PHILADELPHIA — Army Athletic Director Boo Corrigan and other academy officials will decide whether to retain Coach Rich Ellerson after Saturday’s game with rival Navy. With the decision mostly out of his hands, Ellerson has been preparing for his fifth Army-Navy game as if it were business as usual.
But the distraction has not escaped his players, at least several of whom remain adamant Ellerson should stay in spite of his 20-40 overall record at West Point and 0-4 mark against the Black Knights’ most contentious rival. Ellerson’s only winning season came in 2010, when Army finished 7-5 in the regular season and secured its first bowl berth since 1996.
“I have no idea what his level of job security is,” Army senior linebacker and tri-captain Thomas Holloway said, “but I do think that beating Navy could keep him here if it is the case that they’re trying to get rid of him.”
Corrigan generally has been noncommittal as to Ellerson’s status, except to say an evaluation process would begin immediately following the Army-Navy game. Other times he has called Ellerson “my guy” in published reports. During last week’s Army-Navy media day at Lincoln Financial Field, Corrigan added that Ellerson is an ideal fit for the Black Knights program.
While Army (3-8) has languished, Navy has been enjoying the most prosperous run in service academy history — it has won a series-record 11 straight games over the Black Knights — leading to inescapable comparisons between the programs considering they generally recruit the same type of players.
“Absolutely we can build a winning program,” Corrigan said. “I didn’t come here not to win. Rich Ellerson didn’t come here not to win.”
The results have fallen well short of expectations, with Army failing to win more than three games in each of the last three years and losing to Navy by an average of more than two touchdowns since Ellerson’s arrival. But the Black Knights have made strides against Navy (7-4) over the last two seasons, when the gap has closed to an average of five points.
Last season, Army was marching for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes when a fumbled exchange at the Navy 14 ended the Black Knights’ hopes in a 17-13 loss. During the postgame news conference, despondent Army players continued to suggest the better team had not won.
“It was painful. There’s no doubt about that,” Ellerson said.
Army enters this year’s installment having lost four in a row and five of six. The Black Knights have yielded at least 21 points in each of the past six games and at least 42 in two of the past three. Most recently, Army’s second-half comeback fell short on the road against Hawaii, 49-42, on Nov. 30.
One encouraging development in the aftermath of the Hawaii game was the performance of quarterback A.J. Schurr. The sophomore came off the bench in relief of Angel Santiago to rush for four touchdowns in the second half.
Ellerson has closed practices to reporters this week and declined to say which quarterback will start, calling the decision “a work in progress.” Navy, meanwhile, is preparing for each in the event Santiago and Schurr both get on the field.
“I think we’re right on the tipping point of where we need to be,” Black Knights senior tackle and tri-captain Michael Kime said. “There’s rumors going around everywhere [about Ellerson’s job security]. In my opinion I think Coach Ellerson is the right man for the job. He’s done a lot of great things for the program.”