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'No beer ... no women': Former Army football coach defends his recruiting trips

October 29, 2014
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photo - Army coach Bobby Ross walks the sideline in the second half during Army's 26-14 loss to Navy in a football game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)
Army coach Bobby Ross walks the sideline in the second half during Army's 26-14 loss to Navy in a football game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy) 

When Army football recruits took a bus trip with coach Bobby Ross, there was no drinking or dancing in the aisles like a trip for recruits earlier this year.

Ross came out of retirement to coach the Black Knights from 2004 to 2006, and he did take cadets and prospects for a ride down New York's Palisades Parkway. But it wasn't for a night of unsupervised fun.

The recruits, their parents and every member of Ross' coaching staff were along for the ride, he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"There was no beer, there were no women, there was nothing like that," Ross said.

The bus trips to the Palisades Mall came under scrutiny last week after an Army report leaked to The Gazette showed unsupervised high school football recruits and 20 cadets used the jaunt as an opportunity for underage drinking and raucous revelry. West Point superintendent, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, said Sunday that all cadets and leaders involved had been punished and that the antics of the Jan. 25 outing won't be repeated.

Before Ross, 77, took to the sideline, he was on the front lines of the Cold War with the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment where he served as a lieutenant in a unit that was tasked with stopping a Soviet advance into Germany. Ross said athletes at West Point needed to be officers first.

"I have great respect for Army athletes," he said.

The leaked report said the Palisades trip dated back to Ross' tenure as coach. The same report said mall trips had few rules and no officer supervision.

"This is very damaging to my reputation," said Ross, who contacted The Gazette to set the record straight.

Under him, the trips were much tamer, he said. The Palisades Mall had a Dave & Buster's franchise that was the perfect place for the coach to talk to parents and recruits.

"I would tell them a bit about West Point," he said. "Then we would show them a film on the history of West Point."

Ross led the NFL's San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl and took the Detroit Lions to the playoffs. Before that, he earned top coaching honors for leading Georgia Tech to a share of the national championship in 1990.

Ross started his coaching career by showing future officers how to win on the gridiron at the Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

Ross used the trips to the Palisades Mall to tell recruits and their families about the values of West Point, he said.

"I went on every bus trip," Ross said.

A graduate of VMI, Ross sees his reputation as sacred. For him and his family, much of life has been about duty, honor and country.

The coach's children have served - one is a 1988 graduate of the Air Force Academy. He said he wanted players who could live up to military ideals. That, he said, was more important than winning.

Ross went 9-25 in three seasons before re-entering retirement in 2006.

"I just didn't have the energy," he said.

That had to do with age, though, not heart, he said.

"I loved my time there," Ross said.

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