers.

– Tony Barnhart made the startling discovery that Navy fans like Paul Johnson. No wai!!!11!1

– You Pitch Right expatriates that only stomach this blog because you don’t have a choice anymore will be pleased to see Adam again as he talks about independents’ spring practice news and notes while guest blogging at In The Bleachers.

– David Flores of the San Antonio Express-News catches up with David Robinson, including his take on this year’s tournament, here.

– A somewhat unusual blog about historical markers has a recent entry on the Bill the Goat statue by Gate 1.

– Another blogger ranks Alumni Hall as the venue for one of his favorite pre-game media buffets.

– A Kentucky paper has a column about an upcoming college boxing tournament being hosted by UK, with a couple mentions of Navy.

– Something I talk about regularly on this blog is the value of intercollegiate athletics to a university.

– Marine Captain and former Navy footballer Brian Stan won the WEC light heavyweight title on Wednesday night with a first-round TKO of defending champion Doug Marshall. There was a brief moment when it looked like Stann was in trouble, but he survived a flurry of punches and landed a haymaker of his own, and that’s all it took. You can watch the fight here.

– The Congressional Bowl found a conference partner: the ACC. That’s good news for Navy:

The NCAA requires prospective bowls to have guaranteed opponents, a TV contract, venue and a letter of credit. Metcalf said all those elements are in place, including documents proving the proposed Congressional Bowl can meet its mandate of paying $1 million to each participating school.

Now that everything’s in place, six wins should be enough for the Mids to find a home in the postseason. No word yet on whether the game will be at RFK or the new Nationals’ ballpark. 

– And finally, the football post-practice presser makes its glorious return! Those changes in the passing game that Niumat talked about in his presser on Monday? Not exactly an overhaul.

We aren’t making any drastic changes. There might be some technique changes, the way we run our routes, the depth at where we run our routes, what foot we lead with, what shoulder we are looking over, real small intricate details that might help us become a little bit more efficient.

Other than that, Niumat says that practice is going OK and that he’s looking to get Jarod Bryant as many reps at slot as Kaipo’s knee will allow.

Wagner: When he was in at quarterback last year it seemed like you ran a package for him with a lot of inside runs and draws. Running the ball as a slot back is different. Do you think he can be as effective running the ball on the outside?

Niumatalolo: I don’t know. That remains to be seen. We are going to find out. All I know is he makes people miss.

Damn skippy.

I think he’ll be OK.

Loose Change 3/7/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • Spring football practice is beginning around the country, and has three sentences on Navy. You may not have heard, but we have a new head coach!
  • Sadly, Tom Marryott will not be returning next year as the women’s basketball coach. Given the decline of the program since its mid-’90s heyday, this news isn’t much of a surprise. But the inevitablility doesn’t make it any less depressing. The son of a former superintendent, Marryott has been a part of the Navy family his entire life. Marryott was an assistant with the men’s program when he took over the women’s team on an interim basis following the sudden resignation of Joe Sanchez five years ago. After showing some promise in that interim season, Chet awarded Marryott the permanent gig. But the team never seemed to gather much momentum, even in a conference that, frankly, isn’t very good. The rise of the Army program probably didn’t help matters. It’s a shame that things didn’t work out. I think Navy fans everywhere wish Coach Marryott all the best in the future. His staff remains in place for now. We anxiously await word on a new coach!
  • This has been making the rounds in the national news, but since schools selling their souls for athletic success has been a hot topic on this blog, I thought I’d mention it here. Harvard is now under the microscope.
  • In the “no-brainer” category, David Robinson has been nominated for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
  • Bad news keeps pouring in for the Air Force basketball program as freshman Mark Summerfield has left the Academy. Nothing sinister about this one, though. The kid just decided the military wasn’t for him. It happens.
  • Remember the Patriot Bowl? The game that was supposed to be between a service academy and a MAC school, held in Cleveland each year as part of a festival of military demonstrations and whatnot? Well, it’s still happening. Just without a service academy.
  • Remember the AAFL? The new professional football league centered around major college football hubs? There were reports of that league’s demise yesterday, although those appear to have been a little premature. But the league is facing some problems right now, and may have to postpone their inaugural season until 2009.
  • Army’s home opener against Temple has been moved to Friday night. I don’t care any more than you do, but there was a line in the press release that I found interesting:

    It will mark the only non-Saturday football game of the year for the Black Knights, home or away. Each of the Army’s remaining 11 contests, including all five home games, will remain on Saturday. Kickoff times for all of those games will be announced later in the year.

    I thought that part of Army’s ESPN contract was that they would play 1-2 games per year on either ESPN or ESPN2. That means Thursday or Friday night, since ESPN usually leaves their Saturdays free for BCS-conference games. Does this mean that Army could be geting a game on the Mothership on an actual Saturday? OK, so maybe that wasn’t really interesting either.

  • The women’s lacrosse team won again. This time they pitched a shutout, beating St. Francis (PA) 24-0 in a game that was originally supposed to be the season opener. Maybe the right baseball analogy would be a perfect game, since the Mids prevented the hapless Red Flash from even taking a shot. OK, now this is getting ridiculous. Navy’s newest varsity team has a slightly more interesting matchup tomorrow with fellow Division I newcomer Cincinnati, followed by what will probably be another snoozer on Sunday against St. Mary’s. Fortunately, Patriot League play starts next weekend, with Holy Cross coming to town.
  • Not sports related, but now mids can do part of their summer cruise at a U.S. Embassy? Really? How cool is that?
  • Hold your nose before you read this love-fest for Air Force coaches. It’s nothing that you’d otherwise care about, but it includes a Paul Johnson quote.
  • says, “Bucknell senior John Griffin tapped into all his experience to hit a 40-footer to beat Navy.” Experience? Do they practice that shot at Bucknell or something? I guess “John Griffin gets lucky” isn’t as good of a read. Anyway, our friend Gary Lambrecht weighs in on Navy basketball, too.
  • And finally… The first one was so massive, it changed my life forever. And now it’s happening again! I’m talking, of course, about the Sale of the Century, the greatest idea in the history of human thought. Last time, there were all kinds of jerseys, sweatshirts, t-shirts, duffel bags, ballcaps, and enough equipment to outfit a small lacrosse league. This time, if the retired Under Armour lax jerseys are on sale, there may have to be contests of strength and skill just to determine who gets the chance to buy them. The SOTC will be held before the Hopkins game. The weekend’s fun actually begins the night before with the annual Blue & Gold spring football game. is sponsoring a tailgater before the game, sponsored by Red Hot & Blue. David Ausiello is coordinating the event, and has announced that any proceeds will go to the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund:


    All Proceeds to Benefit Education Fund for Daughter of Former Navy Wrestler

    (Annapolis, MD) – GOMIDS.COM will be hosting its first-ever tailgate party on Friday, April 18th prior to Navy football’s annual Blue & Gold spring game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.  The party will begin at 5 p.m. and food will be available until 8 p.m. – one hour after the game begins.

    All proceeds from the tailgate will be donated to the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund established to honor the memory of her father, Doug, who was killed on May 11, 2007 in combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq.

    Zembiec, 34, a career Marine who held the rank of Major, graduated in 1995 from the United States Naval Academy where he was a two-time All-American wrestler.

    The Annapolis eatery, Red, Hot & Blue is catering the event, and the cost (which includes drinks) is $25 for adults and $10 for children, 12 and under.   Tickets must be purchased by April 4th.  Click here to buy your tickets today.

    Most of you probably already know the story of former Navy All-American and “Lion of Fallujah” Doug Zembiec. If not, you should. You can start here.

Loose Change 1/25/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

The Logic of the Faithful

The nadir of my life as a Navy football fan– and probably the same for many of you– was the 2001 Georgia Tech game. My ship was the visit ship on the Yard that weekend, and I was excited to show off the Navy football experience to my division. They were a really great bunch, and we had spent a lot of time together on cruise sitting in the EM shop and talking college football. I bought them all tickets to the game, and after tailgating with my sponsor we claimed a spot on the hill to watch. It was a great day… Up until kickoff, anyway. Three hours or so later, as Damarius Bilbo ran a bootleg in from the 6 yard line to give the Yellow Jackets a 70-7 lead with 32 seconds left in the game, EM1 Shaw (now Chief Warrant Officer Shaw) turned to me with a smile and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. James. They had to put the game out of reach!”

I was absolutely miserable, and I wasn’t alone. The consensus at the postgame tailgate was that with a new athletic director in charge, we were watching Charlie Weatherbie’s last season in Annapolis. It was depressing; not just because of the losses, but because I liked Charlie Weatherbie. It isn’t like I knew him or anything. It’s just that he was the coach when I was a mid, and most of the best times I had at USNA involved the football, basketball, and lacrosse teams. I had nothing but fond memories of weird pep rallies and the Aloha Bowl when it came to Weatherbie. As the team languished through an 0-10 season, I had a hard time understanding how so much could go so wrong so quickly.

“So Much, So Wrong, So Quickly” would be a good name for a book on the history of Navy football for the two decades between 1981-2001. George Welsh’s last season in Annapolis was a fun one, with wins over Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Air Force, and a comeback that fell just short in the Liberty Bowl against Ohio State. West Virginia offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, who had coached Navy’s quarterbacks and receivers under Welsh from 1973-76, was hired to replace Welsh after he left to take the Virginia job in 1982. In the first game of the ’82 season, Tranquill beat his old boss, 30-16, in Annapolis.

It was all downhill from there.

Four different coaches tried to replicate Welsh’s success at Navy over the next 20 years. None of them succeeded. In 1996, however, there was a glimmer of hope. Navy went 9-3, including an Aloha Bowl win over California. When Charlie Weatherbie was unable to generate any kind of momentum from that season, Chet Gladchuk turned to someone else from that team to try to capture lightning in a bottle again: Paul Johnson. Johnson had gone on to win two national championships at Georgia Southern since leaving Navy after the ’96 season, and seemed like obvious choice… If he’d take the job. Chet wouldn’t take no for an answer. Paul didn’t like hearing that he couldn’t win at Navy. It was a match made in heaven. On December 9, 2001, Paul Johnson was named as the 36th head football coach at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Six years later, I’m finalizing plans for my trip to San Diego to see Navy’s 5th-straight bowl game. The superintendent of USNA at the time, VADM John Ryan, said of Johnson’s hiring, “I believe years from now people will point to December 9, 2001, as the day the Naval Academy turned around its football program.” How right he was. Five bowl games, five CIC Trophies, a 10-win season, a top 25 ranking, and a victory over Notre Dame later, and I’d say things have turned around. When you consider that it was fairly common for people to say that Navy should drop to I-AA, our success has been borderline miraculous.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but wonder if December 7, 2007, is what people will look back to as the day the Naval Academy’s football program went straight back into the toilet.

That’s pretty damn pessimistic, I know. But it’s a pessimism born from the respect I have for Paul Johnson. Navy is one of the hardest coaching jobs in all of college football, if not the hardest. The academic restrictions, military commitment, lack of redshirting, and school administration that can change on a dime would make most coaches want to schedule Navy, but never coach there. But as we already know, Paul Johnson isn’t most coaches. It was a special feeling to truly believe that Navy– Navy— had the best college football coach in America. And not just because of partisan chest-thumping, either. I felt that way because of what I saw with my own eyes. Unfortunately, it’s knowing that it took the best coach in football to even get to this point that makes me nervous about Ken Niumatalolo’s ability to maintain what we have. If anyone can, it’s Niumat; but it takes a special coach to win at Navy. Continuing at the level we’ve grown accustomed to is no guarantee. Paul Johnson leaving isn’t the end of the world… But it’s a distinct possibility.

I’ve written a lot about Johnson’s offense. It’s his trademark, and the first thing that comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Yet when you hear his players and other people associated with the program talk about him, they talk about so much more than just Xs and Os. They talk about his attitude. His demand for perfection. His one-liners. His recruiting. And then, oh by the way, he’s an offensive genius. Paul Johnson is a complete coach if there ever was one.

I know the temptation to be bitter is there, but if you didn’t see this coming then you haven’t been paying attention. Back in July, Johnson told CSTV that, “it’s intriguing to think that you’d have a chance sometime maybe to win a championship where it might be a little easier.” And that certainly wasn’t the first time he said something along those lines. So why the shock?

It comes down to something that I like to call the “logic of the faithful.” It’s a form of denial. When the rumor of a job opportunity comes up, fans start listing all the reasons why they think their job is better than school X.

“Duke is a coach’s graveyard! He won’t go there”

“Georgia Tech? They’re only the second-best team in their own state! They can’t get recruits away from Georgia!”

“SMU? That isn’t a step up from Navy! Nobody wins there!”

“Navy is special! He has it good here! Why would he throw that away?”

What people either fail or refuse to realize is that no matter what you say about these other schools, the same (or worse) was said about Navy when Johnson became the coach here. None of the options that he had in front of him were worse than the Navy job he took over. Coaching graveyard? Impossible recruiting? An 0-10 team that didn’t seem like a step up from a I-AA powerhouse? Check, check, check. But Coach Johnson didn’t see that. Instead, he saw what was possible and how to achieve it. And when people told him that he couldn’t do it, it made him mad enough to try. The same attitude that brought him to Navy is what is taking him to Georgia Tech. Johnson wants to win championships, and he wants to prove that his offense can do it. He sees that potential in Georgia Tech.

We’ve all made hard career decisions. It’s no different for Paul. I am extremely thankful for everything he did at Navy. No matter how bitter you might feel, all Paul Johnson did was make the Naval Academy a better place, and the Navy job more desirable on the college football landscape. He inherited a program doomed for failure, and has left it as a program expecting to win. If someone told you in 2001, after having gone 1-20 over the last two seasons, that a new coach would take us to 5 bowl games and 5 CIC Trophies before leaving 6 years later… Would you have taken it? You know you would. You know that the program needed a miracle in 2002. We got our miracle. His name is Paul Johnson. And now, as he tosses the keys to Ken Niumatalolo and goes on to pursue his dream, we owe him nothing but thanks.

I hope he reaches his goal of winning championships. And do any of you really doubt that he will?