The interview: Ellerson on dismissal as Army coach

Rich Ellerson sounded like he knew his tenure was coming to an end as Army football coach Saturday after a 34-7 loss to Navy.

Ellerson fielded questions from the media during a postgame press conference at Lincoln Financial Field. He answered the toughest one honestly after his fifth straight loss to the Midshipmen.

Had Ellerson done enough at Army the last five years to return as coach?

“That’s not my call,” Ellerson said. “Obviously, I think I can say in the body of work we have made some progress. But, I wasn’t brought in to make progress. I was brought in to win football games and beat Navy and I’ve lost to our rival five times. We haven’t had that conversation but I’m a football coach.”

Army athletic director Boo Corrigan and West Point superintendent Robert Caslen made the call in a Sunday evening meeting, relieving Ellerson of his coaching duties after a 20-41 career record

I spoke with coach Ellerson at 9:15 p.m. Sunday night.  Ellerson talked about the highs and lows of his five seasons. He talked about how proud he was of his players win or lose. He talked about a bright future ahead for Army football without him.

Here’s the interview:

When asked if his firing was about the bottom line (wins and losses), Ellerson said, “And, obviously the Navy (record). We all agree that we had made some progress but it’s not reflected in the scoreboard and it’s going to be left to the next guy to try to get the ball across the goal line. There’s a good young team here and there are still some challenges. There’s still some of those unique challenges associated with the mission of the larger institution that we still have some work to do there. We made some progress and we have some good young players here and there’s a reason to be optimistic.

Ellerson called Army his dream job when he was hired on Dec. 26, 2008. Is he disappointment that he didn’t succeed at West Point? “Of course. I wanted to do that (succeed). I have no regrets. I knew this was hard and I knew it was. I have no regrets none at all. I couldn’t be proud of the guys who have chose to follow us here and have come together on their own watch. That’s something to be really proud. Yeah, like everybody, we want to win more game. We need to coach better. We moved  the ball. The nice thing is when I leave I take some of that, those losses are heavy and some of those go with me. Some of that heaviness goes with me and you give somebody a chance to pump some life into some really gifted young guys, who can play at this level.”

Ellerson’s voice didn’t sound as if he had a bad taste in his mouth over the dismissal: ” I love these guys. I talked to the Superintendent and Boo and they were having a harder time with the conversation than I was.  I lost to our rival five times, Sal. C’mon. It’s just arthimetic. I know the business I’m in. I’ll beat myself up about where we could have called this or when we could have done that. That sort of stuff like you always do in our business.  But that’s the worst part of it. The rest of it none at all. I believe 100 percent in what I’ve been recruiting to and I’m so proud of the young guys that are here on this path and taking this challenge on. That’s the proudest thing in my professional life is the guys  I’m looking at… I understand we have to be able to win. We have to be able to get that done.  We got closer to the target. We didn’t get it where it needs to be. The job is not about me. It’s about these guys and these young men and the institution and let’s go, we’ll be fine.”

When asked if how proud he was of Army’s bowl win and a winning season in 2010, Ellerson said, “There’s still some feathers in our cap and reason for hope. We had spurts there where we showed what could be. There’s still some challenges that need to be worked through. But, I’m convinced that you can do this (win at West Point).  I didn’t get it all done but I’m still convinced.”

Ellerson on the challenges: “How to make the institutional mission of West Point mesh with the demands of the game at this level.  We made some real progress there but there are still some issues. I think we made some real progress and I think they are willing to take on some things without ever getting away from who we are and what the institution is expected to produce. I think you can your cake and eat it too. We made some progress on those lines but there’s work to be done.”

Ellerson has said he wanted West Point to be his last job. What does the future hold for Ellerson? “I’m not that smart yet. We were still playing Navy last night at this time.  We’ll see. “

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