Q&A: Army coach Rich Ellerson

For those who missed it, I did a spring rewind last week on Army and a video look at the chances that all three service academies will be bowl eligible in 2011.

Here is a part of the conversation I had with Army coach Rich Ellerson on the increased expectations for his team, which made a bowl game in 2010 for the first time since 1996.

How do you now deal with the higher expectations on your program?

Rich Ellerson: We understand the arrow’s up and nobody has higher expectations for these guys than these guys. We know we’re going to be green, but we know we’re going to be athletic. We may go through some growing pains. As we get to the season, we’ll expect to win. Having said that, we know we’re going to be coming out of the gate against some tough opponents to get this thing started. We’ll find out very quickly where we are, especially with some of those green guys on defense. Expectations remain very high offensively with the emergence of some of those guys on the line. Defensively, we’ll have to see how quickly those guys will grow into that role.

How has the culture changed now that you are in Year 3 of your program?

RE: We expect to win, we expect to be successful. That’s the culture the last two graduating classes have articulated and made part of their legacy. That’s easier now because the rising seniors are guys that were plebs when this voice was evolving, so they can’t remember it was any other way, ever. There isn’t that element on the team that had to make an intellectual choice. This is now a cultural reality. It’s not something where guys had to suspend their other beliefs. They’ve now made that a permanent part of the culture. I don’t think this group will blink. They will have high expectations for themselves. We don’t expect anything else.

You mentioned the schedule: opening at Northern Illinois, followed by games against San Diego State and Northwestern and at Ball State. Since Army is in control of its schedule, do you prefer having tough games bunched at the beginning or more spread out?

RE: I would rather not do that, but these schedules were done years ago. I looked at this one when I first got here and we were trying to move some things and couldn’t do it. The schedules I get asked about are for 2018. I’ll be eating soup up in section 40 by then. You have to be careful when you’re scheduling people like Northern Illinois and San Diego State. San Diego State is a perfect example -- here we are on the East Coast and that looked OK and that was an opportunity to play out West. The last two times I played those guys at Cal Poly, we managed to beat them. I’ve always felt about San Diego State the way people feel about the University of Texas. It should be hard not to be successful there. That’s a great program and Rocky Long is as good as I know. …

The nature of college football is: Are you going to play Ball State when they’re 11-1 or 4-8? The good news is people aren’t as excited about playing us as they used to be. We’re one of those programs now.

Given your success last season, are you where you expected to be when you laid your goals out for this program?

RE: We’ve got lots and lots of work to do, especially with our service academy rivals. The internal way we had to move, how we’ve recruited, who we’ve recruited, how we’ve been able to develop the guys internally -- I couldn’t be more pleased with the culture that’s now in place and the prospects for our future. I’d like to win every week. That may not be in the offing, but that’s the expectation.

How much closer are you to your academy rivals?

RE: I don’t think we handled the stage very well last year. Well, we handled it well against Navy. We just weren’t good enough that day to win. The guys expected to win, and the guys were clearly capable of being successful but Navy played better. We really feel like we’re stepping out there and it’s going to be contended. We’re not going to roll those guys, but I don’t think they’re feeling like they’re going to roll us, either. This is going to be: buy your ticket and hold on to your hat. These are very good football teams.

Can all three academy teams be bowl teams every season?

RE: It has the potential to be that. There are no guarantees in this, but I think that’s a realistic outcome when you look at who we are and our schedules and how well we’re playing. It’s not hard to visualize that.