It’s been tough to bring you the content we’d like to lately — COVID has really put a damper on the excitement that usually surrounds this time of year. There isn’t a ton going on as most Service Academy athletic departments are in a holding pattern, or at the very least, doing the very best they can to mitigate the impacts COVID has on the seasons of their student athletes, specifically the rising seniors.
In the interest of bringing our followers the content they’ve desperately been missing, we spent some time soul searching on what could be both entertaining and controversial, without being completely inflammatory. You know — good, old-fashioned click bait!
We decided on a short two-part series ranking the top-five best and worst Service Academy football coaches. We’re going to start with the worst in the interest of saving the best for last.
Some ground rules:
- All three schools will be represented on both lists. Army and Navy have been playing football at least twice as long as Air Force, and both have literally five times as many coaches from which to choose. The Falcons don’t get eliminated simply because of the law of averages here.
- Using the modern standard season as a metric, nominees must have coached at least two full seasons worth of games (at least 24). I’m not rewarding one-hit wonders nor punishing interim coaches.
- Service Academy wins/losses count for more. No, I’m not making this an empirical evolution, this will still be somewhat subjective, but it weighs into the decision-making process.
- Similarly, bowl game appearances/wins, and national championships also count for more. Sorry, Air Force, you’re the odd man out again, and I can’t handicap everything for you.
- I don’t care if a coach went out in a ball of flames, or if they were Coach of the Year once. This is about the entire body of work, and will be assessed appropriately.
- Speaking of bodies of work — I don’t care what the nominee did before or after their stints at the Service Academy. The “body-of-work” considered is specific to their time at their respective Service Academy as a head coach (not as a player, assistant or administrator). That is about as apples to apples as you can get, and the only thing I really care about for the purposes of this series.
Now that we understand the logic that went into these decisions, it is time to recognize the forgettable.
#5 AIR FORCE (1958 – 1977) – Ben Martin
Air Force football’s contribution to this list was member of the Naval Academy Class of 1944 and played halfback for the Midshipmen. Coach Martin was not terribly awful but he had the greatest body of work to asses for the Falcons for those being considered, and arguably led the least remarkable 20 year career any college head coach has ever had. Martin led the falcons to 96-103-9 record with nine winning seasons, five of which were six wins or less.
Air Force went to three bowl games under Martin’s leadership, but had an 0-2-1 record to show for it. He also broke even on games against rival Service Academies going 5-5 against the Mids and 5-5-1 against the Black Knights.
Like I said in the beginning: Each school will make an appearance on this list. Martin may not be the worst Service Academy coach ever, but he’s arguably the least remarkable. I personally believe he was Navy’s greatest contribution to Air Force football of all time.
#4 NAVY (1969 – 1972) – Rick Forzano
Forzano started off as a promising assistant for the Midshipmen, and played a key role in landing the legendary quarterback Roger Staubach as a recruit. Forzano was instrumental in the Navy season that culminated in the 1964 Cotton Bowl and a national finish as the No. 2 team in the country. His contributions to the program as an assistant are what likely led to his hiring as head coach, but he failed to live up to expectations while holding the reins.
Coach Forzano increased his win total each year he was the head coach of the Midshipmen. Unfortunately, his win totals by season were as follows: 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Although Navy improved each year with Forzano at the helm, the growth was paltry and fell well short of the expectation of winning the Naval Academy had grown accustomed to in those days.
He did not fair well against his Service Academy rivals either, finishing with a disappointing 2-4 record against Army and Air Force. What’s worse is Forzano failed to deliver the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in its inaugural debut. After defeating Air Force earlier in Colorado Springs during the 1972 season, the Mids fell to Army in Philadelphia and handed the Black Knights the C.I.C. He was ultimately fired for failing to ever get up and running. Forzano did, however, lay the groundwork for the George Welsh era. He clearly had an eye for talent, but he did not have what it takes to run point.
#3 ARMY (2009 – 2013) – Rich Ellerson
Ellerson was the exciting hire who was supposed to rescue Army football with his proven triple-option offense. Stolen from Division I-AA perennial contender Cal Poly, Ellerson had demonstrated he knew how to build a winning program. He led West Point through hard earned growth over his first two seasons that culminated in Army’s first bowl game appearance in over a decade and bowl victory in 25 years. The sky was the limit for Army after the 2010 season.
Unfortunately, the success didn’t last. The Armed Forces Bowl was the peak for Ellerson-led Army teams and they never won more than three games in a single season for the remainder of his tenure with the program.
What’s worse, Ellerson went 1-9 against the Service Academies. His sole win came against Air Force during the 2012 campaign, and he never came within a field goal of beating Navy. Ellerson may have avoided being on this list were it not for his abysmal showing in C.I.C. Trophy contests, but like I said, those are weighted events in this decision, and a .100 win/loss percentage just isn’t going to cut it. Sorry, Rich.
#2 NAVY (1990-1994) – George Chaump
Much like Ellerson, Chaump came to Navy from a regular Division I-AA contender in Marshall. He even led the Thundering Herd to the championship in 1987, where they ultimately lost. However he brought them right back to the quarterfinals the following season. He had a demonstrated track record of success as a head coach. I only bring this up to highlight the disappointment of his time at Navy.
Chaump wasn’t some random hire of desperation. He had an incredible football pedigree, studying under the legendary Woody Hayes for over a decade — and helping the Buckeyes win a pair of national titles — before heading off to the NFL and then coming back to the college game as a head coach where he had shown progressive success at increasing levels of competition. He was the guy who could restore Navy football. Chaump’s tenure started out with a 5-6 season, including losses to Army and Air Force, which is disappointing but not entirely unexpected for a program’s new head coach. Hell, Paul Johnson started out 2-10 at Navy, and if you’re reading this article you know how the rest of that story turned out. It was what happened next that ultimately landed Chaump on this list.
After demonstrating moderate progress from the 1989 season, the Chaump-led Midshipmen tallied back-to-back 1-10 seasons. ONE AND TEN! Thankfully for Coach Chaump, one of those wins came against Army, otherwise he probably would have been shown the door, but he got two more seasons, in which he went 7-15. The administration had seen enough and it was time to let him go.
Overall, Chaump went 14-41 during his time at Navy, which included a really sad showing of 2-8 against Service Academy rivals. That accounted one win against both Army and Air Force. When you get five shots at each program and you only walk away with one W a piece, that’s a list no one wants to be on, but he is in good company here.
Chaump went on to be a very successful high school head coach in Pennsylvania, piling up a 190-66 record in 23 seasons.
#1 ARMY (2000 – 2003) - Todd Berry
Ohhhhhhhhhh Todd Berry.
Berry holds two very impressive distinctions: he was the last Army coach to defeat Navy before the Mids started the 14-year winning streak against the Black Knights at the start of the century. Unfortunately, he’s also the guy who handed Navy the first win of that same streak. So, congrats, I guess? It’s boom or bust for this guy.
Berry was the early favorite for the number one spot on this list, and he quickly distinguished himself as the most deserving candidate. Berry had not one, but two double-digit loss seasons, which is tough to do as a member of Conference USA, but he found a way. Coach Berry’s overall record while leading the Black Knights was 5-35 — that is a .122 win/loss percentage. The most wins he ever got in a season was three, and he would win less than that over his other 2.5 seasons at the helm (29 games). His teams were outscored by a total of 764-1451.
Berry would go 1-5 against the Service Academies, failing to ever defeat an Air Force football team led by Fisher DeBerry (foreshadowing). Coach Berry would ultimately be fired halfway through his fourth season after starting 0-6. He never got the Black Knights going, but then again, getting into conference play before they were ready likely contributed to the struggle the program faced.
Berry just ended up taking the heat for the conference alignment. For some Army fans, the painful memory of the Berry era is enough to make them shout “NO!” at Army ever joining a conference again. Army never had more than three wins in any of the seven seasons that it was a member of CUSA. Berry’s predecessor (Bob Sutton) and successor (Bobby Ross) didn’t fare any better in the conference.
Berry didn’t do much better in his next head coaching stint at Louisiana Monroe, but did enjoy one winning season in 2012 where he went 8-5.
There you have it: the five worst coaches in Service Academy football history according to Against All Enemies.
We are always open to feedback, so tell us where we got it wrong. We just ask that if you have an opinion to the contrary, make sure you tell us who is more deserving of one of these spots and why — the debates are always more fun that way! Jump in the comments or holler at us on Twitter.