Message from Pete Dawkins to the Class of 1959
Commentary on the Forum regarding Bobby Ross' departure - and the naming of Stan Brock as his successor - has quieted down of late, but I assume the topic remains one of considerable interest.
I have spent quite a bit of time over the past week, in numerous conversations with LTG Hagenbeck, Kevin Anderson, Coach Ross and Coach Brock. I wanted to share with you what I have learned, and offer my personal assessment of the situation.
First of all, I have to say that I consider the Forum commentary - including, as it has, numerous insightful (some of them quite critical) observations, expressions of frustration and, in some instances, anger - to be one of the strengths, and special qualities, of our shared loyalty, and commitment, to West Point. It would be crushingly disappointing to me if, as individuals and as a group, we were indifferent about the Military Academy's tradition of excellence, and insensitive to the vital role that the Army football team's heritage of winning plays in the life of this institution that has meant so much to all of us. And an institution, I would argue, that today shoulders as much responsibility for our country's future as it has at any time in our history.
This is not to say that I agree with all of the comments that have been voiced. I clearly do not. Particularly worrying, I must say, was the suggestion that we invoke the "assistance" of the Congress. Doing so could open a "Pandora's Box" of other implications, to include calls for the elimination of the Academies themselves - a threat that lies permanently beneath the surface among some in the Congress - that none of us would favor. Fortunately, that option seems to have been quickly discouraged.
Rather than a rambling discourse, let me summarize my thoughts in three parts.
A. COACH BROCK'S "5-YEAR CONTRACT"?
As I write this, no contract exists. One is being negotiated. I have argued strenuously, to all involved, that the tenure should be short rather than long, and that suitable incentives be built-in for success. There is a "popular" - maybe true? - shibboleth that says, offering a coach less that a 4-year contract disadvantages him in the eyes of recruits... who, it goes, want to know that the coach will be there throughout their 4 years as a player/Cadet. I honestly don't know where the tenure issue will end up, but it is the subject of an on-going vigorous debate.
B. "SEARCH" OR "NO-SEARCH"?
After the season ended, Coach Ross committed to the Superintendent that he would remain to coach next season, and complete his contract. As a result, the search process did not progress further.
Coach Ross came to the Superintendent on the afternoon of Thursday, January 25th, and - without any prior indication - abruptly quit. The timing left the Supe in an extremely difficult position. The first of the 3 most important weekend recruiting visitations was 1- days away. He felt that he had only two realistic options. One, immediately initiate a full-blown, "open" search to find and contract with a new Head Coach. Although, as indicated above, some preliminary "screening" had been done, two of the top ranked prospect coaches were no longer available and, even on an accelerated basis, conducting a full-scale, open search would take weeks, if not months. In his judgment, it would undoubtedly extend past the key timing (2 weeks) of the visits from this season's top recruiting prospects. Second, choose Stan Brock, who was physically present, knew and is both liked and respected by the current team members, knows the Prep School players, as well as a number of the key prospects and, as indicated above, was ranked as a top-tier candidate when the contingency screening had been conducted.
Given this situation, the Supe elected to go with coach Brock. It was decided to wait until Monday, January 29th to make an official announcement regarding Ross' departure, in order to be able to take a number of immediate, "protective" steps. Between Thursday night and Saturday morning, Coach Brock talked with each of the player prospects coming to West Point that weekend, explaining the situation that had developed, and informing them that he was stepping in as the new Head Coach. Likewise, he spoke with the players at USMA Prep.
In my judgment, given the timing of Ross' abrupt decision to quit, the Superintendent had no "ideal" option. He made a "command decision" - a decision, by the way, that he is the one institutionally responsible to make. Under the circumstances, I support it. In any event, that decision has been made (presuming the contracting process is completed satisfactorily) and, practically speaking, It seems to me that we do well, now, to get behind Coach Brock, and provide him resolute support as he undertakes to move Army football to a higher level.
A question has been raised about whether or not there is a "culture of support" within the Leader Team and senior administration at the Military Academy for a top flight, Division 1-A football program. An important point, and a fair question to raise, in light of the Army team's consistently disappointing performance over more than a decade.
I discussed this candidly, and at length, with LTG Hagenbeck. Obviously, each of you should make up your own mind about this. My own judgment is twofold. First, I believe that the Supe, having been a feisty 150 pound football player at West Point, and having been an Assistant Football Coach at Florida State's competitive Division 1-A program, shares our view of the KEY importance of a winning football program at the Military Academy, and is intensely focused on doing what is called for to bring that about. Second, I believe there is a serious lack of "alignment" - organizationally - at the Academy toward this end. Specifically, I do not think it is either logical, or wise, to have the Dean be the head of BOTH the Academic Board and the Athletic Board. I know of no other Division 1-A Institution with such an arrangement. I have no specific quarrel with the performance of BG Finnegan - who, I sense, is an Army team enthusiast - but I do firmly believe that the Athletic Board should be headed by someone who is "institutionally mandated" to be an advocate for Intercollegiate Athletics and, specifically, an advocate for developing a successful Division 1-A football program.
I want to talk to Harry Walters, Jack Morrison and several others first but, unless persuaded otherwise, I intend to strongly urge the Superintendent to replace the Dean as the Head of the Athletic Board, and to look hard at the entire institutional framework at the Military Academy to ensure that it is not, consciously or inadvertently, diluting appropriate and needed support for a winning football program.
A final thought. Much of life is about perspective. In this instance we should check to be confident we are keeping things in the right balance. West Point is about much more than football. But West Point is inextricably bonded to the spirit of being a winner.
In 2002, when I was granted the unexpected, and extraordinary, gift of speaking at West Point's Bicentennial Founders Day Dinner, I thought hard about what to say. Some of you may recall that I chose three fundamentals to comment on. The first was WINNING. It seems to me that two short paragraphs of what I said that night are relevant today:
"West Point is unique. Its spirit is vital... and contagious. Winning is the Apex of Attitude. 'Winning.' A life view. A culture. A frame of mind. An overriding goal. An unwavering aspiration. Not that you always win - nobody does. Not that you don't acknowledge defeat - you do - but you never accept it. MacArthur's axiom is timeless and apt: "There is no substitute for victory."
I went on to explain further what I meant, and presented the Cadets with a personal challenge:
"Winning is fundamental. It is the keystone ideal of the warrior. It is the raw, primal absolute of the soldier. It is the uncompromising core commitment of this Academy. It must become your personal creed!"
I fully recognize that "winning" isn't confined to the football field. But the fact is, more Americans gain a sense of how West Point values winning from the Army football team than from any other single source. A competitive, combative, winning Army team is not just a sports team; it is a metaphor for the Academy itself.
How I feel about West Point is summed up by another point I made at the Bicentennial. I believe it even more strongly today:
"The soul of this place is selfless service. The heart is 'Winning'."
Winning matters! A competitive winning Division 1A football program at West Point is a realistic and achievable goal.
The task ahead isn't easy. But it needs to be done.
The source of this copy of Pete Dawkins message is an e-mail addressed to the Class of '63 from Frank Lennon, '63. The text of Frank's message is quoted here:
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Subject: Pete Dawkins comments on Army football situation
Dawkins sent the attached message to the Class of 1959. I believe his analysis is a thoughtful one. He provides factual answers to several questions, and he clears the air on several rumors.
In his opinion, "Winning matters! A competitive winning
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