Is Ellerson coaching for his job this fall?

Rich Ellerson (Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE)

If a football head coach was entering his fifth season off a 2-10 record he likely would have been fired at most colleges. Rich Ellerson led Army to a bowl win in his second season in 2010. Since then the Black Knights have stumbled badly winning just five games the past two seasons.

If a football head coach was entering his fifth season off a 2-10 record he likely would have been fired at most colleges. Rich Ellerson led Army to a bowl win in his second season in 2010. Since then the Black Knights have stumbled badly winning just five games the past two seasons. Ellerson has maintained the support of the administration despite fan enthusiasm fading for Ellerson. With a new superintendent being appointed this summer he may be coaching for his job in the fall.

To his credit Ellerson has made some moves during the off season to shake up his team. He made changes to his coaching staff by firing two coaches while seeing his two offensive line coaches retire. Ellerson replaced retiring offensive line coaches Gene McKeehan and Bill Tripp by hiring former Navy and Georgia Tech coach Todd Spencer and promoting United States Military Academy Prep School head coach Tom Sims. Spencer will work with the tackles while Simi work with the interior. The other two hires were long time college running back coach Wayne Moses and new safety coach Mayur Chaudhari who was promoted from the prep school.

It's easy to criticize Ellerson regarding his miserable record over the past two years. The Black Knights have been plagued the last two seasons by a porous defense, far too many fumbles and inconsistent special teams. In addition Ellerson's game management has been at times questionable. He hasn't helped himself by appearing at times as aloof and distant. The critics say he is entering year five and this is his team.

The question as to whether Ellerson is the right man for the job is a legitimate one. I do still believe he deserves a chance to turn this program around based on some of the progress made in recruiting. This senior class is not all his players despite that common claim. Ellerson was hired less than a month before signing day in 2009. It was a mixed class that lost almost all of its best players except Raymond Maples. His first recruiting class was 2010 which debuted in 2011 since the vast majority of Army's best players usually spend a year at the prep school. He has seen some talented players join the program. This past year's prep team was his best yet suggesting the staff has started to get a handle on recruiting at a service academy. Ellerson's staff has done a nice job recruiting on the West Coast. Adding a talented recruiter like Todd Spencer, who has proven success at Navy and Georgia Tech, will help in the South.

Despite the record there are things to build off. Army has scored 291 or more points three straight years. The last time that happened was 1988-1990 under hall of Fame head coach Jim Young. Army rushed for 4,000 yards the last two years and set the school record last year. If the Black Knights can reduce the turnovers and fumbles back to the level of the bowl winning 2010 season the offense can be more productive as long as A.J. Schurr can handle the starting quarterback job.

The defense has been a disaster over the last two years. The Black's Knights total defensive ranking has declined each year since Ellerson's first season at West Point. The defense fell from being ranked 16th in the nation during the 2009 season to 85th last year. Most of these issues are tied to recruiting but it's not all Ellerson's fault. After Bobby Ross recruits Josh McNary, Mike Gann and others graduated there was no upperclassmen in the program the last two years on the defensive line to fill the void. Many rightfully complain about the lack of size on the defensive line. Much of that was due to the fact while former head coach Stan Brock left him some good offensive players, there was very little talent left on defense. The Black Knights had to start lot of freshmen on defense which led to serious growing pains and a talent deficit. For example, Army's best defensive lineman Bobby Kough was only the third best defensive lineman on his own USMAPS team. The attrition in Ellerson first two classes and the lack of quality defensive recruits from 2007-2009 was a toxic mix. Without JUCO transfers as an option the Black Knights have taken their lumps. The hits just keep on coming with the loss of safety Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires due to academics.

The bottom line is that Ellerson needs to show improvement this fall. Ellerson has shown he can have a measure of success at West Point because he did produce a winning season in 2010. That's nothing to throw away because since 1996 he was the only coach to do it. Ellerson needs to straighten out the defense and kicking game. It's hard to remember at times but the defense was terrific in 2009 (16th in nation) & 2010 (30th in nation).The Black Knights have experienced little success against its fellow service academies but at least they compete. This isn't Stan Brock's Army team where it can't score more than 203 points a season and gets hammered by Navy 72-3 over two years. Ellerson is now coaching for a different athletic director and superintendent than the men who originally hired him. Last year Army was just fourteen yards away from a potential game winning touchdown when quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon botched a hand off on the mesh and Navy's nose guard Barry Dabney recovered. Ellerson will probably be coaching for his job on December 14 against Navy if the Black Knights have another losing season.

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