Coast Guard's George and his staff have worked a modern-day Military Miracle

New London — In the pantheon of miracles, there are, in no particular order: Herman Edwards, Lazarus, beating the Russians at Lake Placid, Flutie, the water-into-wine thing and Bill George.

Bill George?

Bill George.

You know. The football coach at Coast Guard.

He’s won six games so far this season.

Six wins haven’t happened at the military hamlet by the Thames in 11 years.

And it’s Coast Guard, with its male enrollment of 680, the second-smallest such number in New England among all football-playing schools.

So there.

The Military Miracle.

Perhaps nobody cares. It’s curious what sports fans in our corner of the world make of Coast Guard. Most aren’t familiar enough with the place to form an opinion. But it begins and ends here: No factory, this. They’re truly smarter than the average Bears. Maybe the wisest thing ever said about the place came from the late Alex Simonka, who played and coached at the academy. Sayeth Alex: “It’s not like this here every year, but it’s like this here this year.”

Translation: Neither the mission nor the passion to excel at sports runs through 31 Mohegan Ave. Parkway. Hence, successes, even if modest by most sporting standards, mustn’t be merely acknowledged, but celebrated.

The sons of Bill are 6-3, heading to the annual biggie Saturday at rival Merchant Marine Academy. They can complete a 7-3 season as the Little Military Academy That Could, but also deny Merchant Marine a chance at a conference championship and NCAA Division III tournament berth.

Both prospects are just delicious for anyone who understands Coast Guard’s rhythms and cadence.

Win No. 6 came last Saturday, a 24-10 win over WPI, home of 2,776 male enrollees. To reiterate: 680 beat 2,776. In local high school terms, that’s like Wheeler beating NFA. And if you like comparison shopping, Ohio State has 21,559 undergraduate males.

The postgame scene on the field was a Coast Guard infomercial. Happy faces all around, a mix of parents, friends, players, coaches and staff, all reveling in ending the home season perfectly. Maybe the happiest guy of all was Adm. Rendon, the Superintendent, who delivered a rather rousing address to the kids.

George, who often views winning with more relief than euphoria, was downright joyful. And this — yes, this — is what made the day special. George cannot recruit with the same freedoms as many of his peers. Handcuffs on top of restrictions all rolling around in the perpetually simmering crockpot. And so when a season like this hits, we remember Simonka’s words: It’s like this around here this year.

“I remember one year when Jim Hohfer (now at Iowa State) was coaching at Cornell and was like 6-0 at one point,” George said Wednesday, before attending the academy-wide pep rally. “He talked about how hard it is to win college games when you’re not at a football factory. I always took heart to that. Heck, all that goes into winning even one college football game is massive.”

Coast Guard, rarely with equal size and depth of its opponents, must win with guile and creativity. Except that when the Bears are hit with injury and illness — this is football, remember — they just don’t have the wherewithal to withstand. That’s why even six-win seasons are elusive.

I’ve had a number of disagreements over the years with Coast Guard poohbahs about admissions policies and what I perceive as unnecessarily extreme restrictions placed on coaches. I believe sports produce the qualities Coast Guard wants in its officers: quick decision-makers in formidable situations, while surrounded by people with varying engagement, motivation and interest levels.

It happens on fields and courts every day.

Often, the retorts don’t get beyond the simple-minded, “are we here to produce officers or football players?” when the answer is this: One begets the other.

I sat Wednesday with seniors Jack Brandt and Chip Crowley, who play their last game Saturday. They relayed their academy experience — their very positive experience — through the prism of football. Let me just say the academy is in good hands.

So congrats to George and his staff — Ray LaForte, C.C. Grant, Dana Fleischmann and Jay Driscoll among them — for the inspiring fall of 2018. Here’s to making this a habit.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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