ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Taking a brief break from his task of reviving Navy football--a chore he has devoted most of his energy to the past seven months--Coach George Chaump recently reflected on life at Marshall University.
"Every place I'd go in Huntington (W.Va.), I was known," said Chaump, who coached the Thundering Herd for four years before taking the Navy job. "No one asked me how to spell my name. Nobody asked for verification to cash a check. No one questioned anything.
"People there had what they called 'Green Fever' -- they bled green. Football there was big."
Here, Chaump shouldn't have to worry about being approached by strangers who bleed Navy blue blood. Navy football, to some, is about as big as curling.
None of which phases Chaump. Hired to revive a struggling program, Chaump said he realizes that winning is the only way he'll get a following. And he plans to win now, not later, starting with the season opener on Sept. 8 against Richmond.
"I'm not talking about rebuilding. We're going to go on from here," said Chaump, sitting in his office, which is virtually unchanged from the days of his predecessor, Elliot Uzelac. "And I don't plan on having a losing season. I don't care how bad things are."
"Bad" for Navy has meant seven straight years of losing football, with the best record in that span 4-6-1 in 1984. Enter Chaump, who has had one losing season in eight years of college coaching (57-32-2) and has a reputation for winning with a crowd-pleasing style.
"I just have one piece of advice for Navy fans -- they better be in their seats before the game starts," said Mike Carey, president of Marshall's Quarterback Club. "George has an exciting brand of football. And he always does something exciting on the first play."
The Navy brass is waiting for the excitement to start.
"He and his staff are doing an excellent job," said Jack Lengyel, Navy's athletic director. "I'm very impressed with what I've seen. Morale is high, and everyone is looking forward to the start of the season."
Tempering the excitement are everyone except, surprisingly, Chaump. At the start of fall camp, Chaump and his assistants were looking forward to whipping the team into shape for the opener. But since then injuries that have sidelined several projected starters. Offensive tackle Michael Davis (knee problems) and tailback Ivan Bullard (pulled stomach muscle) are out for four weeks, offensive guard Carl Voss (back surgery) will miss the season, and linebacker Beau Laskey (shoulder problems) is out indefinitely. Those injuries, and others, have quelled some of that exuberance Chaump felt.
"After spring ball, I was hoping to get some offensive linemen back, but with losing two starters and being thin to begin with, I'm a little concerned," said the soft-spoken Chaump, an exasperated look on his face. "We need more time. I dread the thought of playing Virginia (Sept. 15) so early in the football season. If you want my opinion, the home opener is coming too soon."
And when would he like to open?
"How about December?" he said, laughing. "We don't have too much depth, and with the injuries, it's slowing us down. I never considered this many problems with injuries. It's just a bad rash at a time we need players in practice to learn the system."
Chaump's system probably played a big part in his getting the Navy job. He favors a high-powered offense -- i.e. "passing"-- that should pull fans out of the doldrums they sank in watching the "run, run, run" which should please fans more than the running game that eventually ran Uzelac out of Annapolis.
The players, apparently, also were in a funk. Looking back at spring practice, Chaump remembers a team that was "floundering and grasping" and lacking "a sense of unity." Now, he says, that has changed.
"Seven years without a winning record, you're going to flounder, you're going to grasp, you're going to doubt," Chaump said. "But by the end, I sensed there was the development of pride, team unity, emotion and excitement. The team started believing in themselves, and believing in their teammates. They seemed very, very confident."
Just like their ever-confident coach, who said his passing attack will work even though similar schools -- Army, Air Force and The Citadel -- use the run-oriented wishbone because of their inability to attract top-notch quarterbacks or big offensive linemen.
"I've heard all the arguments, in addition to the fact that the wishbone is a ball-control offense that controls the clock, which keeps your defense off the field," Chaump said. "I think there's truth to all of this, but I don't necessarily buy it. If I didn't think we could win with the more wide-open attack, I certainly wouldn't have gone with it."