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Cal Poly's Ellerson Takes Over Army

Courtesy Army Athletics Communications
December 26, 2008

WEST POINT, N.Y. – West Point’s leadership took a major step towards restoring its football program to national prominence on Friday by luring one of the top coaches in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) ranks, Rich Ellerson, to lead the Black Knights’ football program.

One of the nation’s true triple option experts, Ellerson agreed to become Army’s 36th head football coach, announced West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Buster L. Hagenbeck and Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson.

Ellerson is a veteran of nearly 30 years of coaching experience on the collegiate ranks, including the last eight as head coach at Cal Poly. Not regarded as a traditional FCS power prior to Ellerson’s arrival in 2001, Cal Poly has finished each of the last four years ranked in the Top 25 of national FCS polls. The Mustangs have won at least seven games during each of the past six seasons and spent the majority of this past year ranked in the top 10 of both the FCS Coaches Top 25 Poll and The Sports Network Division I-AA Poll. The Mustangs were ranked No. 3 in the FCS Coaches Poll for the final seven weeks of the regular season (and the last four weeks of The Sports Network Poll) before they were upset in the first round of the FCS playoffs by Weber State on Nov. 29.

Hagenbeck said Ellerson’s proven record of success, strong leadership qualities and thorough knowledge of the triple option offense played a large role in his selection as West Point’s new football field boss.

"Rich has the experience we need," said Hagenbeck, "An award and title winning head coach who runs the option, Rich also has extensive ties to West Point and the Army. Not only are his father and two brothers members of the Long Gray Line and career Army officers, but his brother John was the Captain of the 1962 team that went 6-4."

Ellerson was named NCAA Division I-AA Independents Coach of the Year in 2003 and a year later honored as Great West Football Conference Coach of the Year as well as AFCA Region 5 Coach of the Year.

Prior to his selection as Cal Poly’s 15th head football coach on Dec. 6, 2000, Ellerson served as the defensive coordinator at Arizona, holding that title from 1997 to 2000. It marked a return stint in Tucson for the highly regarded mentor. Ellerson assumed duties as the Wildcats’ assistant head coach, while overseeing Arizona’s defensive line and special teams during his first stay in the desert from 1992 to 1995. It was at that time that he first became associated with legendary former Army head coach Jim Young, who had retired as the Black Knights’ head coach following the 1990 season and assumed a volunteer role on Dick Tomey’s UA staff. Ellerson also assisted then-Army head coach Bob Sutton in installing his "Desert Swarm" defense at West Point, a stop unit that helped carry the Black Knights to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Independence Bowl in 1996.

"We are extremely excited to be in position to name Rich Ellerson as our head football coach today," stated Athletic Director Anderson. "I have long admired his work with the triple option at Cal Poly. He has done some amazing things in building that program into a national power. His knowledge of the game on both sides of the ball made him a very attractive candidate. One of our primary goals of the search was to find someone capable of turning around our program immediately and we are confident Rich is the perfect individual to accomplish that.

"Rich is a military historian with great love for West Point and has expressed strong interest in this position when it has been open in the past. He is widely regarded as one of the country’s top option coaches having spent a great deal of time with Paul Johnson over the years. As the architect of Arizona’s ‘Desert Swarm’ defense, his prowess on that side of the ball is highly acclaimed. Rich is a high-energy individual and we think his passion and enthusiasm will be a tremendous asset to our football program and cadet-athletes."

Cal Poly closed the year at 8-3 and ranked No. 8 in the FCS Coaches Poll and No. 10 in The Sports Network Poll. In two of their most memorable performances this past season, the Mustangs posted a 29-27 victory over Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) member San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Aug. 30 and suffered a heartbreaking 36-35 overtime loss to Big 10 Conference member Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 22. In guiding the Mustangs to a fourth consecutive year-ending Top 25 national ranking, Ellerson earned his third Great West Conference Coach of the Year honor and finished second in the balloting for the Eddie Robinson Award, which is presented annually to the FCS coach of the year by the Sports Network. His team committed a total of just six turnovers through its 10 regular-season games this season and is listed 92nd in the most recent Sagarin Ratings, ahead of such FBS schools as Texas A&M, UCLA, UNLV, Texas El-Paso, Louisville, Memphis, Mississippi State, Syracuse, Iowa State, Indiana, Washington and Washington State.

Cal Poly captured three Great West Football Conference championships, claimed a pair of NCAA Division I-AA playoff berths and registered 48 wins in their last 70 games under Ellerson’s direction. The Mustangs’ current streak of six consecutive winning seasons marks their longest span since ripping off 13 straight winning records from 1968 to 1980. Cal Poly has captured three of its last eight games against FBS opponents, notching wins against Texas El-Paso and San Diego State (twice), while falling in overtime to Wisconsin.

Employing an aggressive defensive set and an explosive triple option offensive attack, Ellerson compiled a 56-34 record (.622) in eight seasons at the Cal Poly helm. The Mustangs posted a 48-22 record (.686) in their final 70 games under Ellerson dating back to the 2002 campaign. In nine years as a collegiate head coach overall, Ellerson boasts a 60-41 record (.594).

The Mustangs’ vaunted triple option offense experienced unparalleled success this past season, establishing school records for first downs (262), first downs rushing (162), points scored (488) and touchdowns (67). Cal Poly piled up at least 49 points in six of 11 contests, topped the 50-point barrier three times and registered a season-high 69 points in a home defeat of Southern Utah. In all, Cal Poly scored in 41 of their 44 quarters of action this fall. The Mustangs finished the season ranked first nationally in both total offense (487.45) and scoring offense (44.36), second in pass efficiency (167.72) and third in rushing offense (306.45).

Under Ellerson’s direction, the Mustangs won 18 of their last 30 games on the road and 30 of their last 36 home contests. They posted six shutouts during Ellerson’s eight years as head coach and did not get shut out during that same time. In all, nine Mustangs earned Sports Network All-American honors, including several players twice, and three earned Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America honors under Ellerson. Cal Poly has had a player in the East-West Shrine Game four of the last five years. Since becoming an inaugural member of the Great West Conference in 2004, Cal Poly has had 40 players named to the all-conference first team.

Among the standout players coached by Ellerson during his tenure at Cal Poly is big-play wide receiver Ramses Barden, who registered 67 catches for 1,257 yards and 18 touchdowns this year en route to becoming the school’s career leader in all three categories (206 receptions, 4203 yards and 50 touchdown catches). Barden recorded at least one touchdown reception in his final 20 contests, surpassing Jerry Rice’s NCAA FCS mark and Larry Fitzgerald’s all-time NCAA record. Barden caught a touchdown pass in 32 of his 46 games for the Mustangs, six more than Rice’s NCAA standard and five more than Ryan Yarborough’s all-time NCAA mark. He was a three-time first team All-Great West Conference selection and will perform in next month’s East-West Shrine Game in Houston, Texas.

While Ellerson has built a solid reputation as an innovative offensive mind, he garnered national acclaim as a defensive trend-setter last decade at the University of Arizona when he created the pressure, gap-control "Desert Swarm" defensive scheme.

One year before this season’s breakout showing, Cal Poly finished 7-4 in 2007 and finished in third place in the Great West Football Conference standings. Barden became the fifth Mustang in as many years to land a spot on the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team and swept every other first-team award as he caught 57 passes for 1,467 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Cal Poly ranked first nationally in total offense, fifth in rushing offense and sixth in scoring offense en route to a No. 24 final ranking by The Sports Network. Junior center Stephen Field also was an All-American and 13 Mustangs were named to one of the Great West Conference all-star teams. Cal Poly scored 30 or more points seven times, broke or tied 18 all-time school records and has won seven or more games six years in a row.

Ellerson’s 2006 Mustang squad narrowly missed its second straight NCAA FCS playoff berth. Linebacker Kyle Shotwell became the third Mustang in as many years to win the Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented to the Defensive Player of the Year in the FCS, and was the fourth Mustang in 53 years to play in the East-West Shrine Game. James Noble became the first running back in Cal Poly history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, Chris White was named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team and the Mustangs’ defense posted three shutouts as the team finished ranked No. 16 nationally by The Sports Network. Twelve different Mustangs earned All-Great West honors and three were accorded All-America citations.

One year earlier, Cal Poly finished 9-4 and earned a berth in the 2005 FCS playoffs, reaching the quarterfinal round before falling at Texas State. The Mustangs won five of six games against Big Sky Conference schools, the most in school history, and went 6-0 at home. Defensive end Chris Gocong earned the Buck Buchanan Award and played in the East-West Shrine Game. Gocong also was named to the AFCA All-America Team, following David Richardson in 2003 and Jordan Beck in 2004.

Beck (Atlanta Falcons, 2005) and Gocong (Philadelphia Eagles, 2006) were both chosen in the third round of the National Football League Draft, in successive years marking Cal Poly's highest NFL draft picks ever.

A total of 17 Mustangs were named to the 2005 All-Great West first or second team all-star units and six earned All-America honors. Ellerson, meanwhile, attracted national attention as he was chosen as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award for the first time.

In 2004, Cal Poly finished 9-2 overall and posted a 4-1 league record, capturing the inaugural Great West Conference championship. Cal Poly won its first seven games overall, closed the year with the school’s highest victory total in seven years and ended ranked 15th nationally (after ranking as high fifth during the course of the season). Beck was one of nine Mustangs to earn first or second team All-Great West laurels.

Cal Poly notched a 6-5 record during Ellerson’s first year at the controls in 2001, delivering the Mustangs’ first winning season since 1997. Cal Poly also dramatically improved a defense that ranked near the bottom of FCS in 2000 (279.0 yards rushing per game). In Ellerson’s first year in charge, the Mustangs finished the regular season ranked 26th nationally in the category, yielding just 122.6 yards rushing per game. Cal Poly's pass defense was just as stingy, allowing only 213.0 yards passing per game. Using the same "Desert Swarm" system that Ellerson had installed at Arizona, Cal Poly’s defense wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all season as the Mustangs finished the regular season ranked sixth nationally in turnover margin at 1.6 per game. Ellerson’s squad posted a plus-13 in the turnover department as Cal Poly registered 30 takeaways, while giving the ball away just 17 times.

In 2002, Cal Poly faced a challenging schedule with a pair of Division I FBS opponents and four Big Sky Conference members. The Mustangs slipped to 3-8 for the fourth time in five years, but won three of their final six games after an 0-5 start. Four of the losses were not decided until the game’s final moments.

Cal Poly began its current run of six consecutive winning seasons in 2003, posting a 7-4 mark. The Mustangs closed the year ranked 24th nationally in rushing defense, 30th in rushing offense, 58th in total offense and 29th in total defense among the 123 Division I-AA schools. Individually, Beck was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award and Richardson was named to the AFCA Division I-AA All-America Team.

Ellerson left Arizona briefly, accepting his first head coaching assignment at Southern Utah University in 1996. He returned to Arizona as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator one year later after helping Southern Utah to a 4-7 record and a national rushing title during his only year in control of the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah managed just two victories the previous season.

During his initial stay in Tucson, Ellerson served as an assistant to defensive coordinator Larry MacDuff. The Wildcats' defensive system ranked second nationally against the run in 1992 and 1993. Arizona ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense during all four of those years. He also helped improve Arizona's special teams play and coached placekicker Steve McLaughlin to the Lou Groza Award in 1994.

He capped his second Tucson tenure in 2000 by helping the Wildcats to a No. 8 national ranking in rushing defense (88.5 yards per game). The Wildcats also ranked second in the Pac 10 Conference in total defense (317.5) and takeaways (33). Among the players Ellerson tutored at Arizona were future NFL stalwarts Ted Bruschi and Chris McAllister. The Wildcats combined to earn five postseason bowl berths during his two stays at Arizona (spanning eight years).

Ellerson spent four years as a member of the University of Hawai’i football program during his undergraduate days, splitting time between the center and linebacker positions. He graduated from UH in 1977 and began his coaching career at his alma mater as a graduate assistant during Tomey's first season as head coach in 1977.

The Tucson, Ariz., native went on to serve one-year stints as secondary coach at Arizona Western College in 1978, linebackers and special teams coach at the University of Idaho in 1979, and defensive line and special teams mentor at Cal State Fullerton in 1980. He returned to Hawai’i for the second of his three coaching stints, tutoring the Warriors’ defensive line, outside linebackers and special teams from 1981 to 1983.

Ellerson moved on to the professional ranks for the next three years, heading to the Canadian Football League. He served as defensive line coach for the British Columbia Lions from 1984 to 1985, helping to lead the Lions to a Grey Cup championship in 1985. He became defensive coordinator for the Calgary Stampeders in 1986 before accepting a similar role at Hawai’i during a third assignment with his alma mater.

As defensive coordinator at Hawai’i from 1987 to 1991, Ellerson was teamed with a young triple option guru named Paul Johnson, who served as the Warriors’ offensive coordinator at the time. Johnson would go on to experience highly successful head coaching terms at Georgia Southern, Navy and, most recently, Georgia Tech. Ken Nuimatalolo, currently head coach at Navy, lettered three times at quarterback (1987-89), and Ivin Jasper, presently the Mids’ offensive coordinator, lettered three times at quarterback and slot back (1991-93) for Hawai’i during that time. Ellerson became intimately familiar with the triple option ingenuity of Johnson during those years. He would successfully install the high-powered system at Southern Utah and Cal Poly in the years that followed.

The son of a career U.S. Army officer, the Black Knights’ new head football coach possesses strong ties to West Point, despite spending the majority of his life on the West Coast. While his father, Col. (Ret.) Geoffrey Ellerson, graduated from the Military Academy in 1935, his oldest brother, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) John, lettered for three years on Army’s football team and served as team captain for head coach Paul Dietzel’s Black Knights in 1962. His other brother, Col. (Ret.) Geoffrey D. Ellerson Jr., also graduated from West Point in 1963, and his nephew, Geoffrey Ellerson III, is an Army Colonel currently serving in Iraq.

"I will never receive, nor have I ever received a finer compliment professionally or personally than to be entrusted with the Army football program at this point in its history," Ellerson stated. "I grew up with Army football. I was part of a typical Army family. When I was a kid, I was watching those guys at West Point, my father was a West Point graduate and we were living on Army posts all over the world. I just grew up thinking that West Point was the center of the university. It’s a little bit of a catharsis.

"I know that the offense that we run was the hook that got me into the middle of this search. The reason the offense is so successful and the reason it’s so appropriate at Army is that it carries over to every phase of the game and carries over into recruiting. We’re going to find some novel solutions to problems in order to give our cadet-athletes the best possible opportunity to be successful on Saturday. We’re going to recruit and develop people that are absolutely in lock-step with the mission of the Military Academy and can be successful on Saturday. It may a bit unique, but that’s okay. All that matters is getting the scoreboard right in the end."

Lauded for his ability to transform the Cal Poly into a consistent winner, Ellerson expects to apply the same approach he used with the Mustang program to getting Army’s football fortunes turned in a positive direction.

"Now that I am on the inside, we are going to find a way to be successful," Ellerson stressed. "I don’t know exactly what that picture is yet because I don’t know enough about the team that we have. I need to get smarter about the raw material that we have to work with. I do know that I can surround myself with the right kind of coaches and we will come up with a plan given the resources and challenges in front of us to give ourselves a great chance to be successful from the get-go. What form that is going to take, I can’t say right now. There’s too much to find out. Every football player and every football team in America wants to win. We need to win. It’s just a whole other order of urgency. We need to.

"This is a stressful time. I can’t say that I’m comfortable in the role yet, but I’m too busy, and too busy having fun visualizing and anticipating what lies ahead to be negatively affected. I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time and I’m not going to let a moment of it slip away."

Ellerson, who will turn 55 on New Year’s Day, was born on Jan. 1, 1954, in Yokohama, Japan, while his father was stationed there. He graduated from Tucson’s Salpointe High in 1972.

He and his wife, Dawn, have four children: Sean, 30, Shea, 26, Leta, 23, and Andrew, 16.

Ellerson will begin his new duties at Army immediately, assuming full control of one of the nation's most storied gridiron programs. He expects to begin building his initial Black Knight coaching staff in the days ahead.

A formal press conference to introduce Rich Ellerson as Army’s 36th head football coach will be held in West Point’s Randall Hall Auditorium on Tuesday.

THE ELLERSON FILE

Army, Dec. 26, 2008-Present
Head Coach

Cal Poly, 2001-Dec. 25, 2008
Head Coach (56-34)
Seven winning seasons
2005 FCS Playoffs
2005 Eddie Robinson Award Finalist
2008 FCS Playoffs (No. 8 final national ranking)
2008 Eddie Robinson Award Runnerup

University of Arizona, 1997-2000
Defensive Coordinator
1997 Insight.com Bowl Champions
1998 Holiday Bowl Champions

Southern Utah University, 1996
Head Coach (4-7)

University of Arizona, 1992-1995
Assistant Head Coach
Defensive Line/Special Teams
1992 John Hancock Bowl
1993 Fiesta Bowl Champions
1994 Freedom Bowl

University of Hawai’i, 1987-1991
Defensive Coordinator

Calgary Stampeders (CFL), 1986
Defensive Coordinator

British Columbia Lions (CFL), 1984-1985
Defensive Line
1985 Gray Cup Champions

University of Hawai’i, 1981-1983
Defensive Line , Outside Linebackers, Special Teams

Cal State Fullerton, 1980
Defensive Line, Special Teams

University of Idaho, 1979
Linebackers, Special Teams

Arizona Western College, 1978
Defensive Secondary

University of Hawai’i, 1977
Defensive Line (Graduate Assistant)