Robert Joseph Ross (born December 23, 1936) is a former American football player and coach. He served as the head football coach at The Citadel (1973–1977), the University of Maryland, College Park (1982–1986), the Georgia Institute of Technology (1987–1991), and the United States Military Academy (2004–2006), compiling a career college football record of 103–101–2. Ross was also the head coach of the National Football League's San Diego Chargers from 1992 to 1996 and the Detroit Lions from 1997 to 2000, tallying a career NFL mark of 77–68. He guided his 1990 Georgia Tech squad to the UPI national championship and coached the 1994 San Diego Chargers to an appearance in Super Bowl XXIX.
After graduating from Benedictine High School in 1955, Ross enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute, where he started at quarterback and defensive back for two seasons and served as captain of the football team as a senior. Ross graduated from VMI in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and history.
Following a tour of duty in the United States Army as a first lieutenant (1960–1962), Ross found work coaching high school football. He coached at Colonial Heights High School, and at his own nearby alma mater of Benedictine, both located near Richmond, Virginia. He then moved on to coaching at the college level, starting with assistant coaching stints at William & Mary, Rice, and Maryland before accepting his first head coaching job in 1973 at The Citadel, located in Charleston, South Carolina.
Ross was the 16th head football coach for The Citadel Bulldogs and held that position for five seasons, from 1973 until 1977. His career coaching record at The Citadel was 24 wins, 31 losses, and 0 ties. As of the conclusion of the 2007 season, this ranks him seventh at The Citadel in total wins and 16th at The Citadel in winning percentage.
Ross then spent four years as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs (1978–1981) under head coach Marv Levy, before returning to the collegiate ranks as head coach at Maryland. He won three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championships from 1983 to 1985. After four years, Ross left Maryland and was introduced as head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team. on Jan. 5, 1987. As head coach of Georgia Tech in 1990, he led the Jackets to an 11–0–1 record and the ACC championship—the school's first conference title since 1952, while they were still in the Southeastern Conference. They also won a share of the national championship by finishing first in the final Coaches' Poll. Ross won the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award and the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award.
He then left to become head coach of the San Diego Chargers, where the highlight of his tenure would be an AFC Championship and San Diego's first trip to the Super Bowl after the 1994 season where they fell to the 49ers, 49-26. Ross' first season in San Diego (1992) saw the Chargers drop the first four regular season games, but they recovered to win 11 of their final 12 games to win the AFC West, their first division title since 1981. In his five seasons with the Chargers, they won two division titles and made the playoffs three times. His regular season coaching record with the Chargers was 47–33, and 3–3 in the playoffs.
Following the 1996 season, Ross left the Chargers to take a more lucrative, and perhaps more rewarding position as the Head Coach of the Detroit Lions, where he would have control of all player personnel decisions and be able to hire his own staff. He held the position until the middle of the 2000 season. Detroit had long been considered underachievers under Wayne Fontes, and Ross was brought in to provide the team a more structured atmosphere. It was a challenging endeavor, as Detroit had developed somewhat of a "country club" atmosphere under Fontes' leadership, and veteran players on the roster ultimately came to resent Ross for running tougher practices, instilling weight requirements, curfews, etc. Ross sought to change the identity of the Detroit Lions, having them become a more traditional, physical, football team—less co-dependent on Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders for success.
He structured his drafts accordingly, drafting highly regarded college offensive linemen such as Stockar McDougle and Aaron Gibson, neither of which panned out professionally. Ultimately, Ross was unable to change the culture in Detroit. He became frustrated at what he perceived to be the team's lack of effort, accusing them of just playing for their paychecks. In November 2000, following a home loss to the Miami Dolphins, having had enough of what he called his team's unwillingness to "fight back," he resigned in mid-season. Although his frustration with the Lions organization was evident, Ross later claimed that his primary reason for leaving when he did was due to blood clots in his legs. It is also noteworthy to mention that the 1999 Detroit team achieved the playoffs—albeit with an 8-8 record after losses in the final four regular season games, plus a first-round exit against the Washington Redskins—despite the unexpected retirement of Barry Sanders prior to training camp.
As head coach at Army, Ross reportedly received $600,000 in annual salary, which was seen as evidence of Army's eagerness to right the program after the team's 0–13 record in 2003. During his three-year term as Army head coach, Ross improved their record to 9–25, up from 4–32 over the three years before Ross's arrival. Ross retired from coaching in 2007.
Ross and his wife, Alice, have three sons, two daughters, and 17 grandchildren. Their sons Chris and Kevin graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and United States Naval Academy, in 1984 and 1988, respectively. Kevin served for a time as Army's offensive coordinator and running backs coach under his father, but was not kept in that post under Ross's replacement, Stan Brock. Chris is currently the coach for Fairfax Home School's varsity soccer team, based in Fairfax, Virginia.
In 1997, Ross was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.