All a coach has to do at Navy is the impossible

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Next to the words duty, honor and country, perhaps no word is heard more often around the military academies than that of mission.

At Navy, just one of every 10 applicants is chosen to undertake a regimen designed "to prepare midshipmen morally, mentally and physically to be professional officers in the naval service."

Maybe it's time to add the words "to win football games and defeat Army in particular" to the stated charge of the military reservation on the banks of the Severn River.

For the third time in just eight years and the second time in the six-year career of Jack Lengyel as athletic director, Navy has dumped its football coach, in this case George Chaump.

Folks can argue long into the night about the coaching abilities of Chaump. And, while they're at it, they can think back to the relative merits of Chaump's fired predecessors, Elliot Uzelac and Gary Tranquill, as directors of football operations. No matter where anyone stands on the subject, though, a couple of things become immediately apparent:

Either the men doing the hiring and firing are doing a lousy job, or Lengyel and the man who preceded him in the AD's job, Bo Coppedge, have no idea just what it is they are asking their coaches to accomplish. In either case, it is the men making the ultimate decision who probably should be held to account.

Chaump was 14-41 and 1-4 against Army in his five seasons. Change just a couple of minor details that take on monumental proportions whenever the Middies and Cadets square off and his record against Army would be reversed. And he probably would be signing a contract extension covering the remaining years of the century today.

Uzelac's teams were 8-25 over three years, 1-2 vs. Army and he was jettisoned after a season-ending victory. Astonishing! Tranquill also got five seasons, went 20-34-1 and had the edge over Army, 3-2, and still was zapped.

Any objective observer, after checking out the record, is moved to ask: What has been the point of all these moves? Unfortunately, a good percentage of the answer has to do with submitting to the wishes of disgruntled alumni. When a team (school) spends 13 seasons tumbling from a .545 win percentage from 1973 through 1981 to .296 since, all the while softening up its schedule dramatically, it's time to look beyond the man responsible for making the decisions come Saturday afternoons.

Quite simply, Navy just doesn't get the athletes to compete against the likes of Michigan, Washington, Syracuse, Boston College, Florida State, Illinois, Miami and Penn State as it did two decades ago.

"You've got to give up something to get something," heralded tight end Kevin Hickman was saying the other day prior to the Mids absorbing their third straight field-goal loss to Army, 22-20, in the Philadelphia house of horrors. "They don't want to recruit that all-out football player."

Hickman estimated that this year's 3-8 squad contained maybe a dozen players who could compete against anything the NCAA had to offer. Even if it's true, how often does a team win when it is outmanned by a 3- or 4-to-1 ratio?

There was a time when Navy, and old-time Tars will remember, could and would go out and get themselves a much-needed tackle, end or running back. As Chaump has asked lately, however, "How many of our kids had bona fide [scholarship] offers from a good Division I program before deciding to come here?" The answer is none.

So what the task amounts to is take what's at hand, work with it, improve it and do the best you can. Navy had no offensive linemen to start the season with and it never could develop a running attack so quarterback Jim Kubiak spent weeks running for his life. The inexperienced group improved late and it meant a couple of wins and a close call against Army.

Chaump took great pleasure viewing this something out of nothing metamorphosis, "seeing all the work that went into the constant improvement." It got to the point where the coach could say, "We're a pretty darn good football team right now."

It showed late when a decent Rice team was beaten after Navy lost its first five games by a combined 252-80 score. It was in evidence against Army, too.

"There are times when a program, while still making progress, reaches a point where a change in leadership is necessary, and that is where we find ourselves at this time," Jack Lengyel said. This is a standard line of AD's, which stands for Administrator of Dumping.

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