The Coaches All-America Game in Atlanta last July had just ended and Army Coach Tom Cahill, whose East team had come from behind to beat the West 12-9 in the last four minutes, was accepting congratulations in the steamy dressing room with the bewildered look of a man at whom Dame Fortune is not merely smiling, but grasping and cheering. After a hundred handshakes he turned to a friend and said, "Hey, pinch me, will you. I must be dreaming all this."
Later, back at the Regency Hyatt House, Atlanta's newest and gaudiest hotel, Cahill tried to return himself to reality. "What a year this has been," he said. "Can you imagine getting to be head coach at Army, then beating Navy, going 8-2 and becoming Coach of the Year? Now this. It's hard to believe it has happened."
Cahill's wonder is understandable. At 46, when most college assistants have given up their hopes of ever becoming a head coach, he was unexpectedly thrust into the Army job. Paul Dietzel's sudden departure for South Carolina just before the start of spring practice had launched Army brass into a frantic search for a replacement. Meanwhile Cahill, who had labored in obscurity as the plebe coach at West Point for seven years, was asked to get spring practice organized so the new boss would not be faced with complete chaos. Cahill quickly recruited a staff among former players who happened to be assigned to West Point and began getting the squad ready. And Army kept looking for a coach. Finally, three days before the annual spring game, Army tried a combat boot on Cinderella Cahill and suddenly shouted, "It fits." A stunned Cahill had the job. He and his family moved into the big, handsome house that had been built for Colonel Earl Blaik during his tenure at the Point, but the Cahills did not really settle in. It was not until fall, after Army started by beating Kansas State and Holy Cross, and then upset Penn State 11-0, that Tom came home and gave his wife Bonnie the word: "Unpack."
The Cadets lost only to Notre Dame and Tennessee and went on to clobber Navy 20-7 as a climax to their surprising season. "We had a lot of things going for us," says Cahill. "At one time or another I had coached every kid on that squad, and I had recruited many of them. We felt we were in this together, and I guess we tried a little harder. Two other things helped. We did not have any serious injuries, and we had a good defense that carried us until our offense grew up."
But it also took good coaching, and Cahill, a quietly efficient mar., amply demonstrated his skill. He moved several players to new positions, put three sophomores on offense, changed from an I to a pro-type T and had Army throwing the ball. It was quite a switch from the ultra-conservative style of the Dietzel Cadets.
Winning will come harder for Cahill this year, even with Notre Dame and Tennessee off the schedule, because Army's defense was blitzed by graduation. Only four regulars, Bud Neswiacheny and Elwood Cobey, both tackles, Pal Mente at middle guard and Jim Bevans at linebacker, return to the front lines. Bob Gora, a former substitute tackle, will be at end, and Ken Johnson takes over at the other linebacking spot. Something new has been added by Cahill. The rover back in Army's defense is now known as The General, and Neswiacheny has been moved to become that commanding officer. Steve Yarnell, an aggressive junior, replaces Neswiacheny at tackle. Ollie Johnson, who has been returned to good standing—along with Punter Nick Kurilko—after being set down last year by the Academy for violating curfew, will be at cornerback. In the deep secondary, only Hank Toczylowski is back and pass defense will be the Cadets' big weakness.
So this year it will be up to the offense to carry the load until the defense develops, and Army's hopes of rating as the East's best team depend on its ability to move the ball. It should move well. Everywhere, except at the guards, Army's offense is experienced and deep. Quarterback Steve Lindell, a second classman now, has matured. He is not exactly a picture passer and never will be—he sort of slides the ball off his hand—but he is accurate, long or short. He has two good targets in Terry Young, a fancy split end with the moves of a pro, and Gary Steele, a 6'5" tight end. Between them they caught 62 passes last year. Lindell can run, too, and in his spare time kicks field goals and extra points. Fullback Charley Jarvis, another junior, led the 1966 team in rushing and is expected to again, while Tailback John Peduto has the quickness to get through a tight hole and go all the way. Carl Woessner will start at flanker, but Van Evans, a tiny 9.6 sprinter up from the 150-pound team, will see spot duty there and at tailback. Also available is Jim O'Toole, a good passer who shared the quarterback spot with Lindell early last season. The interior line, aside from 235-pound Don Roberts at center, is not big but is fast.
Army will have competition for the top spot in the East—from Penn State and Syracuse—and perhaps another 8-2 season is too much to expect. On the other hand, the way things have been going for Cahill, a man would have to be stubborn as an Army mule to bet against him.