Secret memo to Mike Houston, The Citadel’s new football coach

NOTE: TOP SECRET. DISTRIBUTE MEMO ON NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS ONLY.

To: Mike Houston

From: A concerned alum

Re: Football at The Citadel

Hello there, coach. Congratulations on being named head football coach at The Citadel. I trust you and your family will enjoy Charleston.

Now, there are some important things you need to know in order to succeed in your new position. That’s why this memo is a big secret. We want to make sure our enemies don’t have a firm grasp on your plan of attack, which is going to be aggressive, with a lot of energy.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

- Some of our alums were impressed with your youthful enthusiasm at the Thursday press conference. There were multiple queries asking if you were, in fact, the youngest coach in program history.

Of course, Coach Houston, you’re not. Most of The Citadel’s coaches were actually younger than you when they were hired, even though you’re only 42. All but five, in fact.

However, four of those five older coaches are the most recent hires at The Citadel (Powers/Johnson/Zernhelt/Higgins). Given that recent trend, it’s not surprising that people think you’re really young for the job.

As an aside, you might be interested to know that The Citadel’s first two head football coaches were both only 22 years old when they got the job. One of them, Syd Smith, later played major league baseball.

I don’t think you’re a candidate for MLB when your coaching career is over, but perhaps you can emulate The Citadel’s second coach, Ralph Foster, in wearing a snazzy hat. If not, perhaps your offensive coordinator could wear it. He definitely needs an upgrade in the headgear department.

- Speaking of that offensive coordinator, I was glad to see you’re bringing Brent Thompson on board. It would have been tough for The Citadel to announce it wanted to hire a coach who ran the option, then hire a defensive-oriented coach whose option-running OC didn’t come along with him.

I’ve heard good things about Thompson (and your offensive line coach, Ron Boyd). Thompson’s explanation of the origination of his triple option offense was interesting:

I’ve probably taken the most from Navy and Georgia Southern. And I’ve worked with  coaches at Army and with Ashley Ingram at Navy, so I steal some things from there. And I try to gather as much film on Georgia Southern as [I] can.

Ingram, of course, was one of the three finalists for the job that you eventually got.

Having said that, you should know that a few alums are a little worried about your staff. Not only have you never coached at the D-1 level, the same is true for all of the assistants you’re bringing along from Lenoir-Rhyne (with the notable exception of Thompson).

Of course, you haven’t finalized your staff yet, and there are some positive rumors about potential assistants still to be added. Fans will be waiting on those hires with considerable interest (you may have noticed, they’re interested in just about everything related to the football program).

- There is a little bit of angst that surrounds the football program. You will probably pick up on this sooner rather than later. As to why it exists, it’s simple: The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron since the 1991-92 campaigns, the longest such stretch in school history.

There are a lot of alums who are ready to win again. Some of them can be a bit melodramatic about this. “I want one more SoCon title before I die,” they’ll proclaim.

- I was glad to hear you talk about the importance of retention. Among other things, you told the assembled media on Thursday that you want to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.”

The reference to “older teams” (and the redshirting subtext) made me think of Jim Grobe and how he approached his recruiting/scholarship management at Wake Forest. Grobe won an ACC title at Wake Forest with that philosophy.

Your response to a question about transfers was excellent. “The institution does not lend itself to a lot of transfers,” you said. Indeed, it doesn’t.

- I can appreciate your comments that recruiting at Lenoir-Rhyne is not completely dissimilar to recruiting at The Citadel. However, a word of warning. Making comparisons to The Citadel can be tricky. Very tricky.

That’s why it’s important you get up to speed as quickly as possible about the institution that is now your employer. Learn as much about The Citadel as you possibly can. It’s not quite the same as the service academies, or small private schools, or anything else for that matter.

This statement you made was a good start:

You’ve got to understand exactly what The Citadel is. I’m excited about embracing the core values of The Citadel and recruiting student-athletes [who] fit the institution.

At The Citadel, you have to recruit prospective cadets who can play football. That’s the only way you can go about it. Recruiting from a football-first perspective is problematic, if not impossible.

- To be honest, coach, there is no way you are ever going to understand everything about the military college — and that’s okay. I don’t have a full grasp on the place myself, and I’m an old goat who graduated from the school.

You mentioned that a good friend of yours played football at The Citadel when Charlie Taaffe was the coach. People like that can help you start figuring things out. Talk to them early and often.

Also try to make a point of reaching out to younger alums, including former football players. I suspect you were going to do that anyway, but it’s critical to build some bridges in that area.

- The military component of the school is kind of important. It is, after all, a military college.

The key thing for you to remember is this: work with the system, not against it. Coaches who learn this, and who emphasize to their players the importance of conforming and being part of the system, tend to be successful. Coaches who fight the system every step of the way are never successful.

- It’s important to develop a positive relationship with the corps of cadets. An active and engaged corps can be a tremendous weapon for you on football Saturdays. Be sure to make a “stump speech” at the mess hall on a regular basis.

However, ultimately you aren’t responsible for the activities of the general student body. For the most part, when it comes to corps issues, let others sweat the details, at least in your first year.

- Coach Houston, we need to talk about the uniforms…

The Citadel has a contract with adidas which began last season. You might be surprised to know that before a home game against Furman, the team had to change jerseys because the SoCon officiating crew deemed them illegal.

That’s the kind of thing that might drive a coach crazy. Instead of concentrating on game preparation, the team got mired in Unigate.

Then there is the constantly revolving door of helmet logos. After a rare bout of consistency in this department, for unexplained reasons The Citadel changed its helmet design yet again for the season finale at Clemson.

Coach, I’m sure you would be puzzled at the team debuting a new design at the end of the year — and in a road game to boot. It made no sense.

However, it was just the latest in The Citadel’s tortured football uniform history. More than four years after I first wrote about it, there has been no effort to develop a standard. For a school as beholden to tradition as The Citadel, this is amazing (and infuriating).

Now, you may not be able to stop the latest helmet tweak, but you can probably make sure the jerseys feature the appropriate colors of light blue and white. Navy blue should not be a predominant color. Neither should red, or silver, or gray.

There is one other very important thing you need to fix.

Make sure the correct name of the school is on the jersey. Tell the administration you won’t lead the team out on to the field unless “THE CITADEL” is on the front of the jerseys (not “Citadel”). I can’t emphasize how critical this is to your future success.

Imagine if, during your playing career at Mars Hill, you had to wear jerseys that only read “Mars” across the front. You would be disappointed, because it wouldn’t be the name of your school (though the association with Otis Sistrunk’s alma mater might have amused a few people).

If you put the “The” back on the jerseys, coach, you will go a long way to satisfying the alumni sports blogger demographic. I know you want to keep that faction happy.

Congrats again on your appointment, Coach Houston. In your remarks to the press, it became apparent the job at The Citadel was one that had been of interest to you even before this year.

You clearly wanted the position, and think you can be successful in this role. I enjoyed watching the press conference (and subsequent interviews) and seeing your intensity, passion, and confidence.

The Citadel is a very unusual place, often difficult, occasionally intimidating, and at times frustrating. It’s also a very special place, one that engenders uncommon loyalty.

Embrace the challenge. We’re with you all the way.

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7 Responses

  1. Just win baby!

    (Go undefeated in the SoCon, deep in the playoffs, and they can change uniforms as often as Oregon for all I care… as long as they are light blue heh heh)

  2. Congrats to Coach Houston and his Staff, our class’s (the older ones) could not be happier to have you all with us here at The Citadel. We have needed a change for too long, and excited to hear about your recruits and plans for our football program. God bless you all and the best of luck to all of us in this transition.

  3. I appreciate the enthusiasm from Coach Houston ; however, I, along with most grads, know that a consistent winning program at The Citadel is difficult , if not impossible. Most very good football recruits today are not going to come to The Citadel . Their priorities do not include the military structured environment . We need to accept that a 5 win season is probable, 6 at best.

  4. lets hope Mike has a more positive outlook than Joe Clarke. Being satisfied with 5 or 6 wins a year just wont cut it and is typical of the defeatist attitude of too many bulldog supporters. Aim high and you will achieve, Houston is a proven winner who can make it happen.

  5. I am a realist , not a defeatist. I made my pragmatic comment based on the following:
    1. The average wins per season for the last 20 years is : 4.3 .
    2. College athletics has changed dramatically during the past 20 years.
    There are many more colleges with football programs and thus the competition for recruits is much greater . The ESPN mindset inculcates NFL dreams in the minds of high school athletes. Colleges have encouraged this approach so athletes go to more football/winning programs than The Citadel.
    3. The military environment is not appealing to these athletes today. They want only football and no other challenges.
    4.Societal attitudes no longer think in terms of military service, or any service, just do anything else since there no draft,etc.
    5. Military schools ,including West Point, Naval Academy,et.al. do not consistently compete against their competition, except for the infrequent upset.
    The Citadel is a magnificent institution but it will never be an athletic football powerhouse.

  6. Any rebuttal to my last post bob80q???

  7. yes, sure seems like Navy has been competing just fine with FBS competition lately, beat Notre Dame twice and has appeared in numerous bowl games. They HAVE managed to consistently be successful in football despite being a military school, Charlie Taafe had us competing just fine for several years. As a famous faux President once said ‘Don’t tell me it cant be done!’

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