Grizzled — whatever it means — is a good way for Navy's defense to be

Defensive coordinator Buddy Green and the Midshipmen haven't allowed Army to score a touchdown since 2006

December 10, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green chuckles when he hears the question. You can see his warm breath in the cold December air. He pauses to spit some chewing tobacco onto the ground, and then contemplates it for another moment.

What does it mean, as a football coach, to hear yourself described as grizzled?

"I think what they really mean is, you're not very pretty," Green says.

But you don't have to be pretty to be effective, and when Navy's football team travels to Philadelphia today to face Army for the 111th time, Green's humorous self-description can easily be applied to the Midshipmen's defense as a whole.

It's not always pretty, but against the Black Knights, the defense has been extremely effective. Navy hasn't surrendered a touchdown to Army since 2006. No team in the series, which dates to 1890, has held the other out of the end zone for four straight seasons.

Granted, some of that can be attributed to the fact that Army hasn't been very good for a long time. Navy has won eight consecutive games by an average score of 36-9. But you can also chalk up some of it to Green, a veteran defensive guru who happens to excel year after year even though he perhaps has one of the toughest jobs in football.

Navy can fool teams on offense, deceive them with misdirection and a triple-option attack, but on the defensive side of the ball, the Midshipmen are consistently at a disadvantage in size, weight and speed. Generally, the players in Green's system are considered physically inferior in some facet of the game. These are not players who appeared on the lists of top recruits compiled by recruiting services. Many of the stalwarts -- such as defensive back De'Von Richardson (42tackles, an interception and three passes defended), linebacker Tyler Simmons (111tackles, three fumbles recovered) and defensive end Jabaree Tuani (65 tackles, 14.5tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries) -- were not wooed by BCS schools.

But that hasn't stopped Navy from notching wins over Wake Forest and Notre Dame this year. The Army game might be the only one all season where Navy's defense is on an equal playing field in terms of talent, and Green has never lost to the Black Knights.

"Without a doubt, Coach Green is one of the best coaches in the NCAA," Navy safety Wyatt Middleton said. "He's really knowledgeable when it comes to the game of football. I think that's what separates him from everyone else. He's in the office at 4a.m. watching film, two hours before we even get out of bed. I can't even imagine how hard that is, and yet he does it every day."

Green, who played football and baseball at North Carolina State in the mid-1970s, didn't envision spending nearly a decade in Annapolis when he joined Paul Johnson's staff in 2002. He'd previously coached at LSU and Auburn, and been the defensive coordinator at his alma mater for six seasons and head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga for five years, where he coached future NFL wide-out Terrell Owens.

When he came to Navy, it seemed unlikely it would become the lengthiest stop in his nomadic coaching career.

"I never thought about it," Green said. "But what a great place. Being around these young men and what they represent has been such a great experience."

When Johnson left for Georgia Tech after the 2007 season, many pundits assumed Navy would be unable to sustain its status as a winning football program. But the Midshipmen went 8-5 in 2008 under first-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo, and they did it with defense. Navy's defense was the country's most improved, giving up just 22 points per game, an improvement of 14.4 points per game from the year before, when the Midshipmen were forced to start almost an entire secondary of freshmen. Green's bend-but-don't-break philosophy required patience, and it had its share of critics, but ultimately it worked.

"He's been through everything," Niumatalolo said of Green. "We call him a grizzled veteran, but he's the first guy in the office every day. He doesn't get too high or too low. He's stayed the course, and our defense has stayed the course because of his leadership."

Green likes to joke that he can't begin to converse on an intellectual level with most of his players. "Some of the things they talk about are way over my head," he said.

But to Middleton, a systems engineering major who plans to design and build robots for the Navy after he graduates, Green is the genius.

"I really don't know how he does it," Middleton said. "He can look at any offense and come up with the right call. I really think it's a God-given talent. The way he coaches every player is different, but whatever he does, it seems to be the right way."

kvanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

twitter.com/KvanValkenburg

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