These guys at the Coast Guard Academy really know their stuff

New London

It was at Mr. G's the night before, a time in the night when the games are over and G's becomes the home office for all the big opinions, as if they were shot from a confetti gun, raining down on the patrons. It was co-owner George Gianakos' job to make the grinders for the press box the next day at the Coast Guard football game. And a conversation among a few sports guys in the region began.

"Those guys really know what they're doing," one guy said, referring to the Coast Guard coaching staff.

It was at the home opener at Cadet Memorial Field two months earlier that Geno Auriemma, who knows a thing or two about coaching, made the same observation.

Sayeth Geno, in attendance to watch his friend Tom Meggers' son, Pat, play for Coast Guard: "Those guys really know what they're doing."

And then it was Saturday, postgame, after the Bears' 42-13 win over Maine Maritime secured a winning season, when athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick said the following about the Coast Guard coaches:

"Tactically excellent," he said. "To succeed here, you have to be able to maximize what you have. You'll be smaller and in some cases, not as fast. The entire staff does a really good job at putting our players in position to win.

"If you're Indiana playing basketball and have five great starters," he said, "you are going to dictate how the game is played. Here, you look at what we can do week to week to gain an advantage. (Assistant coaches) Ray (LaForte), CC (Grant) and Dana (Fleischmann) spend a lot of time studying other teams and oh, by the way, teach three or four classes a week. That doesn't happen at other places. It takes an exceptional commitment to succeed. It comes from the affection they have for the place and the affection they have for whom they coach."

Fitzpatrick alluded to head coach Bill George, whose team finished 5-4 this year. Maybe you're not so impressed with 5-4. But if you know anything about the culture of a military academy, you know that 5-4 further supports the earlier premise: Those guys know what they're doing.

Coast Guard football is wonderfully unique. As George said Saturday: "three engineers on the offensive line." Which makes for perhaps the lone offensive line in America versed in differential equations and multivariable calculus. But what happens when the engineers are lined up opposite linemen who all look like Haystacks Calhoun by comparison?

"Because of our size disadvantage, the coaches work real hard to put together a game plan that takes size out of the equation," senior lineman John Manganiello said. "We're competitive in pretty much every game. The game plan is solid for the tools we have. You can't beat it."

Think about that: A game plan that takes size out of the equation. Who knew? But here, there is no choice. There are weight restrictions for cadets. The Bears nonetheless won more than they lost despite finishing last in the league in rushing offense and defense. Your average television blatherer might think that's impossible. This is football.

"This is all hypothetical, of course, but if they could bring in (bigger) recruits, I honestly think we could play up a level," Manganiello said. "We'll still get kids with the same heart. A lot of us would still be starting and playing, but we'd have depth. You don't see a d-line or an o-line play a whole game straight watching the big time teams. They're rotating out. Not only are we undersized, but we have to stay in better shape, playing 90 plays a game."

No one's complaining. Just part of the equation. And it means two things: 1.) You savor winning; and 2.) Those guys know what they're doing.

And they have for a while. To think how Dennis & Callahan on WEEI Radio nearly started breathing into brown paper bags recently, discussing how the Patriots' no-huddle offense often uses one-word play calls. It was like Belichick found the cure for emphysema. Imagine: one word could determine formation, blocking scheme, direction, routes, shifts in formation, snap counts and play alterations.

This just in: Coast Guard has been doing that since 2005.

(No, really).

Happily, though, people are starting to notice. The Bears are part of the discussion at Mr. G's. Geno has noticed. And they finished the season with more wins than losses.

"Our football program is very key to making the academy in general relevant locally," Fitzpatrick said. "It's such a great place to play and to watch a game. In service academy culture, football holds a very, very significant role. I have a feeling we're turning the corner. There are bigger, better things ahead."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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