ARMED FORCES MERIT AWARD NOMINEE KENT BAER


EDITOR’S NOTE
 - This is the eighth in a series of articles about nominees for the second annual Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).  Also nominated were Football Bowl Subdivision players Kelly Davison of UCF, Michael Kelley of UTEP, Brandon McCoy of North Texas, Stephen Rhodes of Middle Tennessee, Daniel Rodriguez of Clemson and Jake Sheffield of Arizona State.  The involvement by the football team at Kansas State with the 1-28 Black Lions has created a “bond” between the university and the United States Army Base at Fort Riley.

Kent Baer, the first-season defensive coordinator at the University of Colorado, has been nominated for the 2013 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America.

Coordinated by the staff at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.”  The second recipient of the award will be announced November 11 on Veteran's Day.

Bronze Star Green Beret solider Nate Boyer, a member of the University of Texas football team, was the first recipient last November of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.

Baer did not begin his collegiate football coaching career in the United States, but overseas in Japan after the coach who had recruited him to Utah State enticed him from a grad assistant's job in 1973 to be his aide as director of athletics and recreation for the U.S. Navy in Japan.

In becoming the coach of the Yokosuka Seahawks Naval team and six months into his sojourn, Baer took over the entire Navy athletic operation there when the man who hired him was dismissed.  That began a long and thick association with Japanese coaches and officialdom that has lasted over five decades.

The Yokosuka Seahawks continue to play today in the United States Forces Japan-American Football League (USFL-AFL). Headquartered in Yokosuka Navy Base about 40 miles south of Tokyo, the Seahawks are a military team that dates back to the late 1960's and early 1970's and is one of the founding teams in the USFL-AFL.  The team is composed of Active Duty Military and Civilian Service members assigned to support Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) and the tenant commands which include FDNF Ships.  While the Seahawks have helped influence Japanese interest in American football, the Japanese have played the game since 1934, when the Japan American Football Association first introduced collegiate competition.

As the director of athletics and recreation for the commander of United States naval forces in Japan along with serving as the head coach for the Yokosuka Seahawks from 1973-1976 (a member of a service league featuring military bases), Baer used his involvement with the military in the 1970s to create an all-star game in 1989 in Japan that has lasted 25 years and draws 20,000-30,000 fans annually.

With this background, Baer created the Heisei Bowl (now the New Era Bowl) as the annual all-star game played on the first Saturday of July.  Baer coordinates the selection of two American coaches and a dozen U.S. players who are integrated to practice and then play with two Japanese all-star teams.

In the late 1980s, Baer was brainstorming ways to improve Japanese coaching techniques when he hit on the idea of this cultural exchange.  Coaches from all the Pac-10 (new Pac-12) staffs have joined Baer along with individuals from Michigan, Notre Dame and Army.

Japanese interest in football has been whetted by various U.S. excursions to the Far East.  The old Mirage Bowl in the 1980s featured two Pac-10 teams playing their last game of the regular season in Tokyo.  After that, there was the Coca Cola Bowl, also part of the regular schedule. From 1976 to 1993, there was the Japan Bowl, a postseason all-star game of U.S. players.

Before joining the Colorado staff this past winter, Baer continued to be involved with the armed services as he coached San Jose State to a 29-20 win over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl.