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Friday, August 15, 2008
Black Knights, option ready to reunite

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

Stan Brock can see the day fast approaching, and he's excited. The Army coach, two weeks after surgery to remove his cancerous prostate, believes the time is near when he won't go home mid-morning for a nap.

"Probably within the next week," Brock said Thursday, "I'll be back at the regular ridiculous hours that coaches think are necessary to work in this business."

Beyond the shock of the prognosis, the medical news for Brock, 50, has been nothing but good. Doctors found that the cancer had not escaped the prostate. Brock is expected to make a complete recovery.

"All the plumbing seems to be working," Brock said. "Nobody likes their plumbing messed with."

Stan Brock
Stan Brock's bringing the option back to Army.

The recovery of Army football remains a work in progress. To put it politely, the Black Knights of the Hudson are in the second decade of rebuilding. Brock, promoted after the retirement of Bobby Ross following the 2006 season, led Army to a 3-9 record a year ago. He came away from last season convinced that he needed to scrap the pro-style offense.

Army finished in the bottom five in the nation in total offense (275.5 yards per game) and scoring offense (16.9 points). The inability to hold on to the ball led to a rushing defense (233.5 yards) that also finished in the bottom five.

So Brock set out to find an offense. You've seen this search before. The Golden Age of Hollywood cranked them out regularly. A couple meant to be together splits up and then finds their way back to one another. Cary Grant would have played Brock, and Katherine Hepburn would be the option offense.

The greatest success that Army, Navy and Air Force have had in the past 25 years has been when they have run the option. Army went away from the option eight years ago, firing Bob Sutton and hiring Todd Berry. He installed a no-huddle spread, the worst decision in an Army uniform since George Custer scheduled a game at Little Big Horn.

Brock has heard all the theories about why option offenses have found a home at the three service academies.

He has heard that the option is an equalizer against more talented teams.

He has heard that the option stretches a defense like the spread but without the same need for speed in the open field.

He has heard that the same discipline and intelligence that West Point demands from every cadet fit the option like a Speedo.

"I don't know about those things," Brock said. "I know we had to make a change. We needed something our players had confidence in."

Brock, offensive coordinator Tim Walsh and the Army staff have read every option book and playbook they could find. (The Internet is a beautiful thing.) They have watched a lot of video. What they have created, exactly, Brock isn't saying.

"It's a run-option-based offense," he said. "The reason I think it's going to work is that when you can make everybody honor the run, it will make throwing the ball a little easier.

"We can find a big fullback. We can have a smart quarterback. The offensive linemen can bend their elbows and bend their knees and come running off the ball. And the pass protection is taken care of by having [the defense] honor the run first."

Brock also played in the wishbone at Colorado in the mid-1970s. The offense is an old friend. He and his staff went to visit the retired Jim Young, the head coach who in the 1980s first made option football at Army a success. They went to visit Young's successor, Bob Sutton, now the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets.

In 1996, Sutton's Army team began the season 9-0 and finished it 10-2 and No. 25. That's the last time Army was ranked. That's also the last time that Army had a winning record. In the past 11 seasons, Army has won 27 games. It has been a long, black night for the Black Knights.

The option makes sense as the shortest path to renewed success. Brock has no idea if he's right. At this point, he's taking one day at a time. And looking forward to coaching without a nap.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, & Traditions," is on sale now.