Bobby Ross has enjoyed much success in his 40-year coaching career. The pinnacle was a share of a national title with Georgia Tech in 1990. Four years later, he led the San Diego Chargers to their lone AFC title and Super Bowl appearance. In both instances, he resurrected struggling programs. Now, the 67-year-old Ross has perhaps his greatest challenge ahead of him -- turning around the fortunes of an Army squad that became the first Division I team to lose 13 games in a single season.
"You never stop being a coach," said Ross, who came out of a four-year retirement to take over at West Point. "The opportunity to come to West Point is special. I personally feel as though I am a good fit for the Academy. I welcome the challenge and look forward to working with these young men."
Ross, whose Black Knights lost only 10 players from '03, is no stranger to the academy regimen. The 34th coach in West Point history played quarterback and defensive back at VMI in the late '50s. After a tour of duty as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and four years of coaching at the high school level, he started his collegiate coaching career at his alma mater in '65.
Ross brings a wealth of experience and a host of new schemes on both sides of the ball to an Army program he intends to point in the right direction.
OffenseA new coaching regime means new offensive formations, including more two-back sets. But who is going to be the quarterback in coach Ross' offense? Junior Zac Dahman is the most experienced, but he struggled mightily at times last season. Senior Reggie Nevels is the most athletic quarterback on the roster, but a leg injury limited him to three games in '03 after he began the season as the starter. Senior Matt Silva is also in the mix.
The Army running game ranked last in the nation in '03 with a paltry 63.5 yards per game. Returning starter Carlton Jones, impressive sophomore Tielor Robinson and junior Seth Gulsby will handle the bulk of the carries. A veteran offensive line, led by senior tackle Joel Glover, appears healthy and should be much more productive.
"The top priority to me is to establish a tough and hard-nosed running game," Ross said. "I think we made some really good progress in that area."
Ross has plenty to work with at receiver. Seniors Aaron Alexander and William White combined for 104 receptions. There is experienced depth that includes Lamar Mason and Jacob Murphy, who impressed during the spring.
DefenseThe Black Knights will employ 4-2-5 and 4-3-4 alignments with Curt Daniels serving in the role of rover. Linebacker Greg Washington is the leading retuning tackler, and linebacker Matt Maimone provides plenty of speed.
Injuries prevented the line from establishing much continuity a year ago, but everybody should be healthy heading into fall practice. The unit could get a big lift if senior pass-rushing end Odene Brathwaite can play with more consistency.
"Defensively, my main concern has been to be able to defend the run," Ross said. "That has turned out to be a positive experience for us."
A wealth of experience returns in the secondary. Senior Delente Brewer and junior Ray Stith man the corners with juniors Dhyan Tarver and Rob Davis among the more seasoned at safety.
SpecialistsThe roster is without a kicker who attempted a field goal last season. The answer could be sophomore placekicker Austin Miller, who may see double duty, though Tom Dyrenforth and Alex Bradford will be given an opportunity to win the punting job.
The return game is in fine shape with White and Mason on kicks and Stith on punts.
Final AnalysisUnder heavy criticism from alumni after the past four seasons produced a 5-42 record, the administration at West Point felt compelled to reach out and bring in a big name to settle the program and get things pointed in the right direction. After all, the Naval Academy operates under the same parameters and the Midshipmen went to a bowl last year. The appointment of Ross, who has won both in college and the NFL, gives Black Knights fans something to look forward to this season.
Army does not have many standouts, and depth has been an issue in recent seasons. There are, however, are a number of returning veterans who will be valuable contributors, and a few younger players, most notably Robinson, who could make an impact. Still, it will be difficult for Army to finish anywhere but last place in its final season in Conference USA.