Dale Pehrson retires after 23 seasons on Navy football staff

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Navy athletics has announced that Dale Pehrson is retiring after serving 23 seasons as an assistant football coach, including the last four as defensive coordinator.

Pehrson was an integral part of a staff that brought Navy back into the national spotlight with a 130-77 record over the last 16 years, including 14 bowl games, 10 Commander-In-Chief's Trophy championships and a 14-3 mark against Army.

Navy won at least nine games seven times in the last 14 years. Before the current streak, Navy had won nine or more games just five times in the previous 77 seasons.

Pehrson was the defensive coordinator in 2015 when Navy set a school record by winning 11 games and in 2016 when it captured the American Athletic Conference West Division title.

"No coach had more impact on Navy football than Dale Pehrson,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said in a statement.

“In his 23 years here, he has coached thousands of young men, recruited hundreds, beaten Army 16 times, gone to 15 bowl games, won 10 CIC's, beaten Notre Dame four times, and won 11 games in a single season — most in school history,” Niumatalolo added.

Pehrson and his wife Marty raised two children — son Preston and daughter Jaci — during their more than two decades of living in Annapolis.

Preston Pehrson was a standout football and baseball player at Broadneck High and served as an assistant recruiting coordinator at Navy before accepting a similar position at Houston.

“As great of a coach as Dale is, he is an even better person. I wish Dale and Marty the best of luck as they enter the next chapter in their lives!” Niumatalolo said.

A press release, Navy athletics announced that a national search for a new defensive coordinator will begin immediately. One potential candidate might be Brian Norwood, a former Navy assistant who has coached at Penn State, Texas Tech, Baylor, Tulsa and Kansas State since departing Annapolis.

Norwood most recently served as co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State, which is seeking a new head coach following the retirement of Bill Snyder.

If Navy elects to stay in-house, defensive ends coach Tony Grantham is the lone assistant who has previously held the title of defensive coordinator. Grantham ran the defense at Western Illinois in 2017 after spending three seasons as linebackers coach while working under his brother Todd Grantham, currently defensive coordinator at Florida.

Former head coach Charlie Weatherbie initially hired Pehrson in 1996 to serve as the secondary coach. Pehrson had spent five seasons as the defensive coordinator and associate head coach at Southern Utah and got to know Weatherbie when the latter was offensive coordinator at Utah State.

Pehrson transitioned to coaching defensive line in 1999 and held that position through the 2014 season. He was one of only two Weatherbie assistant retained when Paul Johnson took over as head coach and was named defensive coordinator by Niumatalolo.

Pehrson also served as recruiting coordinator throughout Johnson’s six-year tenure. He relinquished those duties after taking over as defensive coordinator.

Pehrson was promoted to replace Buddy Green, who retired after serving 13 seasons in the role. He brought a more aggressive approach to the way Navy played defense, blitzing more often during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

That style, which was a major departure from Green’s bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, initially paid dividends as Navy surprised many observers with how well it played defense during its inaugural season in the high-powered American Athletic Conference.

As a team, the defense finished the 2015 season ranked 26th nationally in scoring defense and 40th in total defense, holding opponents to 21.8 points and 364.9 yards per game. The Midshipmen were also 32nd in rushing defense (143.0), 12th in red zone defense (.737), 13th in turnovers gained (27), first in fumbles recovered (15) and third in turnover margin (+1.46) while winning 11 games that season.

However, the challenge of defending the potent spread passing attacks common in the AAC increased over the last two seasons and Navy did not rank nearly as high in most defensive categories.

This past season, Navy ranked 89th out of 127 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in total defense, allowing an average of 426.4 yards. The Midshipmen were 104th in scoring defense, giving up 33.5 points per game.

Pehrson was not quoted in the Navy press release announcing his retirement and did not respond to voice and text messages from The Capital seeking comment.

However, during an interview during the bye week between the Tulane and Army games, Pehrson did not sound like a coach who was contemplating retirement when discussing what Navy needed to do to improve on defense.

“We’ll do a big sit-down at the end of the season and ask what are we built for, what can we do, what’s best for our personnel?” he said.

Pehrson began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater Murray High in Utah. The Salt Lake City native was an all-state selection as a defensive back at Murray High and earned a scholarship to Utah, where he was a two-year letterman.

After earning a Master’s degree at Brigham Young University, Pehrson got into coaching and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming head coach at Murray High for four seasons then entering the collegiate realm as defensive coordinator at Missouri Western State.

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