By Brian Gargone
Asst. Director of Media Relations/Football SID
In the midst of The Citadel’s first head football coaching change in nine years, several former Bulldog head and assistant coaches will be spending the holidays “bowling” with their teams.
Nine former Citadel coaches or players (or in most cases both) will grace the sidelines at nine different FBS bowl games starting this afternoon at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl and spanning all the way to the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
A season ago, former Bulldog football players turned coaches went 5-1 in bowl games including a national championship honor when Lance Thompson (Class of 1987) helped lead the Crimson Tide to a 42-14 win over Notre Dame.
This season it will be former Bulldog athlete (1971-74), assistant coach (1975 and 1982) and head coach (2001-03) Ellis Johnson’s chance to earn the coveted national championship trophy.
Johnson is in his first season as the defensive coordinator at Auburn and fresh off his first Iron Bowl victory as a member of the Tigers’ coaching staff. The former Bulldog defensive lineman won five Iron Bowls as a member of the Alabama coaching staff during his two stints in Tuscaloosa from 1990-93 and 1997-00, but it was the one at Auburn that launched him into this season’s national championship game on Jan. 6 when the Tigers take on top-ranked Florida State.
Thompson, who played linebacker for the Bulldogs from 1984-87, will return to the sidelines for a bowl contest on Jan. 2 when Alabama takes on Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, La.
Former defensive backs and special teams coach Nick Toth is the first to return to the sideline for the postseason when he leads the Fresno State defense into Las Vegas, Nev., for the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21 against Southern California.
Toth, who coached one season at The Citadel (2009), is in his second year as defensive coordinator at Fresno State and has made an immediate impact on the California Bulldogs’ defense.
In 2012, Toth’s first year running his 3-4 defense, Fresno State ranked in the top 25 of the FBS in six defensive categories and also ranked fifth nationally in takeaways with 35 and third in interceptions with 22 and the Bulldogs scored eight defensive touchdowns.
Sean Cronin, who worked with Toth at The Citadel in 2009, is next on the bowl docket and will take the field in Annapolis, Md., on Dec. 27 as Marshall’s defensive ends coach. The Thundering Herd take on Maryland in the Military Bowl.
The following day will showcase four-year Bulldog assistant head coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Kenny Carter, who is also a 1990 graduate of The Citadel.
Carter, who has spent the last four seasons as the running backs and special teams coach at Louisville, was a four-year letterwinner for the Bulldogs from 1986-90. His Cardinals will take on Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28.
The next few days will showcase two games with two former Citadel coaches who worked for the Bulldogs decades apart.
Keith Jones, who is a 1975 graduate and worked as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at The Citadel from 1997-01 is now in his 12th year as the secondary coach at Navy.
Longtime Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer started his career at The Citadel under Bobby Ross from 1973-78 and helped coach Jones when he was a player on the team.
Beamer, who is currently the longest-tenured coach and winningest active coach in Division I FBS, will lead the Hokies into the Hyundai Sun Bowl against UCLA on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas, while Jones’ Midshipmen will take on Middle Tennessee State 600 miles away on Dec. 30 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.
Another interesting Citadel connection will be on the sidelines in a pair of New Year’s Day games.
Former Bulldog head coach Charlie Taaffe, now the offensive coordinator at Central Florida, helped lead UCF to its first BCS bowl game in the history of the program as the 11-1 Golden Knights take the field in Glendale, Ariz., for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Baylor.
Across the country in Orlando, Fla., former Bulldog standout Everette Sands, who was coached by Taaffe at The Citadel and is now the running backs coach at South Carolina, will help lead the Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin.
Taaffe was the head coach at The Citadel from 1987-96 and led the Bulldogs to their most successful season in program history and its last Southern Conference Championship in 1992 when they finished 11-2. Sands, a Bulldog running back from 1990-93, was an integral part of that team which was ranked No. 1 in the country and awarded the top seed in the playoffs.
Sands garnered All-America accolades as a junior, served as a team captain in 1993 and was inducted into The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004. Taaffe still stands as The Citadel’s all-time winningest coach with 55 victories over nine seasons.
While all of these coaches, along with many other successful coaches and players not in bowl games this season, have moved on and up to the FBS ranks, they will always have the small military school tucked away on the banks of the Ashley River in Charleston, S.C., on their coaching tree for the rest of their lives.