Navy backing Chaump despite horrid seasons

Bill Tanton

December 10, 1992|By Bill Tanton

The Naval Academy is doing something with a strugglin football program that a lot of other schools should do.

Instead of firing the coach, which is a knee-jerk reaction at too many schools, Navy is sticking with George Chaump.

In today's bottom-line world, people expect a coach who has won two games in two years to be shown the door.

In addition to having suffered through consecutive 1-10 seasons, Navy blew a 17-point lead against Army last week and lost, 25-24, in the closing seconds.

At most places, the coach would be history. But at Navy?

The Midshipmen think they have a good man in Chaump. They believe in him. And they're going to stick with him.

"We're going to stay the course with his contract [which has two years to go]," says Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel. "George is a good coach, the kids love him, and I feel very comfortable with him."

Events beyond his control can ruin the season for any coach. Chaump became an expert on that this year.

Because of injuries, he had to start three different quarterbacks and play six overall. Through spring football and preseason practice, Chaump prepared a pass-oriented offense with sophomore Jim Kubiak at quarterback.

Kubiak separated his shoulder in the opening game and was lost for the year. The only other quarterback who could run that kind of offense, Brian Ellis, went down in the second game with a broken jaw. After two games, Chaump had to revamp his offense and put in a run-oriented option attack.

Navy's schedule was tougher than people think. Four opponents -- Notre Dame, Boston College, Air Force and North Carolina -- are going to bowl games. A fifth, Delaware, is in the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs.

Navy lost to Air Force and Army on last-minute field goals, both after controversial calls that went against the Midshipmen.

After the Air Force game, the supervisor of officials admitted in writing to Navy that his crew had erred in ruling an Air Force player was down before he fumbled, with Navy recovering. After that, the game-winning field goal was kicked.

Against Army, a Cadet covering a punt near game's end was ruled to have downed the ball at the Navy 1-yard line. It was a

bad call. It should have been a touchback, with Navy taking possession on the 20.

Navy defensive coordinator Greg McMackin proved that conclusively to me yesterday, when he ran the play over and over on the big screen in his office.

The Army player slid into the end zone as he tried to gain possession of the ball. He was still bobbling it after he crossed the goal line, but the official who made the call was shielded from that by the Cadet's body.

Notre Dame's Lou Holtz called Chaump on Monday and said it was one of the worst calls he had ever seen. At the College Football Hall of Fame banquet in New York on Tuesday night, Penn State's Joe Paterno told Lengyel that the call was so bad he was yelling at the officials as he watched on TV at home.

There was an even greater injustice to Navy, as McMackin also pointed out -- a 68-yard touchdown pass to Army's Gaylord Greene in the fourth quarter with the Cadets in an illegal formation.

"Look at that," said McMackin, as he froze the picture and used a pointer to count Army players. "Five men in the backfield. Only six on the line of scrimmage. You have to have seven. And the receiver in the slot wasn't set for a full second before the snap.

"The officials should have caught that, but Army got a touchdown out of it. We don't have a defense that'll stop illegal formations."

At Rice this year, even Mother Nature seemed to work against Navy. The Midshipmen were winning going into the fourth quarter, but there were tornadoes in the Houston area and the game was stopped for 63 minutes.

Afterward, cold Navy was outscored, 17-8, and Rice won, 27-22.

"This," says Navy's veteran sports information director Tom Bates, "was the season from hell."

"The Army game," says Chaump, "was a microcosm of our season. We started the year losing our quarterback, and at the very end, when we needed Jason Van Matre most, he breaks his thumb."

Despite all that, Chaump is upbeat as he looks to 1993. The schedule gets a little easier with Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green, Colgate, Southern Methodist and Louisville included. Fifteen starters from the Army game will return, plus Kubiak and No. 1 fullback Brad Stramanak, who missed the season with a knee injury.

Lengyel believes Navy needs continuity, keeping a coach and staff together for six or eight years. Chaump agrees. But there's more to it than that, he says.

"Admissions," says Chaump. "There's a direct correlation between getting kids admitted and winning. We have to find kids who are strong academically and who want the military life. Look what academics did to the Ivy League schools. They used to be powers."

Nevertheless, Chaump feels he has built something good in three years at Navy. He's high on the two recruiting classes he has had.

"What we've brought in," he says, "is better than what I've seen go out."

As someone said to Lengyel at the Hall of Fame banquet: "I'm betting on Navy next year. Your luck can't possibly be as bad as it was this year."

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