Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

This is basically just a post to upload a few pictures I took on Corps Day at The Citadel. I arrived on campus in time to watch most of the parade, then wandered over to Johnson Hagood Stadium to see the various entrants for the fourth annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. I have to say the costumes on some of the dogs were…inventive.

I then watched the spring football game, though I had to leave during the third quarter.

There are, to be sure, other outlets for (much better) photos of these events, including the school’s own website. I also highly recommend this gallery of Beautiful Bulldog Contest pictures from WCIV-TV, and this one from The Post and Courier.

It was a nice day for a parade, and a game, and for a bunch of bulldogs (and their handlers) to goof around.

I don’t have any in-depth observations to make about the football scrimmage. The offense is a work in progress. Mitchell Jeter was arguably the standout player overall.

Key stat: no serious injuries were reported (Walker Smith did twist/sprain his ankle).

There was a decent crowd in attendance, perhaps around 800-1,000 fans. There may have been more; I’m not sure how many people were in the club section.

A few quick thoughts about college football titles, including The Citadel’s national championship in 1871

Recently, Auburn made some waves in the world of college football by announcing that it was considering the recognition of seven more national championships for its football program:

“If other schools are using these same polls to declare a national championship, we should at least consider it,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. “I don’t think there’s a better time for the Auburn family to consider it than right here at the end of the BCS era.

“As we transition into another playoff format for the national champion, I just think we need to look hard at it.”

The 1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams are all under consideration. Each finished undefeated or won the conference championship, or both. All were recognized as national champions by at least one national selector, which are used by other schools to recognize National Championships.

Now, Auburn wouldn’t be the first school to claim additional titles from the distant past. Far from it.

The leader in retroactive championships is Princeton, which has claimed 28 football titles, including the first in 1869. Many of those retro-crowns were awarded to Princeton by Parke Davis, a prominent college football researcher in the early part of the 20th century.

As it happens, Davis was a former player at Princeton. He was a member of the 1889 squad that he would later anoint as national champions (Davis did that in 1932).

Davis was also at one time the head football coach at Lafayette. In 1896, he led the Leopards to an undefeated season, with one tie. That tie came against Princeton. Both teams finished without a loss, and Davis awarded each a share of the 1896 crown, thirty-six years after the fact.

This kerfuffle about championships reminded me again how The Citadel has always been low-key about its own national football championship, which came in 1871. What is unusual about The Citadel’s national crown is that it is essentially undisputed.

While up to five schools have claimed championships for certain seasons, no other school to my knowledge has attempted to claim the 1871 title.

This is probably due to the painstaking research and mathematical calculations that were made by the determining selector for that season (for the uninitiated, “selector” refers to the pollsters/analysts determining the champion). The Citadel was awarded the 1871 national championship by the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

It is hard to argue that the military college doesn’t deserve at least a share of the title. No points were scored against The Citadel on the gridiron during the entire 1871 season, a rare accomplishment in college football. The fact no other school has even tried to shoehorn its way into the 1871 championship discussion speaks volumes about the validity of The Citadel’s claim.

The TSA Matrix Ratings System, showing an admirable attention to detail, actually determined a top 5 for the 1871 campaign. The Citadel was followed in the algorithm by 2nd-ranked Princeton; 3rd-ranked Rutgers; 4th-ranked Columbia; and 5th-ranked Stevens Tech.

(For those not familiar with Stevens Tech, it is a school located in Hoboken, New Jersey that currently competes at the NCAA Division III level in athletics, though it no longer fields a varsity football squad. It is thus no longer near the forefront of national championship discussion, as it was throughout most of the 1870s. The school’s teams are known as the Ducks, and its mascot is Attila the Duck.)

The Citadel is the only southern school to have established a claim for a national football crown in the 19th century. The next earliest title claim for a school south of the Mason-Dixon line is that of LSU, for the 1908 championship. The Citadel also has the earliest claim for a national title by a military college. Army did not enter the championship picture until 1914, while Navy’s sole claim to a crown came in 1926.

It is a little disappointing that The Citadel’s on-campus bookstore doesn’t sell national championship memorabilia for the 1871 season. I would love to have a ’71 championship mug, for example.

I think a handsome profit could be made for going “retro” with some offerings, not just for the 1871 title, but for things like The Citadel’s trip to the College World Series in 1990. You can’t tell me people wouldn’t buy t-shirts commemorating the Bulldogs’ run to Omaha.

It’s not like the folks running the bookstore haven’t been willing to experiment. After all, they sold this holiday sweatshirt last year: Link

Here are a couple of mock-ups of potential t-shirts or sweatshirts that could be sold on campus or online. These are simplistic, but they certainly deliver the message: Link and Link

Circling back to titles that are actually controversial in nature:

With college football moving to a playoff at the FBS level, there will be a dramatic reduction in disputes surrounding the “true” major-college national champion. For those who believe in decisiveness and closure, this is a good thing. However, there is surely something lost in the transition.

The unknown provides a certain romance. There is something charming about the notion that almost any school with an argument, no matter how dubious or whimsical, can make a claim to being the best in a given year.

Besides, a few extra banners never hurt anybody…

SoCon football geography: where are the prime recruiting areas for the league?

On Thursday, Benn Stancil of the analytics website Mode published an article called “Where Football Players Call Home“. It includes an interactive map that shows the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player, using ESPN as its information resource. The map further breaks down the findings by conference, team, and position.

You could spend hours looking at the various combinations offered up by the map. I’m not saying it would be healthy, but you could do that…

Some of the results are predictable. While big population centers like Los Angeles and Houston are responsible for the most players in terms of volume, the southeast produces the most on a per capita basis.

Then there is the reach of a program, in terms of how wide a recruiting area it has. Stancil came up with a measure of a school’s geographic diversity, describing it as follows:

 I calculated a rough measure of geographic diversity, based on how many states are represented on each team and how many players come from each state. For example, a team with 50 players from one state would have the lowest diversity score, while a state with one player from each of the 50 states would have the highest.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock that the “least diverse” schools from a geographic perspective are located in large, talent-rich states. The 22 least diverse football programs are all from California, Florida, and Texas. They have no need to expand their recruiting areas, so they don’t.

It is also not surprising that the list of most geographically diverse schools includes all of the Ivy League institutions and a couple of the service academies.  Notre Dame and Holy Cross are also near the top in this category. So are two D.C. schools, Georgetown and Howard.

The Mode map accounts for 907 Southern Conference football players on league rosters in 2013, with another 18 from “unknown or unmapped locations”.

Fulton and Gwinnett counties each had 35 SoCon players, part of the talent overload in metro Atlanta. Cobb County had 23 and DeKalb 15.

Other areas of interest to SoCon recruiters: the Charlotte area (including Mecklenburg County, home to 31 league players); Hillsborough County, FL (with 14 players, the most from a county outside the league’s geographic base); Wake County, NC (19); Guilford County, NC (14); Jefferson County, AL (20); Hamilton County, TN (16); and Spartanburg County, SC (17).

Odds and ends from perusing the map of the 2013 SoCon:

- Hennepin County, Minnesota, had four SoCon players. Three of them were at Wofford.

- Mobile County, Alabama, had nine players in the league. Eight of them were Bulldogs — four from Samford, and four from The Citadel.

- Even though it isn’t in the league’s geographic footprint, I think it’s surprising that only five of last season’s SoCon players hailed from Texas. Also, there were only three players from Mississippi, two from Louisiana, one from Oklahoma (The Citadel’s Nick Jeffreys), and none from Arkansas.

- In order, from most geographic diversity to least in 2013:

Wofford
Elon
The Citadel
Furman
Samford
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Georgia Southern

- As for the new members, Mercer would have slotted in between Chattanooga and Georgia Southern. It will be interesting to see if that program continues to recruit mostly close to home in future years.

VMI would have been between Samford and Appalachian State. In what may illustrate one of the issues the Keydets have had in trying to be competitive on the gridiron, VMI had the least geographically diverse squad in the Big South last season.

While the state of Virginia has a lot of talented football players, the dilemma for VMI is that A) many other instate schools are recruiting those players, and B) being a military college significantly reduces the number of potential recruits.

The school needs to extend the geographic reach of its recruiting efforts if it wants to establish football relevancy in the Southern Conference. That may be difficult, given certain restrictions.

All in all, I thought this was a neat tool. It may also help to demonstrate which areas will be swarmed with recruiters in the weeks leading up to Signing Day…

Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

In concert with this discussion: another post with a link to a spreadsheet with attendance information for the last 50 years at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with a brief explanation.

The atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium has been a hot topic among Bulldog supporters for quite a while. It has moved to the forefront of alumni discussion/interest in the last two weeks. This is due mostly to an alumni-organized campaign, one with a goal of having the seating for the corps of cadets moved back to the west stands.

I decided to write “moved back” instead of “returned” in the above paragraph because, historically, the cadets have not always sat on that side. However, it is true that the corps has occupied the west stands for almost the entirety of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium (since 1948), up until the modern renovations to the facility were completed in 2008.

To be honest, I am not really on board with the campaign, though I respect those who are. I’m not going to lead the opposition, assuming there actually is an opposition.

However, my contention has always been that the issues related to corps interest and participation have very little to do with where they are seated, and everything to do with A) the general lack of enthusiasm for team sports in the corps as a whole; and B) the overall stadium experience. Neither of those issues can be addressed by moving the cadets from one side of the stadium to the other.

Regarding the sporting interests of the cadets, I wrote this several years ago, and I think it still applies:

What I believe…is that by and large graduates of The Citadel are significantly less likely to be natural supporters of the school’s athletic teams than, say, alums of larger state schools.

Not only are there more students at larger schools, but a higher percentage of those students grow up rooting for that particular school.  Quite a few of them actually choose to go to a school based on their lifelong support of its athletic teams.  Those students eventually graduate, and so there is a fairly sizable base of true-blue fans just from that group.

Nobody who is not on athletic scholarship chooses to go to The Citadel because of its varsity sports teams.  Because of this, I think that a smaller percentage of its students are destined to become lifelong devoted fans of college football, hoops, etc.  That’s true of most small schools, of course.

(I believe The Citadel has fewer sports fans among its students than even among other small schools, however — at least, that was my impression when I was in school.  That also applied to things tangentially related to sports.  Was there buzz on campus for Bull Durham or Hoosiers?  No.  Full Metal Jacket, yes, a thousand times yes.)

That makes the fact the athletic teams are supported as well as they are by the alumni all the more remarkable.  I think it has a lot to do with the natural camaraderie built up by four years in the corps of cadets.

Alums come back for the games, but they really come back to see each other, or just to be part of the experience that is The Citadel again, even for just a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a nice vibe, complete with the justly-celebrated tailgating scene (which may be too good a scene when it comes to trying to increase attendance inside the stadium).

That was true in 2009, and I believe it’s still true in 2014.

Personally, I wonder if a better idea might be to spread the cadets out a bit in the east stands, maybe seating them between the 30s, but not that high up in the seats (but not so low they don’t have a good view of the action). I could see arguments against that, to be sure.

However, what I really want to discuss is the stadium experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which I think needs serious improvement. Now, a lot of people would argue that the corps of cadets is the essential part of that experience.

I would completely agree, and that’s the problem right now with football games at The Citadel. The focus is not on the corps. Instead it’s on…the videoboard.

I’m glad we have a videoboard. I’m sure it’s great for recruiting. I’m also sure that it’s driven me (and many other fans) crazy over the last few years.

By “videoboard”, incidentally, I’m referring not only to the board itself, but the accompanying sound system and its musical cues (some of which aren’t very musical).

The overuse of the videoboard has led to the following:

- The band rarely gets to play during the game, because of restrictions designed to maximize advertising opportunities. This has to change.

I can see somebody ready to say “gotta pay the bills”. Okay, but then explain why the band has to sit on its hands while the sound system plays a wide variety of pop and hip-hop music. There isn’t any advertising going on then.

In what should be a bucolic small-college football setting, made unique by the presence of the corps of cadets, Johnson Hagood Stadium has instead been turned into a would-be outdoor NBA arena circa 1995.

It doesn’t work. It turns people off. Not all of those people it turns off are old, by the way.

There are times when a musical choice can liven up the crowd and/or corps. In 2012, playing “Gangnam Style” once during the game was a solid option. In 2013, not so much.

In no year would playing “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners be a solid option, but at one point that tune (I’m using the word “tune” loosely here) was unleashed on unsuspecting fans last season. Why couldn’t the band play during that time period? Heck, if somebody really wanted to listen to that song so badly, why not let the band play it?

As a result, we have situations in which the opposing school’s pep band shows up and plays more (a lot more, actually) during the game than our band, because the opposing band doesn’t have any restrictions on when it can play. It’s ridiculous.

Possibly the classic example of sound system overkill came during last year’s game against Furman. The freshmen cadets lined up in the ‘Block C’ formation, and began a “C-I-T-A-D-E-L” chant…only to be completely drowned out by the loudspeaker, as someone decided that was the ideal time to play an offering from the 1980s glam-rock band Poison.

Speaking of the “C-I-T-A-D-E-L” chant, occasionally the sound system will play a taped version of it, apparently in an effort to have it catch on with the crowd. It doesn’t really work that way; at The Citadel, that particular chant has to be organic in its origination.

Also, I am not certain the chant in that form should be played over the speaker system anyway, as canned crowd noise could be construed as an “artificial noisemaker”, which is not allowed in the Southern Conference.

A few other points about the videoboard:

- I think the spots featuring John Rosa and Larry Leckonby are run too close to the actual kickoff time. They probably need to be pushed back about ten minutes or so.

- The “come on, let’s go” clip featuring defensive players needs to be either reworked or junked. It doesn’t do anything to excite the fans; in truth, it’s more mocked than anything else. One problem is that it’s the go-to clip far too often.

- If we’re going to show things on the videoboard, why not more 15-second vignettes highlighting the personal sides (and personalities) of individual players? And not just from the football team. It’s the ideal time to promote our other sports.

It doesn’t have to feature athletes, either. The most well received spot on the videoboard that I remember was a message from astronaut Randy Bresnik.

(As Bresnik was in the regimental band as a cadet, I’ll bet he thinks the band should play more too.)

- I don’t really mind the sponsored red zone and first down tags. I’m mildly surprised Avis doesn’t sponsor second down, though.

- The “air raid siren” that plays when The Citadel’s defense forces a third down attempt seems to usually result in a first down for the opponent. It does cause permanent hearing loss for those in attendance, however, so you can’t say it doesn’t have any effect at all.

While I’m concentrating on the videoboard in this post, there are other gameday issues that need to be resolved. Just to name a couple:

- The lack of cheerleaders is unacceptable. Here are my suggestions:

1) In order to alleviate some of the reported problems the corps has had with regards to the squad, don’t let freshmen be cheerleaders.

2) I would open up tryouts for cheerleaders to female College of Charleston students. I don’t think that is unreasonable or politically incorrect.

CofC doesn’t have a football team, and here is an opportunity for The Citadel to add to its fan base. I would compare it to the Stray Dog Society in this respect.

Obviously any upperclass female cadet interested in cheerleading should be given every opportunity to make the squad. Right now, though, we have to face reality. There just aren’t that many female cadets at The Citadel; additionally, the subsets of “women attending a military college” and “women who love cheerleading” probably don’t intersect on a regular basis.

- This is not something I really lose sleep over, but the administration might be surprised to learn how many people are upset the concession stands don’t provide cups/ice any more. If it’s feasible, bring back the plastic cups.

- If we have issues with cadets not behaving properly during games (and by this I mean lounging/sleeping/etc.), then maybe there should be some “enforcers”. Back in ancient times, there was never a shortage of junior rankholders more than willing to assume such a role.

It doesn’t really matter what side of the stadium holds the corps, from that perspective. Maybe the folks at Jenkins Hall need to make it a point of emphasis (though I am generally not in the business of telling them how to do their jobs).

- I’ve read the SoCon regulations regarding student/visitor seating. Here’s a link:

Regulations

As for the theory that the corps has to sit on the “home side” because to do otherwise would be against conference rules, it doesn’t really hold up once you actually read the relevant sections. I liked how SoCon senior associate commissioner Geoff Cabe thought it might be in the “spirit” of the rules for the cadets to be relocated to the west stands, though.

Ah, the SoCon, always looking out for The Citadel. That’s why there are so many representatives of The Citadel in the league’s Hall of Fame.

- One thing about the corps that does need to be managed better is the number of cadets who aren’t in the stands. I think this was a bigger problem four or five years ago than it was in 2013, but it’s best to remain vigilant.

Last year at the Appalachian State game, a friend of mine and I counted the number of cadets in several rifle companies as they marched into the stadium. There were about 65-70 cadets in each company, which is clearly not as many as you would expect. Some of the missing did wind up in the stadium, but not all of them did.

Occasionally you do hear reports of random cadets who are in the area but not in the stadium. Very few things annoy alums more, and with good reason.

- Also in the area but not in the stadium (or at least, not in their seats): far too many people in the PSL sections. I’m not sure how much “connection” there would be with a corps move to the west stands if those seats aren’t filled anyway.

Ultimately, there is only one thing that will probably lead to all those seats being occupied by kickoff. The team has to start winning again.

Winning more games is also the magic elixir that will solve most of the issues related to the stadium atmosphere. However, to maximize the fun of a gameday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the emphasis on the videoboard has to be reduced.

The spotlight for home football games should always shine on the cadets — those on the field, and those in the stands.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: a 50-year review

Related: a discussion of the gameday atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium

This post is mainly for use in linking to a spreadsheet I’ve put together that lists attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium over the past 50 years, from 1964 to 2013. You can access the spreadsheet at this link:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2013

As always, I appreciate the availability of these numbers, which can be credited to the staff of The Citadel’s Sports Information Department.

The spreadsheet lists year-by-year total and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the team in each given season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1992 is made up of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons.

I did this mainly to see what, if any, impact on attendance constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. I would be hesitant to draw ironclad conclusions about the data, for the following reasons:

- The four directors of athletics over this time period (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and Larry Leckonby) may have counted attendance in different ways.

- Because The Citadel’s football fortunes have declined markedly over the better part of two decades, it’s hard to determine exactly what attendance “should” be. The fourteen lowest ‘ten-year winning periods’ out of the fifty-year sample are the last fourteen years (which will be evident upon examination of that category on the spreadsheet).

- The stadium renovation undoubtedly affected attendance. Not all the fans came back.

If the data tells a story, it may be that a good season has more of an impact on walk-up sales than it does for increased season ticket sales for the following year, which might be surprising. However, the correlation is not particularly strong either way.

It would really help attendance if The Citadel could reel off a string of winning seasons, of course. Maybe just as importantly, The Citadel can’t have a repeat on the field of the last decade-and-a-half. One winning campaign every seven years or so won’t cut it.

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.

A few quick thoughts on The Citadel’s search for a new head football coach

Maybe I should have waited to post my review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season. Less than 24 hours after I posted it, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach.

After all, timing is everything…

The difference between the opportunity at Wake Forest and the one two years ago was a matter of timing, Higgins said…

…Larry Leckonby last week offered Higgins an extension through the 2015 season, but that was not enough to sway him from taking the Wake Forest job.

“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Leckonby said of Higgins’ decision. “We talked last week about his future here, about a contract extension. We met (Monday morning) and I gave it one last try to see if we could keep him here. We wish him all the best and look for success out of Wake Forest in the ACC.”

To be honest, I think there is just a hint of Kabuki theater about the whole “offered an extension he didn’t accept” thing, but I could be wrong about that. It doesn’t really matter, though. The bottom line is that Kevin Higgins is leaving, and The Citadel has to find a suitable replacement.

Larry Leckonby had this to say:

My phones have been inundated with folks who are interested or have someone they think is interested in the job. I think it’s the flip side of the situation nine years ago. We’re going to have to turn folks away.

That sentiment was echoed in a tweet sent out by Scott Roussel, operator of FootballScoop.com:

So, so many guys reaching out about the Citadel job. Great location. No idea what direction they go; but plenty of quality interest.

It is undoubtedly true that the job at The Citadel is more attractive now than it was nine years ago, when Higgins accepted the position. That is to his credit.

However, any candidates out there interested in the job because of the “great location” better know that being head football coach at The Citadel isn’t a retirement gig. Lowering one’s golf handicap is not a primary or secondary goal.

When asked if he would hire a triple-option coach, Leckonby said that he would “make that determination in the next couple of days and go from there.”

I hope he decides not to limit candidates to those who would employ an option offense. I say that despite being someone who believes that running some form of the “triple option” is probably the way to go for a school like The Citadel.

However, I don’t want to see the pool of candidates substantially reduced by a restriction like that. There may be someone interested in the position who might have other ideas about on-field concepts that could work at The Citadel, and the school should listen.

Offensive philosophy is just one of many issues on the table for the job at the military college. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a consideration. It definitely should be.

However, if it turns out the best candidate happens to prefer running out of the I-formation or something, then The Citadel should hire him anyway.

Leckonby said he will use an “advisory committee” but will handle “most” of the task of hiring a new coach himself. He expects to present a group of finalists and a recommendation to school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa.

For some, the process of making the hire is perhaps almost as important as the hire itself. It is open to question whether or not Rosa will simply “rubber stamp” Larry Leckonby’s recommendation, or if the school president will be more involved in making the final decision. That is something to watch.

I’ll be a little curious to see if the advisory committee is a somewhat formal group, with a listed set of members, or if Leckonby will simply run things by some trusted friends/colleagues. It’s also possible that some members of the committee will be tasked with what Leckonby referred to Monday as “cultivating” candidates.

“The first three people I talked to today, all of whom I respect, said the same thing: Make sure you don’t move too fast,” Leckonby said. “Don’t rush forward to get a coach because of recruiting; make sure you get the right fit for The Citadel.

“So I don’t think we’ll set a time frame on it. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose a full recruiting year because of it.”

Fair enough. I agree that getting the right coach is more important than one recruiting year. That recruiting year is important, though.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. They will also be very important to the future of The Citadel’s football program, and for the department of athletics as a whole.

Leckonby said on Monday that he would handle most of the heavy lifting himself, “for better or worse”. It has to be for the better, Mr. Leckonby. It has to be for the better…

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season

Edit: less than 24 hours after I posted this, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach of The Citadel to take an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest. Obviously that makes part of the review a bit dated, but I’m leaving the post unchanged from when it went up. 

In my preview of The Citadel’s 2013 football campaign, I wrote the following:

…this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

- The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

- The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

- One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

- Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

I guess I could say I told you so, except I really can’t. I thought the Bulldogs would be a little better than they were, despite the seemingly difficult schedule. I was hoping that The Citadel would contend for the league title and/or a playoff berth.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t come close to happening, either.

The Bulldogs’ disappointing season was all the more frustrating by the way the season played out in the Southern Conference. The league wasn’t nearly as good as expected.

Appalachian State proved to be eminently beatable, and Georgia Southern was certainly no well-oiled machine. Wofford finished 5-6.

It was all there for The Citadel, ready for the taking…and the Bulldogs finished with a losing record.

Entering 2013 there were concerns about the defense, particularly the D’s ability to stop the run. How did the defense fare?

Comparing 2012 and 2013 (league contests only, per game average):

2012 points allowed: 26.75
2013 points allowed: 23.25

2012 total yards allowed: 395
2013 total yards allowed: 362.38

2012 rush yards allowed: 237.13
2013 rush yards allowed: 178.75

2012 pass yards allowed: 157.88
2013 pass yards allowed: 183.63

These numbers show some improvement from 2012 to 2013, which might surprise a few people. On a per-play basis, the defense improved from 5.75 yards per play (2012) to 5.47 (2013), though the yards allowed per pass attempt increased (from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.2 in 2013).

The Citadel forced twelve turnovers in league play this season, similar to 2012 (eleven). The Bulldogs recovered five fumbles in 2013, which matched 2012′s total.

The defense was credited with 28 passes defensed in eight conference games in 2013. Exactly 25% of those (seven) resulted in interceptions. That is slightly above the national average for defensed passes; basically, the Bulldogs intercepted one more pass in league play than would have been expected. That isn’t insignificant, especially if you think of the “extra” pick as, say, Mitchell Jeter’s grab in the Appalachian State game.

In all, The Citadel had breakups/interceptions on 13.7% of opponents’ passes in 2013 SoCon action. That was a slight improvement on 2012 (12.4%).

Ideally, the Bulldogs would have a higher percentage of passes defensed than 13.7%, though to be honest I suspect the benchmark for excellence in this area varies depending on defensive concepts. For example, Tulane tied for the national lead in FBS this past season in passes defended, with 84 in 12 games. The Green Wave had a breakup/pick rate of 20.7%.

However, Michigan State’s defense was arguably the most highly regarded in the entire country this year, and the Spartans’ PD rate was 14.4%. That didn’t stop MSU’s Darqueze Dennard from winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

- Incidentally, Dennard was a “two-star” recruit from Dry Branch, Georgia.

The comparative per-game statistics in league play for The Citadel’s offense aren’t as positive.

2012 points: 29.75
2013 points: 24.25

2012 total yards: 382.5
2013 total yards: 350.25

2012 rush yards: 299.5
2013 rush yards: 256.63

2012 pass yards: 83.0
2013 pass yards: 93.63

The Bulldogs averaged just over six yards per play in 2012, but that number fell to 5.4 y/p in 2013. Rushing yards per play declined from 5.8 to 5.1.

While The Citadel’s passing yardage increased by over ten yards per SoCon game, that was due to an increased number of attempts (more than three per contest). The Bulldogs’ yards per pass attempt actually declined, from 7.2 (2012) to 6.4 (2013).

The Citadel threw the ball on 18.3% of its 2012 plays. That percentage increased to 22.6% in 2013.

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that in terms of total offense, The Citadel’s numbers were worse at the start of the conference season than at the end. The Bulldogs struggled out of the gate, averaging 314 yards per contest in their first three SoCon games, but by the end of the campaign seemed to have mostly put things together (404 yards per contest in the three final conference matchups).

The spring practice/preseason concentration on diversifying the offense backfired. It’s as simple as that.

The Citadel’s offense suffered a dropoff in “red zone” efficiency in 2013. When The Bulldogs advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in 2012, they scored a touchdown 69% of the time. This past season, The Citadel scored TDs on only 60% of its trips inside the 20.

(Note: red zone numbers are for all games, not just Southern Conference matchups. All the other statistics I’ve mentioned above are for league games only.)

I think if the offense had performed at its 2012 levels in 2013, the Bulldogs would have finished no worse than 6-6 and probably should have been 7-5 (and maybe even 8-4). However, instead of finishing 5-3 in SoCon play (as it did in 2012), The Citadel was 4-4. That doesn’t even account for the embarrassing loss to Charleston Southern in the season opener.

The game against the Buccaneers probably didn’t help the Bulldogs’ confidence for the start of the league campaign, and so after five games The Citadel was 1-4 and the hopes and aspirations for 2013 were just about kaput. Breaking down the remaining seven games, the Bulldogs essentially performed up to preseason expectations (2-2 against App/GSU/UTC/Sam, wins over Elon and VMI, a loss to Clemson).

It was that early-season boondoggle that did in the Bulldogs. Furman played very well over the second half of 2013, but wasn’t nearly as good when the season began. The Citadel should have won that game, particularly given the Paladins’ QB issues at the time.

Against Wofford, the Bulldogs didn’t score an offensive touchdown. We all know what happened against Charleston Southern.

When Phil Kornblut asked Kevin Higgins to describe the season (prior to the game against Clemson), the coach was candid:

It was disappointing, for sure. We had much higher expectations than that. We played a lot of close football games throughout the season, [but] that’s not an excuse. We were hoping to finish a couple of those games off, but didn’t…the one positive was our guys kept fighting [and] never gave up.

Higgins is expected to still be the coach next season, and I’m okay with that. However, there are some Bulldog supporters who think a change should have been made, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to feel that way.

There is a lot of frustration in the fan base with the struggles of the football program over the last two decades, and Kevin Higgins has now been the coach for nine seasons. He took over a program that could be reasonably described as unstable. That should be kept in mind when evaluating his time at the school. However, some aspects of his record are, well, not so good:

- He has only had a winning record twice in nine campaigns
- He has not defeated Wofford in nine seasons
- His record against Furman is 3-6
- His two losses to Charleston Southern rank among the worst in school history

That said, there are some things Higgins can’t control.

It’s not his fault the band isn’t allowed to play more often. Higgins isn’t responsible for the maddening videoboard/loudspeaker/music choices. He’s not the reason The Citadel’s video streaming setup never seems to work. He didn’t make the ludicrous (and potentially damaging) decision to play a road game at Charleston Southern next year.

I mention those things (among other issues) only because sometimes the team’s performance gets lumped in with all the other stuff that people complain about when it comes to the football program and the department of athletics in general. There is a fair amount of unease among The Citadel’s faithful fans, but a lot of it is not related to actual gridiron activity.

I am not certain what Higgins’ contract status is; there seems to be some confusion on that subject. Normally I am not a fan of retaining a coach who has just one remaining year on his contract, but I am willing to make an exception in this case (and again, I’m not sure he’s got only one year left anyway).

One reason I am amenable to giving Higgins a little more rope is that next year will be transitory in many respects, particularly with regards to the Southern Conference itself. I’m more than a little curious to see how things “play out” with the change in league membership.

Another factor is something Higgins mentioned to Phil Kornblut. This year’s team really did keep fighting. It certainly didn’t quit. I’ve said this before, but that is to the players’ credit, and it’s also a positive when discussing the coaching staff. Higgins didn’t “lose” the team in circumstances which were possibly conducive to doing just that. That’s a mark in his favor.

Next year’s slate is going to be a difficult one. It will probably be tougher than this year’s was supposed to be.

I’ll be ready for spring football, though. I may be already…

The “unofficial” 2014 SoCon football schedule

Last week the Southern Conference accidentally “leaked” the provisional 2014 composite league football schedule. It has since been removed from the conference website, but here is a .pdf of the document as it (briefly) appeared online:

2014 provisional SoCon football schedule

There are a few things on the provisional schedule that have already been changed. For example, Chattanooga will no longer be hosting Georgia State on September 6. Instead, the Mocs will open their 2014 season at Central Michigan on Thursday, August 28 and will play their home opener against Jacksonville State (apparently on September 6, essentially replacing the Georgia State game).

Not included on the provisional schedule, but announced earlier this year, is a 9/20 meeting between the Paladins and South Carolina State, to be played in Orangeburg. That will be a rematch of the first-round 2013 playoff game won by Furman, of course.

There is also a little confusion about Furman’s opponent on 10/25. Some reports suggest the Paladins will play Chattanooga on that date, but this schedule lists Samford as Furman’s homecoming opponent.

Other “holes” in the provisional schedule include the following:

- The opponent for VMI on 10/18 (a non-league matchup) is unknown. Edit 1/7/14: VMI will play Gardner-Webb on that date, in Lexington.

- Wofford will presumably add at least one more game to its schedule (if not two). As of right now, the Terriers only have four listed home games (including a non-conference game vs. Jacksonville). I’m guessing that Wofford will play another OOC matchup in Spartanburg on either 9/20 or 9/27.

- Western Carolina also will be adding another game or two to its slate. From what I understand, Brevard will almost certainly be an early-season home opponent for the Catamounts.

- Samford has reportedly bought its way out of its game at Southeastern Louisiana, which had been tentatively scheduled for 9/13. SU may want to play a home game on that date instead.

While there are still additions and changes to be made to various schedules, I suspect that the actual league games are more or less official (though the uncertainty about Furman’s home opponent on 10/25 does give one pause). Each team will play seven conference games in both 2014 and 2015, as the league waits for East Tennessee State to restart its football program.

Ultimately, this is just throwing out a little football news to talk about in the middle of December. Nothing wrong with that.

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 15

This is a list of every game played during week 15 of the college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school.  All games are listed, televised or not.  For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable).  I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 15

Additional notes:

– This week, I am also listing the Army-Navy game, which actually takes place on December 14.

– I include ESPN3.com games; they are denoted as “ESPN3″.

– There are notes on the document identifying FCS playoff games and league championship games.

– BCS Standings (FBS): Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s incredibly comprehensive and completely indispensable site College Sports on TV, which simply cannot be overpraised. It’s a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports, to say the least.

Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

This will be the final college football TV listings post of the season.

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