Navy assistant coach retires from Marine Corps
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: August 8, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Robert Green was in a unique position during his first two seasons as a Navy football assistant.
Green moved from an administrative post to an on-field coaching role in August, 2015 while still on active duty as a Marine Corps officer. Lt. Col. Green instructed linebackers while simultaneously handling responsibilities related to his job in the Marine Corps.
That double duty ended a couple weeks ago when Green formally retired from the Marine Corps after two decades of service. The 43-year-old is fortunate to have another full-time job already lined up following a career in the military.
"It was an easy transition for me leaving the Marine Corps for Navy football," Green said after practice last Friday. "Because the Marine Corps is all about relationships and the great people you work with. To be able to come home to the Naval Academy and work with young men at the start of their careers is just an awesome opportunity and I couldn't pass it up."
An official retirement ceremony was held for Green July 28 in the Akerson Tower, overlooking the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Green had former colleagues from the Marine Corps, head coach Ken Niumatalolo and others from the football staff, fellow Naval Academy graduates and more than 70 family members in attendance as he was officially relieved of duty and retired with full honors.
"Today was really designed for me to be able to thank everyone who helped me along the way — to my recruiting coach all the way to my mentors that guided me through my career," Green said after the ceremony was complete. "I was incredibly honored to be able to thank the people that helped me get to the point I am."
Reflecting on the retirement ceremony a week later, Green admitted it was very emotional and extremely humbling to realize that his long, distinguished military career was officially over.
"First of all, I never thought I'd get to 20 years in the Marine Corps, period. To reach 20 years at the Naval Academy was a dream come true," Green said.
"My emotions were all over the place. It was kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, I'm leaving the Marine Corps, but I also have this fantastic opportunity ahead of me at the Naval Academy," Green added. "It was like a big family reunion the whole weekend. It was just magnificent and I felt like I was the king of the world. I can't put into words how awesome that ceremony was for me and my family."
Seeds of Success
Green was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at defensive back for the Navy football team. He was one of the top defenders on the 1996 squad that finished 9-3 and upset California in the Aloha Bowl.
The Atlanta native was one of the few football players from the Naval Academy graduating Class of 1997 to choose the Marine Corps as a service selection. He would go on to a distinguished career that featured numerous deployments and myriad decorations.
Green has been stationed all over the world — Japan while with the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 36, Iraq as a member of the 1st Marine Logistics Group G-3 staff and Afghanistan twice as Logistics Officer for Regional Support Command at Camp Delaram and Camp Leatherneck.
As a Marine Corps officer, Green was highly decorated — earning the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Commendation Medal and Meritorious Service Award twice each. He came back to the Naval Academy in 2013 to serve as Director of Player Development for Navy football.
That was a crucial mentorship role as Green assisted Niumatalolo and the officer representatives with professional development and molding of Navy football players to assume future positions of leadership in the Navy and Marine Corps.
Omar Nelson, a former football player and classmate of Green's, was among those who urged Niumatalolo to hire the respected Marine Corps officer as Director of Player Development.
"When the Navy football program needed that leadership, I happened to speak to Coach Niumat and told him that he should bring RB back here," Nelson said. "I remember when the academy brought in Major General Charlie Bolden to be the Deputy Commandant. We all looked at (Bolden) like he walked on water and he made us want to be better midshipmen. I knew that Colonel Green could have the same impact."
Green, who was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel a year after returning to the academy, cut a striking figure in his Marine Corps uniform as he strode through the corridors of Ricketts Hall. Large numbers of Navy football players sought Marine Corps as a service assignment because they wanted to be like Green.
"When you see 18 players from one graduating class going Marine Corps, that speaks volumes. It's because of the influence of Robert Green," Nelson added. "I know RB had the Marine Corps office contact him about how he's doing it. It's just his presence and his leadership."
Nelson, a fullback out of Kennedy High in Silver Spring, Maryland, first met Green at the Naval Academy Prep School in 1992. They became fast friends and established a strong relationship that Nelson said was "based on honesty."
At the Naval Academy, some members of the coaching staff viewed Green as a "jokester" or "cut up." That was not necessarily the proper characterization as the man everyone nicknamed RB based off his first and middle initials was purposefully keeping the mood light for teammates such as Nelson, Astor Heaven and Will Smith.
"I was always impressed by the way RB was so charismatic and kept the energy level high while we were midshipmen," Nelson recalled. "That was the role he had in our group of midshipmen. He had to be upbeat to keep everybody going because we were all in survival mode during those days."
Green admits he was not always a model midshipmen and struggled with academics at times while at the Naval Academy. However, he said he matured over the course of four years and truly bought into the officer mentality after serving under some Marine Corps officers he respected immensely.
"There are a lot of things people are starting to learn about Coach Green, about how great a man he is and about his outstanding service," Nelson said. "All the great things people are saying about Coach Green now… he's been that way all along. I'm not at all surprised to see that RB developed into such a tremendous leader. I've always known who he was and what he was all about."
Becoming a coach
Some outside observers raised eyebrows when Niumatalolo asked Green to join the defensive staff in August, 2015. Long-time defensive coordinator Buddy Green was forced to take a sabbatical for health reasons that season, suddenly leaving a vacancy after August training camp had already begun.
It seemed like a temporary move made during an emergency situation, but one year later Niumatalolo named Robert Green to the full-time staff after Buddy Green retired. Niumatalolo was not concerned that Lt. Col. Green had never coached at any level.
"There were some thoughts by some on why was I hiring an inexperienced coach. Why not find someone from the NFL or Power Five? I made that decision because I knew RB and recognized that he is a developer of men," Niumatalolo said. "RB is a way better leader than I am. He's been to Iraq and led men into battle for goodness sakes. When RB first came back, he changed the culture of the program. There was no doubt in my mind that I would hire him on the field if the opportunity arose."
Senior outside linebacker Brandon Jones was coached by Green the previous two seasons, but has looked up to the man since first meeting him at the Naval Academy Prep School.
"I remember when I was at NAPS and Coach Green came to visit. Just the way he carries himself on a daily basis is so impressive," Jones said "He is always taking it to the next level, never just coming to work to clock in and clock out."
Upon his arrival in Annapolis, Jones quickly gravitated to Green and sought his advice.
"When I came to the academy I realized quickly that Coach Green was someone I could look up to for mentorship," Jones said. "If there is anything I need, I can just pick up the phone and call him, which is a really special thing to have. I wish everybody could have someone like Coach Green."
Jones attended Green's retirement ceremony and realized the impact a military officer can have.
"It was a little overwhelming — just seeing all the people he has impacted and lives he's touched," Jones said. "It was eye-opening to see what is possible when you graduate from the Naval Academy. I'd be blessed if I could be like Coach Green in my career."
From a selfish standpoint, Niumatalolo is thrilled that Green can now focus all his energy on football. He was switched to the secondary this season and is now working with the cornerbacks. Green went out on the road recruiting for the first time last season and is covering his home state of Georgia among other areas.
"I definitely feel more comfortable with the coaching job. However, the more I get into it, the more I find out that there is still so much to learn. Coaching, I've discovered, is about constantly evolving," Green said. "I'm falling in love with the process of being a better coach. I feel really good about my starting point, but I'm not anywhere satisfied with my progress."