Old ties lead Ross out of retirement, into head coaching job at Army

Service vet and VMI grad takes over at West Point

College Football

December 10, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Bobby Ross, whose resume included a nationally prominent program at Maryland, a share of the national championship at Georgia Tech and a Super Bowl appearance with the San Diego Chargers, returned to his coaching roots yesterday.

In taking over as head coach at Army, Ross, 66, came out of retirement to try to revive a downtrodden program that suffered its first winless season in 30 years this autumn, has won one of its past 25 games and has not had a winning record since 1996.

"I'm very excited and proud to be a part of this rich and proud tradition at West Point," Ross said during a news conference at the campus.

While mentioning military heroes dating to generals Ulysses S. Grant and John J. Pershing as well as coaching legends such as Red Blaik, Ross also had a more personal attraction to West Point.

Ross recounted how his father had been appointed to the academy out of high school but had to go to work to support his family during the Depression.

"I feel like I'm going to be able to fulfill my father's dream right now," Ross said. .

Ross comes from a strong military background. He played at and graduated from Virginia Military Institute, where he began his college coaching career under mentor John McKenna after serving four years in the Army and reaching the rank of first lieutenant.

"The first book I read on coaching was You Have To Pay The Price by Red Blaik," Ross said of a coach who led Army to three national championships during his 18-year career there.

The first head coaching job of Ross' career came at another military college, The Citadel, in 1973. One of his sons graduated from the Naval Academy and another from the Air Force Academy.

"I have a deep appreciation of what West Point stands for and a deep respect for it," said Ross, whose stated goal is to lead the Cadets back to winning the Commander in Chief's Trophy, which Army hasn't achieved since going 10-2 and being ranked 25th in the country in 1996.

Terms of Ross' contract were not disclosed.

Ross, who also had been mentioned recently as a candidate at Duke, has not coached since leaving the Detroit Lions during the 2000 season. Ross and his wife, Alice, eventually settled in Lexington, Va., near the VMI campus. He often attended games at Virginia, where his son Kevin is on Al Groh's staff.

"You never stop being a coach; it never ceases," said Ross, who declined to speculate whether he would offer his son a job at Army.

Another reason for Ross' coming out of retirement?

"I got tired of the honey-do's," he joked.

Later, Ross said he and his wife started talking about the possibility of his coaching again last year and that convincing his spouse might have been his biggest obstacle.

"I had to cross a very strong situation - and that was my wife," Ross said. "This wasn't something that we just jumped into. We decided this was a good fit for us, and we jumped at it."

Army athletic director Rick Greenspan said during the news conference that there were discussions with Ross as far back as two weeks ago, before the Cadets finished the first 0-13 season in Division I-A history with last week's 34-6 loss to Navy.

Greenspan, who graduated from Maryland in 1975, said their respective ties to the College Park campus had nothing to do with Ross' hiring. But Greenspan recalled a brief conversation he had with Ross in 1985, when Greenspan was an assistant athletic director at California and Ross was a candidate for the head coaching job there.

"I drove him to the airport and back," Greenspan said. "I asked him how his visit went, and he went through every piece of the program he visited, from facilities to staff to recruiting, like a calculator. At that point, I knew he had a steel trap of a mind, a plan and a vision. Subsequently, I just watched his success from afar and the success he had everywhere he went."

Ross left Maryland after coaching the Terps to three Atlantic Coast Conference titles in five years, going to Georgia Tech in 1987. Three years later, the Yellow Jackets finished unbeaten (11-0-1) and shared the national championship with Colorado.

A former assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, Ross returned to the NFL as head coach of the Chargers, where in his second season (1993) he took the team to its first and only Super Bowl. He coached the Lions for 3 1/2 years beginning in 1997.

"Bobby Ross has a stellar record of achievement," said Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., superintendent of West Point. "His leadership ability will benefit our cadets both on and off the field."

Ross reportedly was not the first choice. According to published reports, recently fired Nebraska coach Frank Solich turned down the job last week.

Colleagues of Ross' from his years at Maryland did not seem surprised he got back into coaching or where he wound up.

"It was hard for me to see him retired, because he loves football," said Gib Romaine, the athletic director at Hood College in Frederick, who was a member of Ross' staff for four of his five years at Maryland. "That's the type of school he went to, so he's used to that environment. I couldn't be happier for him."

Said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who worked with Ross at Georgia Tech and with the Chargers: "It's great to have Coach Ross back in college coaching. As in the past, I am sure he will add tremendously to the college game. His military background, perseverance and discipline ... are an excellent fit for the Army program."

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