New Citadel coach Brent Thompson wants Bulldogs to ‘stick together’

Coach Thompson talks with the media after his introduction as Head Coach.

Coach Thompson talks with the media after his introduction as Head Coach.

Jeff Hartsell postandcourier.com
January20 2016

New Citadel football coach Brent Thompson earned a degree in peace, war and diplomacy while at Norwich University, “The Military College of Vermont.” Thompson might need all of those skills as he embarks on his tenure as the 25th head football coach at The Citadel.

Thompson, 39, was introduced as the Bulldogs’ new coach Wednesday, just one day after former Citadel coach Mike Houston was welcomed as the new coach at James Madison University. Thompson came to The Citadel with Houston from Lenoir-Rhyne two years ago, serving as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. In Houston’s two seasons, The Citadel went 5-7 in 2014 and 9-4 last year with a Southern Conference title, a playoff victory and an upset win at South Carolina. But that momentum has been threatened during the off-season. The controversial “white hoods” photo — which emerged in the midst of recruiting season and caused one basketball signee to seek a release from his letter of intent — preceded Houston’s sudden departure.

That was followed by a quick hiring process that pitted Thompson against Bulldogs defensive coordinator Maurice Drayton, a 1998 Citadel graduate seeking to become the school’s first black head football coach. Thompson, who will receive a five-year contract worth a starting salary of $175,000 per year, said Wednesday that Drayton will stay on as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Thompson met with Citadel players Tuesday night, and said he’s ready to keep the momentum rolling.

“I don’t think the momentum has stalled at all,” Thompson said at his introductory news conference at Johnson Hagood Stadium. “I think our players believe in this staff, and this staff believes in those players, and that’s the biggest thing. If we can move on from there, we’ll be fine. “When I went to that meeting, I said, ‘We’ve got to realize what brought us this far — hard work, sticking together and being a family.’ If we can do that, we’ll continue to make championships runs like we did last year.”

‘Chance to make statement’
Many Citadel alumni and former players had hoped that the school would hire its first black head coach in Drayton, especially given recent events at The Citadel, in Charleston and in South Carolina. The military school is still investigating the “white hoods” photo, in which cadets appeared wearing pillowcase hoods that some thought resembled those of the Ku Klux Klan. The city and state are dealing with the aftermath of the shooting at Emanuel AME and the controversial removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse in Columbia, among other issues. “It was a chance to make a statement,” said former player Nick Johnson, a 2001 Citadel graduate who played with and for Drayton. “It would have been huge, a way to bridge the gap.”

Brian Smith, another former player and 2001 graduate, is the football coach at C.E. Murray High School in Greeleyville. “It’s disappointing that we in 2016 have yet to have a minority in a position of leadership at our school,” Smith said. “Not just football, but commandant or president, or even baseball or basketball. We’re one of the last schools in the country that can say that, and that’s not a good thing. “A lot of people thought it was finally time, and Maurice has a great resume and I thought he deserved the job. I’m sure Coach Thompson will do a fantastic job, but I thought The Citadel had a chance to make history.”

Senter said he was aware of those hopes. Houston recommended both coaches, Senter said, and he received messages of support for both. The six-person search committee included two black members, former Citadel quarterback Stanley Myers and Dr. Michelle Richardson, a Citadel faculty member. “I would say we were conscious of that,” Senter said. “To say it did not enter our minds would not be correct. But at the end of the day, we wanted to hire the very best fit regardless of race, religion, creed or national origin. It was about, who is the best coach to take our program forward.”

Drayton would have been the first black coach in one of the three major sports at The Citadel, and according to SoCon officials the second black head football coach in that league. According to NCAA figures, there were 38 black head football coaches at 250 Division I schools (FBS and FCS) in 2014-15, including historically black schools.

Coach Maurice Drayton will be DC & Assistant Head Coach

Coach Maurice Drayton will be DC & Assistant Head Coach

Drayton stays
Thompson took a major step toward keeping the Bulldogs’ family together by announcing that Drayton will remain on staff. Drayton, who was not at Wednesday’s announcement, will continue as defensive coordinator and add the title of assistant head coach.

“Coach Drayton is an integral part of what we do here,” Thompson said. “He’s got inside knowledge of the institution, inside knowledge of the state of South Carolina and he’s a great Lowcountry recruiter. He’s a fabulous resource for us. “He’s going to be my assistant head coach, and everything that we do will be run through him as well, and we’ll make a lot of joint decisions.”

Senter limited his field of candidates to just Thompson and Drayton, and along with a search committee interviewed them on Monday. Thompson and Drayton met with school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa on Tuesday, and Thompson was named the head coach Tuesday night. “We didn’t feel like we needed to go outside for a coach,” Senter said. “Our fourth-year seniors, this will be their third coach in four years. I don’t know why we’d want to look outside when we had quality guys internally, ready to take the reins. There was a lot of interest, a lot of people reaching out, but that doesn’t mean they were the right fit at the right time at this institution.”

What elevated Thompson over Drayton, Senter said, was the offensive coordinator’s experience and success with the triple-option offense, a rushing-based attack that was also the foundation of The Citadel’s success in the 1980s and 1990s under Charlie Taaffe. “That’s the No. 1 thing,” Senter said. “Both coaches were great fits and both have a lot of outstanding qualities — the ability to keep the staff together and provide continuity. But the No. 1 thing with Brent was his leadership in running the triple option with a high level of success. “The triple-option offense is who we are. When we’ve won here, we’ve done it with the triple option, and we are going to continue to do that. That was probably the biggest separator among the candidates.”

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