NEWPORT, R.I. -- As recently as a few weeks ago, Rear Adm. Rodney P. Rempt was telling subordinates at the Naval War College here that he planned to retire this summer.
He and his wife, Pam, were building a house in Montana -- far from saltwater. He told colleagues that he would celebrate the end of a 37-year Navy career with a big retirement party in August.
But the abrupt resignation two weeks ago of the Naval Academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton, sent senior Navy officials scrambling for a replacement who could restore stability to a school whipsawed by Naughton's leadership style. They chose Rempt, according to Pentagon and congressional sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
A tall man with a heavy brow, a head of wispy gray hair and a dry wit, Rempt was met with skepticism when he became president of the war college two years ago. Some faculty worried that his career's focus on missile defense was ill-suited to an institution charged with thinking big ideas about the future of the military. Others fretted that he would bring a hard-charging style learned at sea to a college attuned to a different set of values.
But steadily, and in large measure because of changes he put in place in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Rempt won over skeptics, faculty members said in interviews yesterday. He made the school more relevant by promoting scholarship that met the real-time demands of the war on terrorism. He nurtured esprit de corps by starting intramural softball and basketball programs for students. In the run-up to the Iraq war, he told faculty that he would defend their academic freedom against critics in Washington who chafed at dissenting voices.
And he charmed subordinates by remembering the names of their spouses and children.
"When you look back at his two years here, I think it will be viewed as very positive," Thomas Barnett, a professor and researcher here since 1998, said yesterday. "He grew a lot and forced us to grow a lot."
Pentagon and Congressional sources told The Sun this week that Rempt was the Navy's choice to lead the elite 4,000-student military college in Annapolis. His nomination won't be official until President Bush approves it and the Senate confirms him.
Rempt's spokeswoman said he is scheduled to preside over his last war-college graduation tomorrow and then hand over command to Rear Adm. Ronald A. Route on July 9.
At a symposium yesterday that drew hundreds of military officials and civilian defense analysts to the campus on Narragansett Bay, Rempt, 58, seemed in his element.
In closing remarks delivered with a cool, professorial air, he said, "I think we've managed to do some strategic-level questioning and some dialogue and maybe even some thinking along the way."
When asked in an interview afterward about his likely appointment as Naval Academy superintendent, he smiled and shook his head. "As far as I know, the president has not nominated anybody to that job," he said.
He said the changes on campus after the terrorist attacks were his proudest achievement since becoming its president in August 2001. "It was how quickly we ... were able to quickly insert it into our classroom curriculum and get the students to talk," he said, "and then to help draft some of the intellectual underpinning of the decisions that were made in Washington by combatant commanders."
A California native and 1966 academy graduate, Rempt is a surface warfare officer who made his name at the Pentagon for his expertise in sea-based missile defense. But his record as a consensus builder on a college campus, along with his keen attention to the military's wartime needs, appear to be bigger factors in the Navy's selection of him for the academy post.
Naughton, 56, resigned two weeks ago as superintendent after a Navy investigation faulted him for a New Year's Eve confrontation with a Marine guard and for an abrasive leadership style. Naughton told investigators he had done nothing wrong, and his superiors did not agree with all of the findings of the investigation.
While similar in some ways to the war college, the Naval Academy has more than three times as many students and faculty and receives much closer scrutiny from media organizations and Congress.
Two faculty members at the war college said that Rempt could be a demanding boss, insisting on meticulously detailed planning for public events and drawing up dress codes for every activity from studying after-hours at the library to attending formal functions at his home.
Still, they said he showed respect to subordinates and welcomed other points of view.
"We have tried to teach you how to think, not what to think," he said at a recent graduation ceremony.
James F. Miskel, an associate academic dean, said that Rempt is a visible figure on campus. He sits in on classes, clasps hands in hallways and invites an ever-changing mix of faculty and students to his house for cocktails and dinner.
Several professors singled out his post-9/11 initiatives. He created a new Warfare Analysis & Research Department and launched a series of studies on the repercussions of the anti-terror campaign on larger policy issues.
"It engaged the war college in thinking about the implications of the war for all the things that we as a defense establishment do," said William C. Martel, a professor of national security affairs.
A Sun staff writer contributed to this article.