Upbeat Weatherbie works to make believers of Mids

March 31, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

Charlie Weatherbie, the Naval Academy's new football boss, says he was born to coach.

"It's just in my blood," said Weatherbie, who will begin spring practice in Annapolis tomorrow. He is faced with the task of rebuilding a football program that went 14-41 in five seasons under George Chaump, who was fired last December after a third straight loss to Army.

The Midshipmen will spend the next month getting acquainted with Weatherbie, who will combine the triple-option philosophy he employed at Utah State with the freewheeling ideas of new offensive coordinator Paul Johnson, from Hawaii.

Weatherbie, 39, has been drawing up plays since he was in junior high school in Fort Scott, Kan. The son of a former high school coach, he took on the job of coaching grade schoolers in football and basketball.

"I was real young when my father quit coaching and became a school principal," he said. "But he was always taking me to some kind of athletic event. I guess he was just steering me in the same direction."

Weatherbie's background as a six-year assistant at Air Force before getting the head coaching job at Utah State in 1992 made him appealing to Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel, who was seeking a coach with an understanding of a service academy's demands on athletes.

"Utah State had different kinds of problems," Weatherbie said. "But it doesn't take you long at an academy to realize that football is a very small window in the overall picture. You have to take full advantage of the time restraints."

Upbeat by nature, Weatherbie can watch game tapes from last season and find encouraging signs in a team that finished 3-8 and averaged 55.7 yards rushing.

"Offensively, our strength is in the number of talented running backs we have," said Weatherbie, though none of the returning rushers gained more than 198 total yards last fall. "We're going to work real hard at it. We have to run to be successful."

Perhaps an even more daunting task is finding a replacement at quarterback for Jim Kubiak, who broke 22 school passing records. The heir apparent is Ben Fay, a junior who threw 11 passes last season.

Highly recruited out of prep school in Fort Worth after leading Brewer High to three straight district titles, Fay began his college career at Texas Tech, but transferred to Navy after being redshirted as a freshman.

Fay said he is not overwhelmed by the challenge of replacing Kubiak.

"Naturally, I wish I would have got more playing time, but no one was going to replace Kubiak," he said. "And I think I can pick up the new offensive system fairly quickly. We ran out of a veer and a single-back formation in high school. It's something I feel familiar with."

Weatherbie said his experience as a quarterback at Oklahoma State, where he engineered an upset of Oklahoma in 1976, and later for Hamilton, Ottawa and Edmonton in the Canadian Football League will help speed Fay's development.

"Being an ex-quarterback, I can relate to the whole team," he said. "I've been a leader in battle. And now that will be Fay's job."

On offense, the Mids lost their top three receivers -- tight end Kevin Hickman, wide-out Damon Dixon and running back Mike Jefferson.

But Weatherbie said he always has been a firm believer in winning with defense and putting his best athletes on that side of the ball.

"I like the looks of our linebackers, defensive ends and defensive backs," the coach said, still trying to match names with numbers.

He was referring to linebackers Fernando Harris and Clint Bruce, defensive end Andy Person, strong safety Andy Thompson and cornerback Joe Speed, who give the Mids experience at key positions.

Weatherbie's greatest challenge will be building confidence in a team that has experienced so much frustration.

"We have to find a way to change attitudes, and have these athletes believe they can be as successful on the football field as they are in the classroom," he said. "You build confidence by winning close games, and then you feed off your success. And that's when football becomes fun again."

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