For Georgetown football, navigating the treacherous waters of Patriot League football has been a turbulent voyage. Five tough seasons, marked by disappointing losses and disillusioned fans, have taken their toll on the Hoyas. The Georgetown ship is still stuck at sea, with its destination never quite at hand.

But, now, things are different. Bob Benson, coach for 13 years, is no longer steering the Georgetown ship. Assuming the helm is Kevin Kelly, and as a man that comes directly from the U.S. Naval Academy, Kelly is no stranger to righting the path of a sinking ship.

Kelly’s start in coaching was about as humble as they come. After the Rockport, N.Y. native suffered yet another setback to his chronically injured knees, he decided that coaching, rather than playing, was a more fruitful pursuit.

Kelly was named defensive coordinator in 1981 at assachusetts’ Longmeadow High School and served in that position while he completed his degree. Once graduated, he moved to a more prestigious high school, The Fieldston School.

His tenure in the high school ranks was short lived, as by 1984 he was coaching in the collegiate ranks at Southern Connecticut State, while working to complete a master’s degree in physical education.

It was when his schooling was complete that Kelly got his first big break. Though he was only the assistant linebackers coach, Kelly was awarded the opportunity to serve at Syracuse under the well-regarded Dick MacPherson.

Under MacPherson, Kelly learned, perhaps, the most important lesson of his coaching career. “My biggest influence has been Dick McPherson,” he began. “He’s a Springfield graduate, number one, and the thing I learned from Coach Mac was that he worked very, very hard and demanded a lot from his coaches and his players, but at the same time you always knew that he loved you.

“The thing I learned about him is that you have to treat people with respect, and if you do that, you’re going to get positive results in return.”

During Kelly’s tenure, Syracuse had one of the best seasons in its history, finishing 11-0-1 in 1987. Kelly only coached one more season with the Orange, but it was with the lessons instilled by MacPherson that the young coach continued on in the coaching world.

After Syracuse, Kelly embarked upon the nomadic life of a college football coach. He nested at Northeastern (1989-90), drilled the offensive backfield and linebackers at Dartmouth (1991), tutored linebackers at Tulane (1992-94), mentored at arshall (1996-98), swung back to Syracuse as defensive backfield coach in 1999, and finally made his second mark at Marshall in 2000, this time as the defensive coordinator.

Of the perpetual change that accompanies coaching, Kelly remarked, “[The toughest part of my career has been] the poor pay and poor hours. I was fired once and out of work and collecting unemployment and that’s one of the negatives of coaching that people don’t understand.”

With Kelly as defensive coordinator, the Thundering Heard won a id-American Conference championship and two bowl games. If his first stint at Syracuse taught Kelly his most valuable lesson, his time at Marshall proved perhaps the most impressive accomplishment on his resume.

Five years ago, Kelly, after two years as Marshall’s defensive coordinator, was offered the chance to take a job with less prestige – special teams coordinator and linebackers coach – at a school surrounded by uncertainty – Navy. In the two years prior to Kelly’s move to Navy, the service academy was a dismal 1-20. What sort of career move was this, people wondered.

But the move from Marshall to Navy was hardly a demotion. Always methodical and long-sighted, Kelly made the move with a future head coaching position in the Ivy or Patriot League very much in mind.

“The reason I went, my goal, was to obtain a head coaching job in the Patriot League or the Ivy League,” he reasoned. “So I took the opportunity to go to Navy.”

“A lot of people thought I was committing professional suicide,” he continued, “but I felt good about the situation and we ended up turning things around. The script is going exactly as I hoped it would.”

Also contributing to Kelly’s choice to move from Marshall was the influence of Navy’s head coach, Paul Johnson. Long anointed with the reputation of turning around programs, Johnson came to Navy from Georgia Southern, where he inherited a 4-7 teams and posted an astounding 62-10 win-loss record.

Johnson – surely with the help of Kelly and the other assistants – worked his magic at Navy as well. Over the last three seasons, the Midshipmen have been to three bowl games and have compiled a 26-11 record.

It was Navy’s turnaround, as well as Kelly’s extensive resume, that caught Georgetown Athletic Director Bernard uir’s eye.

“I’m excited to have Kevin join us here at Georgetown,” Muir said in a Jan. 9 press release. “He has had tremendous success in every stop he’s made and we think he’s going to be a great fit for the university.”

Kelly’s tenure at Navy should provide invaluable experience as he embarks upon his first collegiate head coaching experience. Navy’s academic rigors and recruiting challenges – they need to not only get their prospects into school but convince them to take on the mandatory service requirement – closely mirror those presented by Georgetown’s stringent admissions office and restrictive scholarship programs.

Kelly and his staff are right in the midst of the recruiting season, and he is hoping that Georgetown’s sparkling reputation will help to overcome the coaching change and some recent poor play.

“We have about 20 kids coming in this week that want to visit Georgetown, and that’s a positive about Georgetown, that because of the type of university that it is, and the type of reputation that it has, irregardless of who the coach is, they’re still very interested in this institution.”

Kelly also pointed out the crossover between Navy recruits and Georgetown recruits as something that should help him. “In recruiting at the Naval Academy we had a lot of crossover recruits with the Patriot League,” he said.

“In fact a lot of the guys whose names are on the board are guys we are currently recruiting. Some of the guys I talked to last week I said, this is Coach Kelly from the U.S. Naval Academy, and this week I say, this is Coach Kelly from Georgetown University.”

In the same vain, as it was for Benson, fundraising will be a large part of what Kelly is asked to do. “I’ve had some experience with the fundraising, but I do understand that part of the job, and the better you do at it, you’re going reap some benefits from that,” he said.

Kelly also built on Georgetown’s prestige, which he hopes will nullify a relative lack of funding. “As far as the budget is concerned,” he said, “the biggest challenge here is the pay scale for coaches, but if you do some research and are thorough in your search process you’ll find people that are attracted to Georgetown, and they are. It’s amazing how many people want to work at Georgetown.”

Though it is too early for Kelly to have begun game planning, he has started to think about how he will run his team. “I am still in the though process as far as the [game plan] is concerned. The philosophies that we had at Navy were going to instill with the kids here in terms of the work ethic and the mental toughness aspects that Paul Johnson brought to Navy,” he remarked.

Junior linebacker Alex Buzbee noticed that about Kelly from the very start. “I like the guy a lot,” he said. “I like his personality. He is a lot different from Benson. He is real businesslike and all about discipline; he isn’t real lenient.”

Junior quarterback Nick Cangelosi, who met the coach in a team meeting and at last Saturday’s football banquet, echoed Buzbee’s sentiment.

“[It was a] great first impression,” Cangelosi said. “He is exactly what this program needs. He brings a lot of discipline, a tremendous track record and he understands what it takes to bring this program to where it needs to be.

“He understands what its going to take to be a top notch Patriot League program. His resume is exactly what kids were looking for.”

As impressed as the players were with Kelly, the coach was equally impressed with his future players. “I haven’t seen too much videotape of the Georgetown team last year,” he said, “but we had a team meeting this morning and [with] just the quick eyeball test I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw physically.”

The changes Georgetown is currently undergoing – however slowly – excited Kelly and serve as a springboard, in his opinion, towards future success.

“There are a few things that are happening here at GU that are very exciting,” he said. “Bernard Muir … has great vision, a great deal of energy and he is putting the pieces in place to make this a very competitive Division I football program,” he said.

“With the facilities that are in place now and the plans that they have for some new facilities, it’s very exciting. I think that’s sort of the last piece of the puzzle here at Georgetown.”

No current Georgetown students have witnessed a winning season, and for the many football fans on the Hilltop, the final piece being put into place could not come soon enough.

Luckily, Kelly wants to be the man to finally finish that puzzle.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said of coaching at Georgetown. “Four years ago I made a decision. The script that I hoped would come true did come true.”

Finally rewarded with his own team, the next scene in Kelly’s dream script would surely include sailing the Georgetown ship straight to the top of the Patriot League. If his past is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before they get there.

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