In his nine years at Navy, George Welsh has faced four Army coaches.
Therein lies the major difference between the two service academies' football programs. Navy has stability and continuity. Army has none, one reason Welsh is 7-1 against Army entering Saturday's game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
"They've been asking for years what has Navy been doing right and we were doing wrong," said Army Athletic Director Carl Ullrich. "The difference was that everyone was totally behind the program at Navy. Football was taken for granted here. There could still be some old dinosaurs here who don't care who wins the Army-Navy game. You'd never hear anyone say anything like that at Navy.
"In the past, the thought here was if the football team is bad, get rid of the coach," said Ullrich, assistant athletic director at Navy from 1975 to 1979. "But that doesn't always solve the problem. You don't build stability that way and without stability you don't have much. We need that continuity."
Welsh's first coaching opponent in an Army-Navy game was Tom Cahill in 1973; Navy won, 51-0. Since then Welsh has coached against Homer Smith, Lou Saban and current Coach Ed Cavanaugh and lost only in 1977.
During that time, Army has used a wishbone, a pro set, an I, a veer, an option offense, a wide-open offense and a ball-control offense. Navy, 7-3 this season and heading for the Liberty Bowl against Ohio State, has always run the I formation. Its players are familiar with it and recruits know what to expect.
That's a luxury Army is just starting to enjoy.
"I'd like to be a freshman coming in here now," said Dan Enright, a senior center and team captain. "Changes have been made here and I really think it's going to start showing.
"I remember when I first came here, we weren't on the field until 4:30 and then we could only practice for an hour and 45 minutes. We didn't have any off-season weight training program or anything like that. We had to play intramurals to help keep in shape. All that has changed now. We have the weight program, the practice time and the commitment from the Academy. The ground work has been laid."
Cavanaugh, too, feels the floundering is over. Army was 3-7-1 last season and is 3-7 now -- with the victories coming against Ivy League competition -- but Cavanaugh insists he sees progress.
"We're a better team than in the past," he said. "We have a good attitude and we believe in ourselves and in each other. We've also had to overcome the attitude of being losers and I think we've done it. We still need two or three good recruiting years, but with the understanding that we aren't going to get the real blue chippers. We still have to get the best players we can, though."
Before coming to Army in 1979, Cavanaugh was head coach at Idaho State and an assistant at Kansas State, Utah State, Miami, Arizona and the Buffalo Bills of the NFL. Cavanaugh was offensive line coach at Army for one season before being elevated to head coach.
"A coach is really tested here," Cavanaugh said, "becasue the talent isn't always there."
The Cadets have at least three athletes who could play at virtually any school in America: running back Gerald Walker, Enright and defensive back Mike Williams.
Walker is only the third player in Army football history to gain more than 1,000 rushing in a single season, with 1,018 this season. He also is Army's leading receiver. Enright will play in the Hula Bowl all-star game and Williams, from Hampton, Va., was an honorable mention all-America last season.
The Cadets have struggled lately. They shut out Princeton, 34-0, five games ago, but have lost four straight since. In that stretch, they have been outscored, 124-22, including a 48-0 loss to Pittsburgh in their last game.
The schedule is not on a par with Navy's. Army's victories came over Princeton, Brown and Harvard. "This was a disappointing year because we had the easiest schedule in three years and we still won only three games," said Walker. "It's hard to explain why."
The spirit of an Army-Navy game seems far less obvious at West Point than at Annapolis. The Army players talk about how badly they want to win and there are pictures and stories about Navy's team tacked up in the locker room.
But as Enright admiited today, "one game isn't the whole season and one game can't make up for losing seven games. But if we beat Navy it'll make up a lot."