Before the season began, we heard a lot about one of those potentially cheesy strength and conditioning motto's that seem to reverberate through pro, college, and high school locker rooms across the country. This year the motto was "All In," both challenging and reflecting upon the commitment of Navy's players and coaches. Well, here we are in December, and despite the loss of the head coach and the pending loss of several top assistants, the Naval Academy football players remain all in, and the program is already on the road to recovery with a series of moves to continue to momentum that Paul Johnson began six years ago.
The situation I'm referring to is obviously with the coaching staff. I've been deliberate in watching this thing play out over the past week, but with the help of Bill Wagner and other's we're starting to get a good view about what the staff will look like for next year. As we've already established, and as we all surely know by know, Ken Niumatalolo was named Navy's 38th head coach on Saturday. On Monday after practice, Coach Niumatalolo confirmed to Wagner that former quarterbacks coach Ivan jasper will be promoted to offensive coordinator, while defensive coordinator Buddy Green will stay on as well. In addition to these two coaches, Navy is also expected to retain the services of a number of other assistants- among them Keith Jones (outside linebackers), Joe Speed (secondary), Danny O'Rourke (linebackers), and Dale Pehrson (defensive line.) Word on the street is that fullbacks Coach Chris Culton will stay on as well. Whatever the case may be, credit has got to be given to AD Chet Gladchuck, who despite losing Johnson has been able to retain his top two offensive assistants.
Basically, the entire defensive staff will stay, which contrary to some of my own words this year is probably a good thing. The last thing Navy's maligned defense needed after this year was to get introduced to a completely new staff, especially considering the lack of continuity we saw on the defensive side of the ball this year. I'm not saying there will be any "quick fix," but to have the same staff come back next season at least speeds up the process of the defense getting to where it needs to be. Not only that, but Buddy and his staff have been very good bringing in players on the recruiting trail over their tenure at navy, particularly coach Jones with regards to getting some terrific linebackers.
As far as the offensive staff is concerned, it's the whole good news/bad news situation. Obviously losing Paul Johnson- one of the few head coaches to call his own plays in major college ball- is a bad thing, while the losses of coach Monken and coach Bohannon deprive Navy of it's two best offensive recruiters and guys who have traditionally done very well in the south, particularly in Georgia. While Navy and Gerogia tech aren't likely to be going after very many of the same players (if any at all) I wouldn't dismiss their services as recruiters, especially considering the inroads coach Calhoun and his Air Force staff made in Georgia and the southeast last year. As we get closer to the offseason, this will be one of the more interesting story lines to watch. Another significant loss for Navy will be the departures of coach Spenser (assistant offensive line) and of coach Brass (strength and conditioning.) The loss of coach Brass is especially significant, as he's done a great job getting the players ready for the season over Paul Johnson's tenure. But like I said, it's not all bad news, particularly if it is true that coach Culton (fullbacks) has decided to stay. The big story here though is keeping coach Jasper, who like coach Niumatalolo has been a veteran assistant under Johnson and a guy who knows how to both coach players in the system and to make play calls and adjustments on the field. Coach Jasper won't replace coach Johnson in terms of his ability to see the game and make adjustments, but he'll do lot better job than any other guy out there.
With the coaching staff falling in line and looking in relatively decent shape, we now turn our attention to the players. Obviously, any time a program loses it's head coach there is concern about players leaving, but at a place like Navy this concern is magnified. Indeed, when I returned home last Friday and finally got a chance to check my email, one of the first messages I received was regarding the potential of a number of sophomores and freshmen to leave. while this was well before the situation was brilliantly stabilized by Chet Gladchuck and Ken Niamatololo, it still remains a concern that isn't likely to go away until the start of next season. One player Navy fans were particularly concerned with was quarterback Ricky Dobbs. Dobbs, while only a plebe, has been one of Navy's most impressive young players, showing incredible promise both on the practice field and on the JV squad. With a cannon of an arm, quick feet, and a knowledge of the system that likely surpasses the current Georgia Tech quarterbacks, Navy fans were more than a little concerned over the possibility of Dobbs following Johnson to Atlanta. When you take into account the fact that Dobbs is originally from Douglasville, Ga, it seemed like a forgone conclusion to some Navy fans that he would at least try to follow Johnson. While he wasn't shy about admitting the thought did enter his mind, Dobbs confirmed to Bill Wagner that he would be staying at Navy.
"At first, I thought if I went to Georgia Tech I would be at home. If Coach Johnson would have asked, I was gone. But the foundation I've established here... that is what made me stay....It started last year at NAPS. I would tell the guys that by the time we graduate here, we're going to make it to the Top 25.I told my classmates we would be the catalysts and that I would be the leader. I feel as though I need to try to fulfill that promise."
This is absolutely huge news, especially considering that Navy's other "quarterback of the future" - Robby Davis- decided to transfer to Woffard early this season. Not only does this show you that Dobbs is committed to the program, but it shows you he's willing to take on a leadership role, which is especially impressive for a freshmen. In fact, after my initial concern for the players, my fears are starting to be relived. It all goes back to something Matt Wimsatt said last week, when he talked about the importance of getting the younger guys to understand that Navy football does not play for Coach Johnson, and instead plays for each other and the Academy. It was after that point that I realized what an opportunity for leadership these young men had. It seems only fitting that at an institution dedicated to the development of leaders that the players, long cast in the shadow of "systems" and "schemes," should have the opportunity to communicate the importance of their program and to lay the foundation for the next generation of Navy football players. I don't know what's going to happen this offseason, and it may very well turn out that several promising players decide not return next season, but it's the statements I've read within the past week that have really put a smile on my face. We can't lose sight that this is a program we're talking about, and that the program went beyond Paul Johnson. Last week I wrote that I had faith in athletic director Chet Gladchuck, the staff, and the players themselves to continue to momentum established in 2003, and after what we've seen this week my faith has only been confirmed. We're exactly a week away from the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah, and despite the fact that the rest of the country has seemed to already lost faith in America's team, my excitement level couldn't be higher.