There isn't much in sports that can curse a program more than poor leadership. For the past two decades, the leaders at West Point have failed to determine what is wrong with their football team. Perhaps that is because they are what is wrong with the Black Knights.
Since 2002, Navy has utilized two head coaches. Since 1984, Air Force has used two head coaches. Army's brought on five different head coaches since Bob Sutton was fired in 1999.
West Point has yet to find their man, but the problem may fall more to who is doing the hiring. For example, after Sutton was let go, the academy decided they wanted a coach to run a pro-style offense since they were in C-USA. That idea seems good on paper but in execution it's an awful idea for any service academy to consider. The man who implemented this new offense, Todd Berry won five games in four seasons.
He was replaced by former Detroit Lions coach Bobby Ross, but the problem of the pro-style offense still remained. Ross won nine games in three seasons and retired after the 2006 campaign. However, he was allowed to pick his successor for some reason.
He chose Stan Brock, who continued to force the pro-style offense on the academy, but the upper brass had enough. Therefore, Brock attempted to implement the triple option back into the Army offense but it just wasn't his style of play. He was fired after two seasons and six wins.
Army then searched for a triple option coach, someone who could bring the offense back to West Point and make it as efficient as Navy's and Air Force's. Rich Ellerson was that man.
However, Ellerson couldn't get the job done despite having quarterback Trent Steelman, fullback Larry Dixon, and slotbacks Terry Baggett and Raymond Maples completing his rushing attack. Though the academy did return as one of the country's leading rushing schools and Steelman become the best statistical rushing QB in program history, only one above .500 season occurred during this regime. Ellerson was fired after winning eight games in his last three seasons.
Ellerson seemed like the right coach, but at the wrong time. Ellerson ran the triple option at Cal Poly and knew West Point well. His two brothers and his father were graduates, it was his dream job.
Ellerson assisted Bob Sutton in installing the "Desert Swarm" defense during Sutton's tenure at Army. He also worked with former Jim Young in Arizona. Ellerson's knowledge of the program and his triple option expertise made him an ideal candidate.
Ellerson, like other coaches during Army's struggles, wanted to make some changes to his players' schedules and admissions. He was met with resistance but still made a few alterations. He held breakfast at the football center to witness the nutrition of his players and moved practice to the morning.
Those are all good things, the training regimen at West Point is tough, Ellerson knew he needed well rested and nourished players because they were already undersized for Div. I college football to begin with.
Ellerson rebuilt the triple option attack, but he lived and died by the sword known as Trent Steelman, an exceedingly tough and talented rushing quarterback who put up some great numbers. However, Steelman was also a turnover machine. The dependence on such a player wouldn't give Army the stability they'd need on offense.
On defense, Ellerson never did build any semblance of a competitive unit which forced the mistake prone offense to score into the 40 to 50 point range to win.
But his major weakness, which is a problem the school is still dealing with, came in recruiting. Aside from player-related recruiting scandals that wouldn't be a problem practically anywhere else, Ellerson brought in undersized athletes even for a service academy. This problem meant that the defensive corps and offensive line were too small even to play against other academies.
Ellerson never recovered from losing Steelman to graduation either. He would suffer his worst seasons with the quarterback rotation of Angel Santiago and A.J. Schurr, a duo even more turnover prone than Steelman.
After Ellerson was dismissed, talk of easing on admissions and training began. Something that Ellerson and past Army coaches strongly desired.
As such, he was another mistake by then-athletic director Kevin Anderson who was a part of three head coaching regimes at West Point.
Prior to Anderson's hiring, Rick Greenspan was actively killing the program. Greenspan's egregious moment of ruination of the football program came in the lackadaisical hiring of Berry. No real search was done and no noticeable homework was performed on the coach.
To make matters worse, future program building head coaches - who were interested in the Army job - Paul Johnson and Jim Tressel were left wanting.
Army could have had first dibs on Johnson and they didn't even bother looking into him. Jim Tressel won national titles in Ohio State, and they didn't bother looking into him either. The Johnson decision, or lack thereof, led to the rise of the Cadets' rival, Navy.
So the downfall of the Army football program is not only attributed to the lack of stable coaching, but by a myriad of poor decisions by three ADs. So one huge piece of the puzzle is complete: the Army football leadership has been awful for decades.
Meanwhile, at the other academies the athletic directors have either made the right decisions or had to make very little choices at all.
Navy's had two ADs in the time of Army's five. However, Air Force and Army have produced the same amount of athletic directors.
The key difference between the two is Fisher DeBerry, who was hired in 1984. Since the Falcons brought DeBerry on, they've had to make very little tough decisions regarding the football program. DeBerry brought stability and unbridled success to the Falcons. Since his hiring, the only real decisions made in Colorado Springs were to move to the Mountain West Conference and who to replace DeBerry with when he retired after the 2006 campaign.
For Navy, Chet Gladchuk Jr. has brought stability and a wealth of good decisions since replacing longtime AD Jack Lengyel in 2001. Gladchuck hired Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo, he got the TV deal with CBS Sports Network, gained exclusive bowl rights, and waited until the program was consistently good to join a conference (but the jury is still out on whether this is a good idea or not just yet).
For Army, fixing the problems start with getting the right athletic director. Boo Coorigan is the current AD. He hired Jeff Monken, who may very well be the man to who turns things around in West Point. It's just that he's still limited to a tight budget and Coorigan's vision.
So far all that vision has included is a rebranding. Which comes at a time when Army fans don't care what the logo looks like but what the team does on the field.