Old Navy coach is behind Army's success


POSTED: Friday, December 11, 2009

PHILADELPHIA » It didn't take Rich Ellerson long to become one of Paul Johnson's disciples.

Johnson, recognized as the guru of the triple option, first implemented this deceiving offense more than 20 years ago.

Since his days as an offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern and the University of Hawaii (from 1987 to 1994), Johnson has tortured defenses and challenged opposing coaches to stop him. Along the way, Johnson turned a moribund Navy program around, and under his guidance (from 2002 to 2007), the Mids accepted bids to five bowl games.

These days, Johnson has Georgia Tech ninth in the AP poll and facing Iowa in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5.

Now Ellerson, who coached with Johnson when both were assistants at Hawaii, has taken Johnson's essential game plan, and, also, turned programs around. At Cal Poly, his teams went 56-34 in seven seasons with two postseason appearances.

This past January, he accepted the head coaching position at Army, and coming into tomorrow's game with Navy at Lincoln Financial Field, the Black Knights are 5-6, the most wins in a season since they went 10-2 in 1995. Plus, if Army can beat Navy, it becomes bowl eligible and will play Temple (9-3) in the EagleBank Bowl in Washington on Dec. 29.

Ellerson established a successful track record with implementation of the triple option, and credits Johnson as the founding father.

“;Paul has had the greatest influence on this offense,”; Elllerson said. “;If the triple option is a family tree, Paul is the patriarch.”;

Since coming to Army, Ellerson has elected to go with underclassmen to run the option. While Army was successful running the ball last season, the core of the attack came from running back Colin Mooney. In the process, Mooney set a school record for rushing yards in a season (1,339). Quarterback Chip Bowden was second with 710 net yards, but lost 138, mostly through quarterback sacks.

For 2009, Ellerson has inserted 6-foot, 185-pound freshman quarterback Trent Steelman to run the triple option. Steelman leads the Black Knights in rushing (690 yards, five TDs), and can also move the offense with his arm. He has picked up another 560 yards through the air (47-for-90), with three TD strikes.

Starting all 11 games to date, Steelman remains the center of Army's offensive effort, but running the option commands a certain mentality and physicality.

In implementing Johnson's current version of the triple option at Georgia Tech, Yellow Jackets' quarterback Josh Nesbitt knows the demands placed on the athlete.

“;You have to be real tough in this offense,”; he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in early October. “;Every time you get hit, no matter how bad you're hurting, you have to get back up.”;

So far, the reviews are mixed regarding Steelman, though Ellerson is happy with his effort.

“;I would say Trent's production has been uneven,”; Ellerson added. “;He is our hybrid, most athletic, and demonstrated the ability to play hard. Overall, I'm pleased with the progress he's made.”;

In Army's option, Steelman is the key, but has help from running backs Patrick Mealy, Ian Smith and Jameson Carter. If he needs to put it up, Ali Villanueva, a 6-foot-10, 283-pound senior from Meridian, Miss., is Steelman's main target.