Early Sunday morning, when the Naval Academy football team returned home after a 27-17 defeat at Rutgers, the entire brigade of midshipmen waited in a driving rainstorm to applaud the team's determined effort.
The scene reflected the way new head coach Charlie Weatherbie's enthusiasm has infected the campus, where losing football games had become a habit over the past 12 seasons. Weatherbie, who guided the Mids to a stunning, 33-2 victory over Southern Methodist in his Navy debut, takes a 1-1 team into tomorrow night's home
coming game against Wake Forest (0-3).
Jack Lengyl, the athletic director who hired Weatherbie to replace George Chaump last winter, called the upset over SMU "one of the finest opening-game per
formances I've ever witnessed. It looked like the team had been together for a whole season, the way everyone was around the ball on defense and how things clicked on offense.
"The players really re
spond to him and absolutely believe in what they're doing," Lengyl said. "It showed me that he not only understands his X's and O's, but that he knows how to motivate a team, something that's been lacking the past few years."
The players speak openly about the difference between Weatherbie and Chaump.
"In one word, it's attitude," said junior fullback Omar Nelson, who has rushed for 127 yards, only 43 fewer than he gained all of last season.
"I knew from Day One in the spring that if I wanted to play for Coach Weatherbie, I'd have to give everything I had," Nelson said. "Some of the upperclassmen didn't get this message. They thought if they were starters last year, they'd automatically keep their jobs.
"But that's not how it works anymore. Coach Weatherbie told us, 'If guys are going to give up, we don't [See Navy, 9D] want them
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on our team.' "
"You can tell he's having a lot of fun coaching us," said junior
linebacker Clint Bruce. "He'll even get involved by throwing passes when we're in our seven-on-seven drills.
"He's definitely more upbeat than Coach Chaump was, and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense toward Chaump. Coach Weatherbie is crazy in a positive way."
Weatherbie was definitely eager to get this job. While an assistant football coach at the Air Force Academy from 1984 to 1989, he already had set his career goal: One day, he would be head coach at one of the nation's three major service academies.
"With the success we experienced at Air Force, I felt coaching at an academy was a great opportunity to work with a special breed of high-achieving young men," he said.
"Attending a service academy is comparable to an Ivy League education. Only I think it's better because of the leadership training, plus a chance to play Division I-A football. It's the best of all possible worlds."
In winter 1989, Weatherbie, then 34, first pursued his dream, applying for the job at Navy after the dismissal of Elliot Uzelac.
"Yes, I remember getting a call from Charlie," said Lengyl, who became athletic director in 1988.
"I told him that we were looking for a man with head coaching experience. I thought it would benefit the program as quickly as possible. Ultimately, we hired George
Chaump, who had been very successful at Marshall."
Last winter, after Chaump was fired, Weatherbie called Annapolis again. He had spent the past three years as Utah State's head coach, and, this time, Lengyl greeted him eagerly.
"I never met anyone better prepared for an interview," Lengyl said. "He exuded confidence, and he came with an intricate game plan on how he was going to turn the program around that included everything down to how many of his assistants would scout the Texas area."
Once he arrived, Weatherbie began getting to know his players. He does not restrict his contacts with the team to the lecture rooms and practice field. He attends their classes and shares meals in the academy mess hall.
"In a sense, we're like their parents and helping them grow when they're away from home," Weatherbie said. "Any time you can be around your players, you have a better relationship. They know where you're coming from, and vice versa. It all connects on and off the field."
Senior defensive end Andy Person said: "Coach Weatherbie had a history of success. He went to eight bowl games as an assistant coach at Air Force and a head coach at Utah State.
"He's given us offensive and defensive systems suitable to our talent -- a lot of quick hitting on both sides of the line. And he tells us fun is spelled 'w-i-n.'
"We're definitely having more fun," Person said. "Now, we have to take care of the winning part."