During his first season as head football coach at Utah State three years ago, Charlie Weatherbie detected an air of indifference in the student body.
The Aggies were beating Nevada-Las Vegas in the final game of the 1992 season, but there was little noise from the crowd. In the fourth quarter, Weatherbie left the sidelines, climbed a flagpole and waved his hands wildly to arouse the fans, who responded with a roar.
"Football has to be fun," the coach said.
It's that same kind of inventiveness and enthusiasm that the Naval Academy hopes Weatherbie will bring to Annapolis after signing him to a five-year contract yesterday to resurrect its long-suffering football program.
Weatherbie, 39, who led Utah State to its only bowl victory in history in 1993, replaces George Chaump, who was fired on Dec. 4 after a third straight loss to Army and a 14-41 record over the past five seasons.
"I believe he can take us to the next level," said Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel in selecting a coach with little national exposure. "The biggest thing we looked for is someone with exposure to a service academy who can jump-start the whole program because he knows the special [student-athlete] demands here and how to live with it.
"In our selection process, you look at a man's total background. And Weatherbie has been successful at every level. He walks the walk."
Weatherbie, a Kansas native, was captain of his high school football team at Fort Scott, an honor student and quarterback at Oklahoma State where he led the Cowboys to their last victory over Oklahoma in 1976.
In his six years as an assistant coach at Air Force, the Falcons won four Commander in Chief's trophies and made four bowl trips.
But Weatherbie faces a monumental rebuilding task at Navy, which has not had a winning season since Gary Tranquill finished 6-5 in 1982. "I don't think I'm crazy for taking this job," he said. "Every job comes with the same pressure. If I don't get the job done, I'm sure they'll say 'Next.'
"But that's the challenge. I think we can win here immediately, and we'll go at it 100 miles an hour.
"The biggest thing you have to do is change the attitude and belief. And I believe we can win right away. I'm setting goals for a winning season, the Commander-in-Chief trophy and a bowl trip."
Weatherbie faced a similar rebuilding job in arriving at Utah State in 1992 after serving as an assistant at Wyoming, Air Force and Arkansas.
The Aggies had not appeared in a bowl game in 32 years or had a winning season since 1980. But in Weatherbie's second season, they were 7-5, won the Big West Conference title and beat Ball State, 43-33, in the Las Vegas Bowl.
In 1994, the Utah State sports program underwent drastic budget cuts, curtailing Weatherbie's football recruiting. The Aggies, who lost 15 starters from their bowl team, finished 3-8, leaving Weatherbie with an overall record of 15-19.
"Charlie is a terrific coach, and in 1993, we signed him to a new three- year deal," said Utah State athletic director Chuck Bell.
"He did things here we didn't think possible, including beating Brigham Young [58-56] for the first time in 15 years. And his enthusiasm and wide-open style helped us to set home attendance records.
"Charlie won the hearts of all the people in Utah," Bell added. "His style and manner are just infectious. But you have to give a coach the opportunity to better themselves for doing a fine job because they're always threatened with being fired if they don't win."
Weatherbie already has a number of assistant coaches in mind, but said he would like to retain Doug Williams, the former Washington Redskins quarterback and Super Bowl XXII MVP who coached the Navy running backs and quarterbacks last season.
Asked about his coaching style, he said, "Football is a collision sport, and we'll have some big collisions, I promise you."
Although Air Force has won consistently with a wishbone attack, Weatherbie employed a pro-style offense at Utah State.
"I want a quarterback who can throw, but also run to get out of trouble, as well as pass the football," said Weatherbie, who coached a Heisman Trophy candidate in Dee Dowis at the Air Force. "And at Utah State, we had a couple of running backs who ran for over 1,000 yards.
"On defense, we'll play a 4-3, and people won't know if we're coming or not coming. We're going to keep them guessing."
Lengyel also kept Navy football followers guessing while searching for Chaump's successor.
He acknowledged interviewing four men for the job. Reportedly, Lengyel also talked with longtime Virginia assistant Tom O'Brien, former Navy defensive back Steve Szabo, now an assistant with the NFL expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, and former Maryland head coach Joe Krivak.
Asked about the length of Weatherbie's contract, Lengyel said, "You owe a new coach the obligation to recruit and coach his own players through their senior year. Plus, you want to have continuity in the program. We hope, of course, we start winning real soon."