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.

2013 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm pm ET on Saturday, September 14. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for the network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference: Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins says the Bulldogs are going back to basics on offense

The Post and Courier “Scouting Report”

Profile of Derek Douglas on the “Off the Collar” blog

Donnell Boucher works with the first battalion non-corps squad freshmen

I don’t have a lot to add about the Wofford game that hasn’t already been said or written. Just a few observations…

- Third down conversions: Wofford 9 for 18, The Citadel 3 for 15. That summed up the game about as well as anything else.

- Carl Robinson had an outstanding game, including 16 tackles. Robinson has 30 tackles through two games, which leads the SoCon.

- Brandon McCladdie led the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards. When a defensive back who doesn’t return kicks leads the team in all-purpose yards, it’s generally not a good thing.

- I thought the defense played fairly well with the exception of allowing some big pass plays. Of course, not allowing big pass plays is a key component in good defense.

- Preseason fears about punting have largely been alleviated, thanks to the solid work by Eric Goins over two games.

Kevin Higgins, during his Monday press conference:

It’s apparent that our execution is not where it needs to be. We’re going to simplify as much as we can, maybe get back to the basics more like we did last year.

We want to make sure we are majoring in a couple of things, and do those things real well to give us a chance to be successful.

As Jeff Hartsell pointed out later, “the ‘back to basics’ theme is never a good sign.” Which is true…most of the time. I remember a notable exception.

Prior to The Citadel’s 1991 season, Charlie Taaffe decided to switch from his successful wishbone offense to the veer. Why?

The reason we’re diversifying our offense is simply because most of the teams in the Southern Conference have seen the wishbone so much now they’re getting better at defensing it. We’ve got to do some different things or they’ll be all over us. Plus, it’ll  give us a chance to throw the ball more and be more exciting to watch.

Taaffe added to this as the season drew closer:

I feel like we’ve taken our program to a level [note: this was Taaffe's fifth season at The Citadel]. To get to the next level, we have to be more dimensional. We ran the ball 86% of the time last year. We need more balance in our offense. We need to force defenses to defend more things.

The Citadel started the 1991 season 1-1, not playing particularly well in its opener against Presbyterian and then losing to Wofford. At that point, Taaffe did something that must have been very hard for him to do.

He junked the veer and went back to the wishbone.

That decision saved the season. After losing 33-26 to Chattanooga in a game in which the offense came to life, The Citadel won four of its next five games, and six of its last eight. The victories included wins over Army (a first on the gridiron for the Bulldogs) and Furman (breaking a nine-game slide in that series).

The quotes from this article, which followed The Citadel’s 38-13 victory over Western Carolina that season, are illuminating. The offensive switch-back even had a positive impact on the defense.

In winning their final three games last year, the Bulldogs averaged almost 36 points per contest. If “back to basics” means a return to that type of offensive productivity, then it’s the right thing to do.

Western Carolina is playing what is, in my opinion, Division I’s most absurd schedule in 2013. The Catamounts have already played FBS foes Middle Tennessee State and Virginia Tech; later in the season, WCU travels to Auburn. That’s three FBS opponents to go along with two FBS-transitional teams (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State). Western Carolina will be the road team in all five contests.

This is a program that has lost 12 straight games overall, and 22 straight in the SoCon. Western Carolina’s victory over The Citadel on September 3, 2010, was its last win over a D-1 team.

I know it’s a cash grab, but it’s really unfair to the players and coaches in that situation to have to play three FBS opponents. It can’t be easy for second-year coach Mark Speir.

Having said that, if WCU is going to climb out of its gridiron hole, Speir strikes me as the man to lead the way. I think he was a very good hire (and I’m far from alone in that assessment). This season’s schedule may set him back a year, though. We’ll see.

It is hard to get any kind of read on this year’s edition of the Catamounts, since they’ve only played FBS competition thus far. Actually, going back to last season (when WCU finished with a bye and Alabama, respectively), Western Carolina hasn’t played an FCS school since November 3, 2012.

That was a game against Chattanooga, and the Catamounts led the Mocs after three quarters. The week before the UTC contest, Western Carolina gave Appalachian State a good game (losing 38-27).

The Catamounts also led The Citadel in the third quarter at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, and were tied with the Bulldogs entering the fourth quarter before The Citadel pulled away. That matchup, you may recall, featured a game-turning special-teams play by Vinny Miller.

One of the stars for Western Carolina in that game at JHS was quarterback Troy Mitchell, who rushed for 117 yards and two TDs in the loss. Mitchell did not play in the Catamounts’ game at Virginia Tech, but is expected to start against The Citadel.

Also missing against the Hokies was running back Darius Ramsey, who has not played yet this season for WCU. Ramsey rushed for 118 yards against The Citadel in last year’s game.

Garry Lewis, a freshman, is listed as the starting running back in WCU’s one-back set. The Catamounts may start the game against the Bulldogs with four wideouts.

Western Carolina has some experience along the offensive line, but is also starting a true freshman at right guard, Tanner Poindexter. The caption besides Poindexter’s name on the two-deep in the WCU game notes reads as follows:

Played center in 2012 Shrine Bowl after all-conference at guard … Sports a very interesting hair style – “a mullet”

As usual, the Catamounts’ media relations deparment provide all the necessary information about its team.

Western Carolina has a new defensive coordinator, one who should be very familiar with the Bulldogs’ triple option attack. Last year, Shawn Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Charleston Southern; prior to that, he was at Georgia Southern.

WCU would normally be a 4-3 base D, but that is likely to be adjusted against the Bulldogs.

Quinn will not have the services of Rock Williams this year, much to the relief of Ben Dupree and company. In last year’s game, Williams had 24 tackles, the highest total recorded in the league by a player all season.

As for this year’s players, Bryson Jordan is a freshman who will start at outside linebacker for WCU. He is the son of former Brave (and Falcon) Brian Jordan.

Another freshman, Trey Morgan, is one of the Catamounts’ starting cornerbacks and is highly regarded. He was praised by ESPN3 analyst (and former UNC coach) John Bunting as “a real steal” during the game against Virginia Tech. WCU’s defensive backfield is a team strength, one that also includes preseason second-team SoCon pick Ace Clark.

Western Carolina likes to play a lot of d-linemen, generally a good strategy. There are some interesting backgrounds among the players along the line, including backup nosetackle Helva Matungulu, a native of Kenya who had never played football before arriving in Cullowhee. He is a converted rugby player.

The Catamounts return both their placekicker and punter from last year.

Western Carolina starts four “true” freshmen on its two-deep and played 20 freshmen (including seven true freshmen) in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State. This is a young team.

I don’t know what to expect from the Bulldogs on Saturday. It’s put up or shut up time, I suppose.

One thing that worries me is this has become a big game for Western Carolina. After The Citadel, WCU plays Mars Hill, and then starts a three-game road swing: Samford, Chattanooga, and Auburn. In other words, the Catamounts could really use a win against the Bulldogs, and probably have increased confidence that they have an opportunity, given The Citadel’s struggles.

Oddsmakers list The Citadel as a four-point favorite, a small spread considering WCU’s difficulties in recent years against Division I competition. It is understandable, however, when taking into account what The Citadel has done so far this season.

I am not worried about what Las Vegas thinks, though. My concern is with the mindset of the team. I hope there are still good vibes emanating from those wearing the blue and white.

To bring home a victory from Cullowhee, positive thoughts are a necessity. So are hard hits and tough runs.

I think there is still some bite to these Bulldogs. Saturday is the time to show it.

2011 Football Game 9: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 5.  The game will not be televised. The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.   Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Georgia Southern as part of a subscription service.

I’ve already written about The Citadel’s victory over VMI. There isn’t much to add to that, except I did want to briefly mention VMI’s fans.  The Keydets brought more supporters to Johnson Hagood Stadium than Wofford did, and weren’t too far behind Furman in the “travel” category. That’s very impressive, given that A) it’s a long trip, and B) VMI hasn’t had a winning season in 30 years.  Full credit to VMI’s fans, a group that surely deserves better results on the gridiron.

Now the Bulldogs face what could be their biggest challenge of the season to date, a road game against Georgia Southern, which until last week was unbeaten and ranked #1 in the country in both FCS polls. The Eagles saw their perfect season go by the boards in a 24-17 loss in Boone to Appalachian State, and are likely to be a rather surly bunch right now, just in time for Homecoming in Statesboro. Beautiful Eagle Creek may seem a little less beautiful right now.

One thing Georgia Southern can’t really afford to do at this point in the season is lose to The Citadel, because it would put the Eagles in a rather difficult position. Right now GSU is 7-1 with three games remaining. After hosting the Bulldogs, Georgia Southern finishes the regular season with two road games. One of those is in Spartanburg against fellow SoCon title contender Wofford, while the finale is a matchup with BCS title contender Alabama.

If Georgia Southern were to lose all three games, it would finish at 7-4, and would have a borderline case for a postseason bid. The record wouldn’t be great, and GSU would have finished the campaign with four straight defeats. Even more problematic would be the fact that the Eagles would have only six victories against Division I teams, as one of GSU’s wins came against Division II Tusculum.

Technically, an FCS playoff at-large team doesn’t need seven D-1 wins, but historically it has been a de facto rule that at-large candidates should have at least seven such victories. (That may change if there is more postseason expansion.)

GSU definitely needs to win one of its next two games to ensure a playoff bid, and probably needs to win both to garner a national seed.

Although the odds of Georgia Southern getting left out of the FCS postseason are low, it’s important not to overlook the problem of scheduling both a “money” game and a matchup against a non-D1 squad. While a team that closes a season with four straight losses isn’t likely to get an at-large berth anyway, what if Georgia Southern had lost earlier in the season (say, to Chattanooga, a one-point victory for the Eagles), and then finished the year with a win over The Citadel but a tough loss at Wofford, and then the expected defeat to the Crimson Tide?

A SoCon team with 7 wins and a loss to Alabama would normally be at worst a marginal at-large contender, but GSU would only have six D-1 victories and would presumably be out of the running.

That’s why it is better, when looking for a no-return home game, that ADs at schools with playoff aspirations try to schedule D-1 schools rather than D-2 or NAIA teams. It’s not that easy to find FCS schools willing to make a one-way trip, at least not cheaply, but it’s something that needs to be done. Of course, there is the additional risk that the school in question may be good enough to actually win the game.

For The Citadel, Jacksonville was an excellent season-opening opponent in this respect. Presbyterian would also be a good candidate, and of course there is a long tradition of games between the Bulldogs and the Blue Hose. Newberry, on the other hand, is probably not an option, since it is still D-2.

For some fans of the Eagles, the playoffs aren’t enough. There is still a significant group of Georgia Southern supporters who believe that it is time for GSU to make the move to the land of FBS. The school published a study on the issue two years ago. At the time I wrote about whether GSU should make the leap, the latest round of conference-jumping wasn’t even on the horizon, much less a staple of hourly news reports.

I think it is even more of a risk to move to FBS now than it was two years ago, because there is major uncertainty about what that division will become in the next few years. Georgia Southern (and Appalachian State) supporters hoping to become part of the FBS club are dreaming of a chance to join a league like the Sun Belt or, in a best-case scenario, Conference USA.

Even if that were to happen, though, in the current climate there is a possibility it would amount to jumping on a treadmill. If the much-theorized breakaway by the major programs to form super-conferences comes to pass, Sun Belt and C-USA schools are not likely to be part of the chosen few. They are more likely to wind up in a larger FCS.

The Citadel has won two straight games, reason for optimism in the continuing story that is Triple O’Higgins. However, I think there is still reason to be cautious. While I’m not one to complain about any victory, Western Carolina and VMI are not exactly the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers when it comes to football prowess. While the Bulldog D has generally been excellent this season, The Citadel’s triple option attack is still very much a work in progress.

That isn’t to say that strides haven’t been made, because they have. It’s just that the Bulldogs haven’t really had that “eureka” moment, or game, at least not yet. It may be that it won’t happen this season.

Was there such a defining game in 1988, the second year of Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack? Was there a specific game when everyone realized that the Bulldogs were no longer learning how to run the offense, but were instead refining it?

Well, I’m not sure. Looking back at the seven-game winning streak in 1988, there wasn’t a true breakout game in terms of rushing yardage. It was more of a gradual increase, from 290 yards rushing (Navy) to 322 (Western Carolina), then a blip downwards (187 vs. Chattanooga), then the two games started by Tommy Burriss (278 yards rushing against Boston University and 301 vs. East Tennessee State).

Tangent: as it happens, the two games Burriss started in 1988 both came against schools that in the next few years would drop their respective football programs. I don’t think this can be blamed on Burriss, however.

The contest against ETSU could qualify as the game that truly established the offense as a force, as in addition to the rushing yardage the Bulldogs threw for 199 yards, with the 500 yards of total offense being the most in a game for the cadets since 1980. The Citadel scored 48 points against ETSU (31 in the second quarter).

The game against the Buccaneers was the eighth of the 1988 campaign. In the ninth game, Gene Brown would return from injury and lead the Bulldogs to one of their more celebrated victories, a 20-3 Homecoming triumph over #1 Marshall.

It would be nice to have a similar result in the ninth game of this season…

It won’t be easy, though, as the Eagles rank first in the SoCon in scoring defense and rush defense. One big reason why is Georgia Southern nosetackle Brent Russell, who Kevin Higgins called “the best defensive lineman in the country at our level.” It’s hard to argue the point. In last week’s loss to Appalachian State, the redshirt junior registered a career-high ten tackles.

One of the more notable performances in Russell’s career came last season against Navy, when he completely dominated the line of scrimmage, a major reason why Navy was held to 193 total yards (109 rushing). The Midshipmen managed to win the game despite Russell’s efforts, 13-7.

I found it interesting that in his weekly SoCon teleconference, GSU coach Jeff Monken was quick to praise Mike Sellers, the Bulldogs’ sophomore center. When The Citadel’s offense faces Georgia Southern’s defense, the critical matchup could be between the two players who line up closest to the ball.

Incidentally (or maybe not so incidentally), Georgia Southern’s defense has forced a punt on their opponents’ opening possession six times. Presbyterian’s opening drive against the Eagles resulted in a field goal attempt that was blocked. The only time the opposition scored on its initial possession against Georgia Southern was last week, when Appalachian State’s first drive resulted in a touchdown. Obviously, that’s also the only game GSU has lost.

Jaybo Shaw, GSU’s quarterback, was injured early in the contest last season at Johnson Hagood Stadium, so (presuming he stays healthy) this will be the first time The Citadel has seen him in extended game action. The Bulldogs will get their fill of quarterbacks named Shaw, however, as they will face Jaybo’s brother Connor in the game at South Carolina. Two Shaws in three weeks is probably a record.

Shaw’s passing numbers are reasonably solid, if modest by comparison to “normal” offenses. He has completed 54% of his throws for five touchdowns, against two interceptions. More importantly, he is averaging 11.2 yards per attempt, as the Eagles are third nationally (second in the SoCon) in pass efficiency. Shaw has rushed for 261 yards and seven touchdowns.

He has distributed the ball well in GSU’s triple option attack, with a bevy of running backs featuring for the Eagles. Robert Brown, the starting B-back, is the leading ground-gainer on the season for GSU. Included in his totals are 178 yards versus Chattanooga, 140 yards against Samford, and 116 yards versus Elon. He is averaging nearly seven yards per carry.

Georgia Southern’s offensive line has included the same five starters in every game except for last week’s contest, with the two-deep released by the school indicating the standard five-man group will return for the game against The Citadel. Three of the five are seniors.

GSU leads the nation in scoring offense (41.1 points per game) and is second in rushing offense.

The Eagles are also dangerous on special teams. Laron Scott averages 35. 5 yards per kick return, tops in FCS. As for punt returner Darreion Robinson, statistics don’t tell the whole story. This effort against Appalachian State does: Link

Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern will be a challenge, but that’s all right. The players won’t be dreading the trip to Statesboro; rather, they will be relishing it. It’s an opportunity to see how far the Bulldogs have come, and how far they still need to go.

The Citadel: Status of the Football Program

Judging from some posts at TCISN over the last few weeks (and from some non-message board discussions I have heard), there is sentiment in some circles that it’s time to make a coaching change at The Citadel.  This is, in my opinion, definitely a minority viewpoint, but it’s out there.

It’s a position that reached its zenith in popularity following the offensive debacle against Georgia Southern, and I have to say it would be hard to blame anyone for having a knee-jerk reaction after sitting through that game.  It was embarrassing.  The improved performance against Elon last Saturday seems to have muted some of the “we need a new coach” talk, though.

That said, I seriously doubt there is going to be a coaching change after this season. Actually, I would be really, really surprised if Kevin Higgins weren’t retained.

Higgins is currently under contract through the 2013 football season.  In this economic climate, there aren’t many schools that are prepared to let a coach go with three years left on his deal, and The Citadel doesn’t have a history of doing that, anyway.  Just the opposite, in fact.  The Citadel has honored the full contracts of “lame-duck” coaches like Don Powers in football and Randy Nesbit in basketball, just to name two.

Another thing to consider is that after last season, his second straight losing campaign (and fourth in five years), Higgins decided to completely scrap his spread offense and move to the triple option.  That doesn’t strike me as the move of a man worried about job security, because he had to know when he made that decision that the 2010 season was probably going to be difficult.  Maybe he didn’t think it was going to be as difficult as it has turned out, perhaps, but he knew the potential pitfalls.

I don’t know, but I would guess that before deciding to employ a new offense Higgins had a chat with AD Larry Leckonby about the move, just to make sure his position was safe for at least a couple of years.  That also was likely the message Leckonby delivered to prospective assistant coaching candidates (Higgins brought in seven new assistants).

Tommy Laurendine, for example, was in a presumably “safe” job at his alma mater, Lenoir-Rhyne.  I doubt he would have taken the job at The Citadel if he thought there was a chance that it would only be for one year.  The same is true for Josh Conklin and Bob Bodine, among others.

Assuming Higgins is back for at least one more season, then, where does the program stand in relation to historical norms?  Is keeping a coach with his overall and league record a good idea, regardless of contract status?  What factors besides on-field performance need to be considered?

First, let’s look at some numbers (keep in mind that at the time of this post, The Citadel has yet to play its final game of the 2010 season, which is at Samford).

Kevin Higgins is 26-40 overall, 14-30 in the Southern Conference.  He has been the Bulldogs’ head coach for six full seasons.

Twenty-three men have served as head coach of The Citadel.  Eight of them coached prior to the school joining the Southern Conference.  Tatum Gressette is the transitional coach in this respect, with the last four years of his eight-year tenure marking the first four SoCon campaigns for The Citadel.

Counting Gressette, then, let’s take a look at how Higgins compares to those fifteen coaches who competed in the Southern Conference.

– Overall record:  Higgins ranks 10th out of 15 in winning percentage

– SoCon record:  Higgins ranks 8th out of 15 in winning percentage

There is more to this than just those placements, though.  Higgins may only be 10th alltime in overall winning percentage, but of the five coaches behind him, three of them were his immediate predecessors at The Citadel.  The other two, Quinn Decker and John McMillan, were the first two coaches at The Citadel following the program’s post-World War II restart.

As for the SoCon record, Higgins has a better conference winning percentage than Ellis Johnson and John Zernhelt (but not Don Powers, interestingly), and also has a better mark than Tom Moore, along with John Rowland, Gressette, Decker, and McMillan.

Starting with John Sauer, who only coached at The Citadel for two seasons, every coach who was at The Citadel between 1955 to 2000 has a better league record than Higgins, except Moore.  That includes Eddie Teague, who succeeded Sauer as head coach, and three men then-AD Teague later hired (Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker).  Moore’s successor, Charlie Taaffe, also has a better SoCon record than Higgins.

Comparing Higgins’ SoCon record to the Gressette/Rowland/Decker/McMillan group is probably pointless, though.  For example, Gressette was 4-14 in league play over four seasons, but seven of his fourteen conference losses were to schools currently in the ACC or SEC.

Decker was 8-25-1 in conference action, which included playing either South Carolina or Clemson every season — as conference games.  (His 1950 squad was 2-3 in the league; one of the two wins came against the Gamecocks, at Johnson Hagood Stadium.)

That doesn’t even take into account the difficulties Decker (and later McMillan) had in trying to bring the program back up to the level it had been prior to the war.  It must have been hard, for the first nine seasons following the program’s return were losing campaigns.  Neither Decker nor McMillan ever had a winning season at The Citadel.

One thing to consider when evaluating a coach’s record at The Citadel would be, simply, how successful has the school been historically in football?  What should expectations be?

The Citadel has basically been a .500 program through most of its history.  At the time it joined the Southern Conference, the school’s overall football record was 115-112-24.  It had never had more than four consecutive winning seasons, or more than three straight losing campaigns.

The ten years leading up to league membership were fairly typical:  7-3, 3-6-1, 6-3-1, 4-5-1, 4-5-2, 5-4-1, 4-5, 3-5-1, 3-5-1, 4-3-1.  Even after joining the SoCon, the overall records (as opposed to conference play) continued in a similar vein.

As I mentioned, though, in the post-WWII era the football program at The Citadel struggled.  That included league play, despite the move of many of the SoCon’s bigger schools to a new confederation called the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Things finally changed with the arrival, not of a coach, but of a general.  Mark Clark wasn’t interested in losing.

After a bit of a false start with Sauer (probably best remembered at The Citadel for bringing in a young hotshot of an assistant named Al Davis), Clark’s hiring of Teague finally got the football program on a winning track.  In its nineteenth season of league play, The Citadel would finally finish with a winning record in conference action.  That was in 1957.

That’s right, it took nineteen seasons for The Citadel to have a winning league record after joining the Southern Conference.  Think about that.

Four years later, the school would win its first SoCon title.

Earlier I stated that The Citadel has “basically been a .500 program”, but of course the actual overall record is 454-518-32.  What I meant, though, is that for most of its history the school’s football program really puttered along at about a .500 clip, with two exceptions.

The first is that nine-year period following World War II.  The Citadel was 27-54-1 during that stretch.  The football program is 64 games under .500 alltime, and 27 of those 64 games can be accounted for in that near-decade of losing.

That’s arguably not the worst run in the history of the program, however (particularly if you account for the fact the program had been briefly dormant).  The longest stretch of consistent losing The Citadel has ever had has been a 13-year period where the cumulative record of the team is 50-93, 43 games under .500, with eleven losing campaigns and only one winning season in that timespan.  That includes an ugly 29-70 mark in SoCon play in those thirteen seasons.

Those thirteen years?  You guessed it.  They are the last thirteen years.  The current era is in the discussion for being the low point for the program, at least in terms of on-field competitiveness.

Was there one event, a specific turning point, that led to the football program’s slide?  I think so.  Some people might claim it to be the dismissal of Charlie Taaffe, but that wasn’t the tipping point.  No, the die was actually cast on November 23, 1999, two days before Thanksgiving that year.

Don Powers’ team had gone 2-9 that season (after a 5-6 campaign the year before). Powers was essentially a caretaker-type coach, a fill-in for Taaffe, but after four years it was clearly time for fresh blood.  Walt Nadzak made the decision to reassign Powers — and then was overruled by the school president, Major General John Grinalds.

I linked Jeff Hartsell’s article about this move above; here it is again.  It’s worth linking twice, because I think Grinalds’ decision, “honorable” as he thought it was, started the ball rolling downhill for the football program, and not in a good way.  Sure, it was just one year.  Sometimes, though, that one year matters.  This was one of those times.

Timing is everything in life, and that includes college athletics.  In 1999 Nadzak was faced with a football program with a deteriorating on-field performance and a decrepit stadium.  He also had to contend with issues over which he had little to no control, from the proliferation of college sports (especially football) on cable television to women at The Citadel.

Nadzak knew he needed a new stadium, and he also knew that with it he needed a competitive team.  He didn’t get either (although the stadium would come eventually). In a column written the following week, Ken Burger all but predicted that Grinalds’ move would signal the end of Nadzak’s tenure at The Citadel.  He was correct.

Asked if he expects the Bulldogs to have a better season next year, Grinalds said, “Yes, we do.'”

The team went 2-9 for a second straight season…

I would suspect (although I can’t say for sure) that the dead-in-the-water aspect to the program had an impact on fundraising, perhaps including the ability of the school to raise money for the new stadium.  Things went slowly, too slowly, as the world around the school kept moving faster and faster.

If you run in place, you don’t go anywhere.  The Citadel needed a decent team to continue to draw fans, particularly because the stadium was becoming more and more of a problem, whether it was archaeologists digging up gravesites underneath the stadium for reburial, or the fact that you couldn’t turn on the stadium lights and the french fry machines at the same time because it would short out the electrical system, or having so many bricks fall off the facade that eventually they were all removed for safety reasons.

Now the school finally has a quality stadium, and it’s a first-rate facility.  What it doesn’t have is a drawing card, a team good enough to bring in new fans (and revive interest from old fans).

Ellis Johnson tried to overcome the program’s malaise in part by featuring transfers and hideous uniforms, and it didn’t work.  After three seasons, he was ready to become an FBS defensive coordinator again.  John Zernhelt lasted one year, and then moved on, taking big money from the New York Jets. (Hard to blame him.)

In the ten years prior to Kevin Higgins taking over as coach, The Citadel had an overall record of 36-74.  That’s actually a worse record by percentage than the nine-year period following World War II I referenced earlier.  In addition, the school had not had a winning record in conference play since 1992, the year The Citadel won its second (and last) league title.

That’s a lot to overcome.  Higgins got off to a good start, but soon found that one year does not establish a trend, or even momentum.

Can he get over the hump?  Normally when a coach has his record after six seasons, he doesn’t get an opportunity to find out.  However, I think the evidence suggests that Higgins had a higher mountain to climb than most, and that patience may in fact be warranted.

There is an elephant in the room, however.  I’m talking about home attendance.

The Citadel now has a great facility, and (other than the on-field results) a very good atmosphere for home games, including the cadets, tailgating, etc…and attendance is declining at an alarming rate.

Average attendance at Johnson Hagood since 1997:

1997 — 12,173

1998 — 13,291

1999 — 14,543

2000 — 14,342

2001 — 15,687

2002 — 15,582

2003 — 16,759

2004 — 8,359 (the year of “half a stadium” and thus an aberration)

2005 — 11,674

2006 — 14,599

2007 — 13,757

2008 — 12,261

2009 — 13,029

2010 — 11,445

Ouch.  Ouch for the last seven years, really, but particularly for this season.

I wrote extensively about attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium in July of last year. That post includes my theory on how television impacts attendance at The Citadel’s home games, among other things.

The Citadel cannot afford to have its home attendance continue to erode.  It’s not the only school to have concerns in that area, as anyone who has watched ACC games can attest.   Ultimately, though, attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium has to get better.

While baseball is the most successful sport at The Citadel, and basketball is the sport with the most potential for growth, football always has been and remains the bell cow for the department of athletics.  It drives the entire department, and also has a significant impact on the school as a whole.  Sagging attendance is a major problem, one that should concern everyone.

Even if The Citadel has a breakthrough year on the field next season, I would be surprised if there is a dramatic improvement in home attendance.  There is often a one-year lag between on-field/on-court success and attendance gains.

Because of that, if the team were to turn the corner, and the triple option to start cranking out games like, say, Navy’s offense did against East Carolina last week, I don’t expect attendance to make a big jump in 2011 (although the home schedule should help, as Furman, Wofford, and VMI are all expected on the JHS slate of games).  The 2012 season is when you would see dividends from a positive 2011 campaign.

Basically, I’m fine with Kevin Higgins getting another year.   I haven’t been completely happy with his tenure at The Citadel, even excepting the wins and losses; there have been issues from the unimportant (my continued frustration with the uniforms) to the all-important (the Rice/Starks episode, which was much, much worse than multiple 0-11 seasons would ever be).

He seems to be popular with the administration, which is good.  I thought it was interesting that the Alumni Association made him an “Honorary Life Member”; that news came after consecutive games in which his team didn’t score.  I did wonder if someone was trying to make a statement to certain unhappy alums, but I suppose it was just coincidental.

After next season, though, I think Larry Leckonby has to make a move if things don’t work out.  At that time Higgins will still have two years remaining on his contract, but if the team does poorly Leckonby won’t be able to afford keeping him.  He can’t make the mistake that was made over a decade ago.

That’s the bottom line, even at The Citadel.

Review: Georgia Southern

Well, that game was a debacle…and when I say it was a debacle, I mean just that.  IT. WAS. A. DEBACLE.

Nine turnovers.  Nine.  Let’s look at some facts about this game:

– Nine turnovers in a game, as you may have guessed, is a school record for The Citadel.

– Among the many amazing things about the game, the Bulldogs committed nine turnovers while running only 47 plays from scrimmage.

– The Citadel committed four turnovers in nine passing attempts (three interceptions, one fumble) and five turnovers on 38 rushing plays (all fumbles, obviously).

– Georgia Southern lost its starting quarterback on its second offensive play.  GSU completed no passes in the game and did not really dominate on the ground, either (4.0 yards per rush).  Yet it still won.  On the road.  By 20 points.

– GSU and The Citadel combined to complete seven passes, three to offensive players and four to defensive players.  It was the first time I had ever seen a game, either in person or on television, where the defensive units for the two teams caught more passes than the offensive units.

– After a game in which The Citadel completed no passes (against Appalachian State), it played a game in which its opponent completed no passes.  I guess that’s like a team getting no-hit in baseball one day, then throwing a no-hitter the next day, but losing both games.

– As Jeff Hartsell pointed out, it was the first time a Bulldog opponent had failed to complete a pass since 1973.  The opposition that day was William & Mary.  That game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and The Citadel lost it, too (24-12). That Bulldog squad finished the year 3-8, by the way, in Bobby Ross’ first season at The Citadel.

– The Citadel fumbled away the ball on its first three offensive possessions.  In seven first-half possessions, the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times and punted twice (three-and-outs on both those drives).

– The second half wasn’t much better, consisting of four turnovers, one punt, and failing on a fourth-down play.

– Thanks to all the turnovers, Georgia Southern’s average starting field position was The Citadel’s 40-yard line.

– The Citadel committed more turnovers against GSU at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday (nine) than the basketball team committed against GSU in McAlister Field House last season (eight).

The Citadel is now in last place in all of FCS in the following categories:  fumbles lost (19, five more than the next-worst team), offensive passing yardage per game, and offensive passing efficiency.  The Bulldogs are in a three-way tie for having committed the most turnovers (27).

I went back and looked at the turnover numbers during Charlie Taaffe’s first season as head coach (1987).  The Bulldogs committed 31 turnovers that year in 11 games; 19 fumbles and 12 interceptions.  The most lost fumbles in one game that season? Four, against Army.  The season high for turnovers in one game that year was five, against Furman.

On the other hand, that team was much more productive on offense, including passing yardage (114 passing ypg. in 1987, 50 this season), total yards (363 to 274), and scoring offense (20.7 to 16.9).  The 1987 team also had a time of possession advantage over its opponents of just over eight minutes; the 2010 Bulldogs to date have a TOP edge of just over four minutes.

One other thing I’ll say that I can’t prove with statistics.  I believe (from memory) that the 1987 team’s lost fumbles were more spread out in terms of different types.  In other words, there were fumbles on bad/dropped pitches, fumbles where the ballcarrier was hit hard and fumbled, “mesh” fumbles, QB/center exchange issues, etc.

Most of the 2010 fumbles are QB/center exchange problems and “mesh” errors.  I have to say that in all honesty, the Bulldogs haven’t managed to get outside enough to have a lot of fumbles on pitch plays (although they have had a few).

Kevin Higgins, from his Monday presser:

“As we analyze each of the nine turnovers, something different happens in each of them, but the one common denominator in all of the fumbles was that a freshman player was involved. That’s not an excuse, but the young guys need to grow up and learn how to do the right thing with the football.”

Okay, so freshmen were “involved” in all nine turnovers.  That might be something to use as a crutch if this had been the first or second game of the season, but it wasn’t. It was the eighth game of the season.  Those guys are all now closer to being sophomores in terms of game experience than freshmen.

Nine turnovers in a spring game would be eye-raising.  Nine turnovers on October 23 is just embarrassing.

The defense played well.  The fact that the final score was “only” 20-0 is a credit to that unit.  I won’t say it was an A+ effort from the D; I would have liked to have seen more forced turnovers, particularly with the backup QB in the game for the Eagles, but it’s also true that GSU employed a fairly conservative game plan on offense for the most part (and why not).

The one time the Bulldog defense had a chance to swing momentum in the game, it did just that, after GSU coach Jeff Monken unaccountably started channeling Wade Phillips late in the first half.  Brandon McCladdie intercepted an ill-advised pass (ill-advised in both strategy and execution), and suddenly The Citadel had the ball in Eagle territory with under a minute to play in the half.

However, on the next play The Citadel gave Georgia Southern the ball right back, returning the Eagles’ interception with one of its own, and that was that.

One other thing from that game:  Greg Adams is apparently okay after a vicious, and illegal, hit by a GSU player who struck the defenseless Adams as he was preparing to return a punt.  I’m glad Adams is all right, but I also think the play warranted a suspension for the offender from the Southern Conference.  As it was, the player wasn’t even ejected from the game.

There are more things to discuss, related not just to this game but the season in general and the state of the football program in particular.  I want to think about them for a few more days…I’ll discuss those issues in my preview of the Wofford game. The discussion may make up the bulk of that preview, actually.

Below are a few pictures I took during the game.  There isn’t anything special about any of them.  I would note that I didn’t think it was such a good idea for the team to wear all-navy on a warm day, but then I wouldn’t like the navy uniforms on any kind of day.

Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Chowan

It’s time for college football!   This year the scene at Johnson Hagood Stadium should include a lot of the following:  great tailgating, photo ops with Bulldogs both live and bronze, and, uh, fumbles…

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the sunniest intro of all time.  I have to be honest here, though.  While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

The Catamounts finished last in 2009, with only one league win.  That one WCU victory came against The Citadel, which tied for next-to-last.  More of the same is expected by those who follow the SoCon.

Before beginning league play, though, The Citadel will play three non-conference games.  Next week’s game at Arizona should be…interesting.  The following week the Bulldogs will take on Presbyterian, a team that went 0-11 last season, including a 46-21 loss to The Citadel.  However, even the Blue Hose would be favored against the Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Chowan University, a Division II school located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

When the Hawks were announced as the opposition for the home opener, a collective yawn could be heard from The Citadel’s less-than-thrilled fans.  It’s hard to blame anyone for not being excited about Chowan being on the schedule, with all due respect to that school.  I’m guessing this game’s not going to be a sellout.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Chowan.

I wish I could say with confidence exactly how “Chowan” should be pronounced.  This is probably something that should concern Bulldogs play-by-play announcer Darren Goldwater a lot more than me, but I like to know these things.  I even sent an e-mail to Chowan’s department of athletics asking the question, and quickly got a response:

It’s pronounced CHO-WAN with a hard CH, just like CHOKE or CHICKEN. CHO-WAN.

That’s from somebody who works at the school, so she ought to know, but two different people have insisted to me that it’s actually pronounced “Shuh-WONN”, with the “Sh” sound at the beginning and the accent on the second syllable.  Since both of them are natives of eastern North Carolina, the region of the state that actually has decent BBQ, I tend to trust them.

“Chowan” is a derivative of “Chowanoke”, the name given to the native tribe of the region by 16th-century European explorers.  My guess is that if you were French, you pronounced it with the “Sh”, and if you were English, you went with the hard “Ch” sound.  It’s kind of like Beaufort (BO-fert), North Carolina, and Beaufort (BYOO-fert), South Carolina.

You like to-ma-to, I like to-mah-to, let’s call the whole thing off…

There is also a Chowan river, and a Chowan County — but Chowan University isn’t located in that county, but in the adjoining county of Hertford.  Naturally, this school in northeastern North Carolina is named to honor a tribe whose name means “people of the south”.

Regardless of its pronunciation, the school has been around in one form or another since 1848, when it was founded as Chowan Baptist Female Institute.  The school remained all-female until 1931, but in 1937 it became a junior college.

It reverted back to four-year status in 1992, and changed its name to the current Chowan University in 2006.  This fall, it will offer its first Masters Degree program, in Elementary Education.  Chowan remains affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 1100 students attend Chowan.  I thought the section titled “Who we serve” on the school’s website was interesting:

The Chowan University community is committed to serving average students. By “average” we mean students with a GPA from 2.25-3.25 and “average” SAT scores (around 1300 for the three part SAT). Students below these criteria may be admitted if they show a commitment to the Chowan University experience and academic potential…

Many of our students are first generation college students which means their parents did not attend college or complete a college degree. Because of Chowan’s commitment to individual attention in a Christian environment, these students thrive here.

I liked this statement.  Too many schools insist on presenting themselves as wannabe Ivies, when everyone knows better.  Here we have a school that knows exactly what its mission is, and what it wants to do, and isn’t apologetic about it in the least.  Good for Chowan.

Chowan had a fine run in football as a junior college, almost entirely under James Garrison, who was the head coach at the school for 43 years (and for whom its football stadium is named).  Quite a few Chowan alums went on to four-year schools and then the NFL, including George Koonce, Curtis Whitley, and Mark Royals.

However, Chowan has struggled on the gridiron since becoming a four-year school itself.  Since 1993, the Hawks (formerly the Braves) have a cumulative record of 39-168-1 in Division III and (since 2005) Division II.  That includes Saturday’s 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.

Chowan has been a football member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association since the 2008 season (and is now a full member of the conference). Chowan is the first non-HBCU member of the CIAA in the league’s 98-year history.

The CIAA now has 13 members, and as a result the conference’s slogan for this year is “Triskaidekaphobia: Fear the 13!”  I’m not sure what the Southern Conference’s slogan would be — “The SoCon: The Nation’s Most Transient League”?

For Chowan football, the last five years have looked like this:

2005 — 2-8, including a 56-10 loss to North Greenville (now of Willy Korn fame) and a 42-21 defeat at the hands of Allen, which dropped its program after the season

2006 — 0-10, including losses of 42-0 to Western Carolina, 52-6 to North Greenville, and 28-0 to Webber International; Webber played The Citadel the following season, with a slightly different result

2007 — 2-9, including a lot of total beatdowns:  51-0 (Coastal Carolina), 56-14 (North Greenville), Presbyterian (62-10), and Newberry (67-0)

2008 — 2-8, which featured an early-season 69-20 loss to VMI (which had concluded its 2007 campaign in memorable fashion)

2009 — 2-8, although most of the games were more competitive; the Hawks did lose 36-21 to Old Dominion, the Monarchs’ first game since restarting its program after a 68-year hiatus (ODU did finish the season 9-2, though)

Those last two seasons came under the direction of the current head coach, Tim Place.  Place is a Washington & Lee alum who was previously the head coach at Urbana, an NAIA school in Ohio.

One of the members of Place’s coaching staff is Omar Nesbit.  Nesbit was an All-SoCon lineman at The Citadel, graduating in 2002.  He is the Hawks’ offensive line coach.

According to the school’s pre-season football guide, the team runs a “multiple” offense and a “multiple” defense.  Thirteen starters are back from last year’s outfit.

Last season the Hawks scored 25.3 points per game, not bad, but allowed 35.2 ppg. While the Hawks were a respectable passing team, all 25 of its TD passes were thrown by C.J. Westler, who was the offensive player of the year in the CIAA, and who is not among the returnees.  Much like The Citadel, Chowan has to find a quarterback (it played two in the Lenoir-Rhyne game).

Chowan turned the ball over three times per game, almost double its opponents’ totals, and averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per rush.  The Hawks gave up 48 sacks.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously not good.  Opponents scored touchdowns 70% of the time when they entered the “red zone”.  Chowan was also not a particularly efficient punting or placekicking team.

Against Lenoir-Rhyne, Chowan allowed 513 rushing yards (6.9 per attempt).  This is noteworthy in that L-R is running the same offensive system this season it ran last year under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine — who of course is now the offensive coordinator at The Citadel.

Laurendine has his work cut out for him, based on early reports.  For example, this is how Jeff Hartsell began his recap of the August 21 scrimmage:

After watching his quarterbacks combine for six interceptions and at least five fumbled snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stated the obvious.

“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do,” said Higgins…

You could say that, coach.  On the bright side, nine of the eighteen pass attempts in the scrimmage were caught by Bulldogs.  Alas, six of them were defenders.  At least on those plays the QB got the snap from center.  Unofficial totals from the scrimmage had the first-team offense rushing 27 times for 67 yards.

At least the defense apparently looked good, although how much of that was due to the offense’s struggles is open to question.  The kicking game again failed to impress, a problem Higgins has been unable to solve for the last two seasons.

The scrimmage on August 28 was apparently better, based on some anecdotal reports.  At this point it appears the Bulldogs will play two “true” freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree (from Pennsylvania) and Matt Thompson (from Florida).

Terrell “First Sergeant” Dallas will be the fullback.  There are several candidates to fill the slotback positions, led by Van Dyke Jones and injury-plagued Rickey Anderson (everyone’s crossing their fingers for you, Rickey).  The offensive line has some experience, but not at center, which in part explains the center-QB exchange problems.

We won’t know for sure exactly how the new offense will look until Saturday, but it probably will be a slightly different variation than Charlie Taaffe’s version of the wishbone.  It’s not going to be quite like Wofford’s option attack, either.

It’s probably going to most resemble the setup run by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and now Georgia Tech.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Higgins, with a personal history of running spread passing offenses, throws the ball a little more often than you see in most triple option offenses.

He has to figure out a way to get talented tight end Alex Sellars involved in the offense. Higgins has also commented on the big-play ability of Domonic Jones, a 6’5″ redshirt freshman.  I like the idea of isolating a tall receiver on a smaller defensive back in this offense.  Of course, you have to have a quarterback capable of getting the ball to Jones.

I linked this in an earlier post, but to get up to speed on how this offense will probably operate, check out The Birddog (helmed by a grad/fan of the Naval Academy), the triple option devotee’s website of choice.  Here is a primer on the TO:  Link

While the offense is filled with question marks, the defense should have a lot of answers.  There is depth and talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the defensive backfield.  Cortez Allen has drawn pre-season accolades.  Other DBs with the potential to shine include Keith Gamble (who had an 89-yard interception return against Presbyterian last season) and Joseph Boateng (who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut against North Carolina).

Former safety Rod Harland is now a linebacker, joining team leader Tolu Akindele and Jeremy Buncum as likely starters.  The defensive line should be solid, if a little young.  Chris Billingslea had some impressive moments last season (and made the All-SoCon freshman team as a result).  Keith Carter is a redshirt freshman who should draw notice, if only for being a defensive tackle who wears #33.

The other defensive lineman (at least that’s his roster designation) I want to mention is Milford Scott, a special teams terror who blocked three kicks last season and created havoc many other times.  He’s tall, has long arms, and describes himself as a “Charleston homeboy” from the beach.  He’s a weapon.

Unfortunately, Scott’s dynamism on special teams was an exception (not counting Andre Roberts, obviously).  While punter Cass Couey fared reasonably well, the Bulldogs continued to struggle in the placekicking department.  That’s two seasons in a row The Citadel has had sub-optimal kicking, and early returns suggest it might be three in a row.

I don’t blame the kickers.  I blame the coaching staff.  It’s the job of the staff to get that aspect of the squad fixed, either by improving the kickers on the squad or finding somebody else to kick.

The Citadel also could stand to improve its punt coverage team (Scott aside) and its kickoff return unit.  The Bulldogs will sorely miss Andre Roberts as a punt returner; look for that component of special teams to not be as effective this season.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching staff, not only with the new offensive scheme (where the aforementioned Laurendine is joined by offensive line coach Bob Bodine), but with the defense as well.  Higgins recruited former Wofford assistant Josh Conklin to join the staff, and later named him defensive coordinator.

Conklin will get help from another new assistant, Denny Doornbos, who was the defensive coordinator at Army during the Bob Sutton years, which were mostly good ones.  I have to gleefully point out, though, that he was the DC for this game…and for this game, too.

While all the talk in the off-season has been about the offensive scheme, and how the coaches will implement it, I think the new coaches on the defensive side of the ball will be just as important.  Generally, you would like to have more staff continuity than The Citadel has had, but in the case of the defense, I think a fresh approach may be just what was needed.

There was a sense over the last two seasons that the defense had underachieved; in particular, some observers felt the unit was not aggressive enough.  The Bulldogs’ D must be pro-active this season, and give the offense short fields with which to work. The defense will likely also have to bail the offense out on a regular basis.

This is going to be an important year for Kevin Higgins.  The off-season issues, not surprisingly, did not sit well with the alumni — and I’m not just talking about the big boosters or the message board regulars.  He also has had back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field.

The move to a new offense, and the overhaul of his coaching staff, were both bold moves made by someone who expects to stick around for a while.  They weren’t short-term stopgaps.  That is to his credit, I think.

Now, however, even with modest on-field expectations, he needs to get the fan base to buy into his program again.  After all, Larry Leckonby and company need to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Jerry Baker has Brigadier Club membership goals to obtain, whatever his methods are (high-tech, low-tech, begging, etc.).

A 1:00 pm start time against Chowan on Labor Day weekend in Charleston probably isn’t going to be a big winner as far as attendance goes.  I fully expect one of those hot-and-humid Lowcountry days that are fairly typical for this time of year. Ugh.  Of course, that’s assuming a hurricane doesn’t come into play.

I’ll be there anyway, though.  I’m ready for some football.

Variety Pack: The Citadel’s uniform follies, another transfer, a tough loss ESPN left out, Plant of the Week

Yes, it’s another edition of the Variety Pack, a new TSA series that debuted a couple of weeks ago.  The idea is to write briefly (I hope) on a few different topics without having to be mindful of the 140-character limit of my Twitter tweets.

Last year, I wrote what amounted to a manifesto on The Citadel’s uniform history.  I concluded the screed with this:

To sum up:  simple is best, get the name of the school right, and don’t screw up the colors.  That’s all.

I haven’t seen pictures of this year’s jerseys/pants yet, but according to some folks in the know who post on TCISN, The Citadel will feature (at least in some games) navy jerseys this year, with light blue numerals and “CITADEL” across the front in white.  I would like to think this isn’t true, but I’m sure it is, since North Carolina wore a similar jersey last season.  (We are apparently one year behind UNC in all things Nike-related.)

Navy is an accent color for The Citadel’s athletic teams, not a primary color.  Light blue and white are our primary athletic colors.  Last season, of course, the football team broke out navy pants, wearing them with both white and (most memorably) light blue jerseys.  This season the Bulldogs will apparently have the opportunity to wear an all-navy ensemble on occasion (with a light blue helmet).

Basically, it’s the exact opposite of what I would have liked.  The Citadel will have uniforms that do not include the proper school name, and that do not feature the appropriate school colors.  I apologize in advance if I’m jumping the gun on this, but that’s the information I have at present.

Tangent:  speaking of UNC, I’m not sure why that school is so willing to move away from its traditional color combination, which is very popular. I guess there is money to be made in mixing it up a little, but I think it detracts from a classic look.

As far as the helmets go, some pictures of the new helmet design popped up earlier this spring on TCISN.  The “regular” one reminds me of The Citadel’s helmet design during the Charlie Taaffe era.  It’s not bad, and in fact is a probably a little better than the Taaffe helmets.  You could do worse (and The Citadel certainly has).

There will also be a special helmet for Homecoming featuring “Big Red”.  I like the concept and the execution isn’t terrible, but it’s basically a copy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet.  I could do without the sword (incorporating a rifle might have been a better idea).  You can see pictures of both helmets on this thread.

You know, if you wanted to design a distinctive jersey to go with the special Homecoming helmet, and you wanted to also honor the past, this photo might be a good place to start.

When I wrote about graduate student transfers a few weeks ago (and I appreciate the comments, by the way — always good to get feedback), Chuck Driesell had just signed a transfer from Belmont, Mike Dejworek.  Evidently Driesell was not satisfied with just one European-born grad student big man named Mike, because a couple of weeks later he brought in another.

Morakinyo “Mike” Williams is an Englishman who started his career at Kentucky (recruited by Tubby Smith) before transferring to Duquesne, where he played one season before moving again, this time to The Citadel.  Not everyone at Duquesne was expecting his latest move.

It will be interesting to see how Williams does.  He reportedly did not get along with former UK coach Billy Gillispie, which is probably a positive.  I think it’s safe to say that he will be the first player in Bulldog hoops history to have previously been deported from the United States (that had to have been tough).  Also, in his year at Kentucky he picked up a nickname — he was known as “The Member”.  I’m afraid to ask.

ESPN.com, setting the stage for another college football season, ran a series last week called “House of Pain”, featuring the 50 toughest losses in college football history.  It wasn’t a bad list, but there were two minor problems with it (in my opinion):

1)  It focused a little too much on recent history.  It wasn’t terribly slanted, but there was some TV-era bias.  I’m sure Beano Cook would agree (although I was glad to see that the Boston College-Holy Cross game from 1942 made it; an underappreciated game with an epilogue worthy of O. Henry).

2)  More importantly, most of the losing teams involved in the games on ESPN’s list could always take solace that on other occasions they had won the big game.  Maybe Miami and Ohio State and Alabama and Nebraska and Southern Cal have all lost tough games — but they’ve also won big games, on multiple occasions.  To me, a truly tough loss is when a school with limited success has a chance to climb the mountain, and then falls flat on its face.

West Virginia losing to Pittsburgh a few years ago was a good example, and made the list.  Another game that made the list, but which should have ranked much higher, was Missouri-Iowa State (from 2004).  How often are the Cyclones going to have a chance to play in a conference title game?

The game I immediately thought about when the list began to be released, though, is nowhere to be found….this one.

Navy 38, South Carolina 21.  November 18, 1984.

South Carolina was, incredibly, 9-0.  Black Magic!  The Gamecocks could have accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl after beating Florida State the week before, but held out for a trip to the Orange Bowl and a potential (mythical) national title game.  All they had to do to clinch the Orange Bowl was beat a Navy team coming off a 29-0 loss to Syracuse.

It didn’t happen.  South Carolina lost the game, the chance to be ranked #1 for the first time (which would have occurred had the Gamecocks won), a shot at a national title, and a berth in a major bowl for the first time in school history.

Twenty-six years later, and Gamecock fans are still waiting for their first ticket to a major bowl.  That game is the very definition of a painful loss.

Finally, it’s time for the Plant of the Week.  This week’s honoree is the Rubrum Lily, which made its way to Europe from Japan in 1830 (or thereabouts).

Until next time…

Rubrum Lily

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