The U.S. Military Academy is desperate.
In five of the last six years the Cadets have been whipped in football by Navy (28-0 in 1978), spirit has disintegrated in the corps to an alarming level and the school is under NCAA investigation for alleged recruiting violations.
"No matter what else goes on or happens, in the eyes of the public it is football that reflects the ideals and the image of West Point," Athletic Derector Ray Murphy said yesterday at a luncheon, sponsored by the West Point Society of D.C., at Fort Myer.
"We must create the image of a winner," Murphy said. "To put it another way we cannot afford the image of a loser. We have started doing something about the problem. The first and hardest step was to hire a new football coach."
That man is Lou Saban.
Saban's predecessor, Homer Smith, lasted five seasons and, when he was fired after the loss to Navy in December, he accused Army of breaking NCAA recruiting rules.
Murphy said that to his knowledge, the NCAA is still "monitoring" the activities at Army, but the school is not guilty of any blatant wrongdoing. "If there has been any violation, it has been in interpretation of the rules," Murphy said.
Saban, on the job for three weeks, said that in the past at Army it was felt that the school couldn't get the blue chip players, so mediocrity was accepted.
Saban said he is going after "the best players in the country," as long as they meet Army's strict entrance requirements.
The naming of Saban as coach was a surprise. Army needed a name coach to help change its image and to turn the program around.Saban's was the biggest name available.
He had four years left on his contract at the University of Miami, but was allowed to leave by mutual consent.
Saban also has been a head coach at Northwestern, Western Illinois and Maryland in the college ranks and with the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos in professional football. He was also general manager of the Broncos.
"I know I've been called one of the most traveled coaches in the business, but I think that is because I have strong convictions and I stick to them," Saban said.
"I will try to regain the spirit of the corps that isn't there anymore. We've got to lind the recruits, no matter where they are, and get them to come to Army."
Why would someone of Saban's reputation want to coach at Army?
"I've always been thrilled by the place," he said, "and I'd reached a point at Miami that without several major changes, I coundn't stay there."
Saban added that he didn't foresee difficulty in operating under the Army system. "You just set up a schedule and live with the system," he said.