You can’t spell Brian Newberry without “new,” and the 40th head coach of the Navy football program is ushering in a new dawn for the Midshipmen. As spring practice gets underway in Annapolis, a new head coach brings a fresh start for both the players and the program.
Brian Newberry Ushers in a New Dawn for Navy Football
For the first time since 2008, Navy football has a new head coach. Not that coach Newberry is new to Annapolis, having spent four years serving as the defensive coordinator of the Midshipmen under long-term head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
However, as the new Navy head coach met with reporters ahead of spring practice, it was abundantly clear that Newberry will bring new ideas for the direction of Midshipmen football.
Even for established players on the team, the 2023 college football campaign will be a fresh start, a new dawn for a program that had as many wins in the last three seasons combined as it did in the 2019 campaign alone.
While installing a mantra of “it’s not what we do, it’s how we do it” that began even before spring camp opened, Newberry is focused on two things as he prepares to return Navy to winning ways. Trust and toughness.
“It’s an opportunity for our guys to earn some trust,” Newberry describes the “Fourth Quarters” workouts that are a key building block of what he wants to achieve in his first season at the helm of the Midshipmen.
“We put them through some pretty tough deals to earn the trust of their teammates, the trust of their coaches. We want to find out who guys are when they’re tired and things don’t feel perfect. It’s a way for us to build some toughness and develop that trust, and the style and brand of football.”
A new dawn doesn’t mean a new style of Navy football under Newberry. Don’t mistake the final line of his statement to mean that the Midshipmen will be moving away from their almost-unique brand of triple-option football. You’re not going to suddenly see an air-raid offense in Annapolis.
The style and brand refer to the focus on trust and toughness, particularly the latter. Navy was criticized for their opening to the 2020 season, where a no-contact approach to practice during a testing time globally saw them out-worked and outmuscled against BYU in a defeat that started a period of decline.
Newberry’s focus on setting that tone of toughness early in his tenure should ensure that we saw a physical Navy team out on the field by the time the 2023 college football campaign kicks off in Dublin, Ireland, for the Midshipmen.
It starts with players earning their place in the starting lineup. Nothing is given ahead of spring football, even for the returning starters from the final year of Niumatalolo’s Navy tenure.
“It’s wide open,” Newberry responded to the lack of a team-issued depth chart ahead of spring practice. “Guys that have played a lot of snaps, we don’t want them to feel comfortable about where they’re at. We want them to go and compete.
“It’s a fresh start and a fresh opportunity for a lot of these guys. The guys who have played a lot of snaps feel like they’ve got to go out and prove themselves again. I like to start spring ball that way. It lets those guys compete. Nobody owns a job, they’ve got to go out and earn it.”
While there won’t be a wholesale change to the option brand of football that makes Navy football different from almost all college football programs, Newberry hinted at some small wrinkles, some potential changes in personnel, that could provide an offensive boost to the Midshipmen this fall.
Newberry’s time spent as defensive coordinator has exposed him to the offensive advantages of utilizing a tight end. It isn’t something historically associated with Navy offenses, but the position could be a prominent feature as Newberry brings in former Kennesaw State offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut to fill that role for the Midshipmen. There are currently five TEs on the 2023 roster.
“Any time you can add a tight end into the mix,” Newberry began to discuss the addition of the position, “it adds a whole new dimension to things. I’ve always felt like teams that run the option and incorporate a tight end into their system were much more difficult to defend against.”
Spring practice ushers in a new dawn for Midshipmen football. Newberry brings new ideas and new practices, something that isn’t always easy to incorporate even at a “standard” CFB program, let alone at Navy, where the pursuit of football excellence sometimes has to give way to something greater.
While trying to build a culture of trust and toughness, Newberry acknowledges that “I’ve got to earn those guys’ trust, the same way they’ve got to earn ours.” That’s a process that begins during spring practice for the players, but he already holds the trust of those within the program to steer the ship in the right direction.
“Coach Newberry is respected and was highly endorsed by many within the Navy football family,” athletic director Chet Gladchuk said as he announced Newberry’s appointment back in December.
“Brian is organized, innovative, intelligent, inspirational, and brings an expectation of competitive toughness that has made Navy one of the top defensive units in the nation.”
Newberry’s tenure at Navy begins with the pursuit of trust and toughness through spring practice. Come late August, and through the fall, we’ll find out if trust plus toughness wins this new dawn under a new coach of Midshipmen football.