Bulldogs plenty impressive despite heartbreaking defeat

November 12, 2010 

After recently visiting my mother at an assisted living facility on Daniel Island, I stopped at the Citadel to leave some of my thoughts and diagrams on the option offense for the Bulldogs' head coach, Kevin Higgins.

I knew the Bulldogs run some option offense, but it hadn't helped produce many wins -- they were 2-7 at the time. I figured Coach Higgins might be interested in reading some option thoughts from the ol' coach who created the trap option, aka midline and freeze option, at Wichita State in 1978. I've sent the same thoughts to several other college coaches, such as Air Force's Troy Calhoun, and to a number of high school coaches.

As a longtime option coach (an option dinosaur), I believe the option can help a team win with a unique offense that severely challenges a defense. When coaching with Lou Holtz in the late 1980s, the trap option series helped the Minnesota Golden Gophers earn two bowl appearances (we even beat Clemson in one).

With a variety of options, Paul Johnson has found great success at Georgia Tech. When Coach Johnson was at Navy, I sent him my option book.

The day after my Citadel side trip, Coach Higgins called and thanked me for the thoughts and diagrams. He also graciously offered me a ticket to the Bulldogs' homecoming game against Elon.

During pregame warmups, I had a wonderful opportunity to meet "The General" near the gate where many Citadel alumni were entering the stadium. "The General" is a classy, 62-pound bulldog, and I petted him while I talked with a few former Bulldogs. What a beautiful mascot!

The last Citadel game I attended was in 2004 when a former colleague at East Carolina and Duke, John Zernhelt, was the head coach. "Z" left the Citadel after that season to take a job as tight ends coach with the New York Jets. I was upset by him leaving -- because I was hoping he would hire me someday when I was in retirement.

Attending Saturday's homecoming game reminded me of my first and all-time favorite college football game, the 1957 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, where my Uncle Pat took my cousin Peter and me. I was thrilled watching the Cadets and Midshipmen march onto the field. That game made me want to be a college player.

It was also great seeing the Citadel's cadets march onto the field along with hundreds of elderly alumni, who I'm sure really love the Citadel.

As the Bulldogs' warmups ended, I was impressed with the players as they entered the locker room. All the Bulldogs have neat haircuts and all were clean shaved -- classy young men.

Back when I played in college in the early 1960s, we had to have haircuts like "crew cuts" and shave everyday or else we couldn't come to practice. Sadly, the neatness culture in this nation has greatly dissolved.

After the pregame warmup, I met Coach Higgins and gave him the option book I wrote, "The Trap Option: 40 Plus 60 Equals Option." I was delighted when he asked me to visit with him after the season to talk Xs and Os.

I was very impressed by his attitude.

During the game, I was impressed by the Bulldogs' efforts, but they came up short. This grandpa was heartbroken the Bulldogs lost to Elon, 27-16, but I still would like my 12-year-old grandson, Bryce, to attend the Citadel someday.

There is no doubt these young men are affected by academics and military responsibilities, as are the young men at all U.S. service academies. I learned that from my college teammate, Bill Parcells. When he was an assistant coach at West Point in in the late '60s, he told me just how great the challenges were for Cadets in handling all they had to do off and on the field.

If I was president, I would demand Army, Navy, Air Force, Citadel and VMI play each other at home and away every season. From my perspective, it would be a wonderful schedule for military teams and their fans.

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