Citadel football: Could Charlie Taaffe return to Bulldogs?
As news of the departure of Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins spread Monday morning, athletic director Larry Leckonby's phones started to blow up.
And they probably haven't stopped since.
"My phones have been inundated with folks who are interested or have someone they think is interested in the job," Leckonby said Monday after Higgins announced his departure for Wake Forest. "I think it's the flip side of the situation nine years ago. We're going to have to turn folks away."
Higgins leaves The Citadel with a 43-58 record after nine seasons, and will be assistant head coach and wide receivers coach at Wake Forest under new coach Dave Clawson. He was making $229,000 a year at the time of his resignation.
Higgins' departure opens the door for an intriguing possibility - the return of former Citadel coach Charlie Taaffe, who led the Bulldogs to a Southern Conference title in 1992.
Taaffe, 63, is the respected offensive coordinator at Central Florida, which went 11-1 this season (losing only to South Carolina) and will play Baylor in the BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Taaffe is reportedly a top candidate for the job at Army, where Rich Ellerson was just fired.
Taaffe had a 55-47-1 record in nine seasons at The Citadel, including the 11-2 mark in 1992, when the Bulldogs won the SoCon and were ranked No. 1 in the nation. But he was fired in 1996 after a second DUI arrest in three years. He was acquitted both times, remains popular among Citadel boosters and was recently voted into the military school's Athletics Hall of Fame. He and Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby worked together at Maryland.
Taaffe did not return a phone message Monday, but has told friends he's eager to be a head coach again. He earns $261,000 a year at UCF, according to USA Today.
Another intriguing candidate would be former Citadel All-American Everette Sands, who played fullback for Taaffe on that 1992 team and is another Citadel Hall of Famer. Sands is in his second year as running backs coach at South Carolina, where he's considered something of a rising star under head coach Steve Spurrier. Sands would likely be interested, but must consider if the timing is right in his career.
"From what I've seen, Coach Higgins really brought some stability back to the program," said Sands, who was an assistant under Higgins from 2005-10. "Before him, they had four coaches in six years. So he did a great job and got the program going in the right direction."
Sands, 41, makes $220,000 a year at USC, USA Today reported.
The website coachingsearch.com said to expect Sands and former Citadel assistant Maurice Drayton "to go after The Citadel head-coaching job."
Drayton, a Berkeley High School graduate, spent a total of 12 years at The Citadel as a player and coach, working for Taaffe, Don Powers, Ellis Johnson, John Zernhelt and Higgins. He recruited former quarterback Duran Lawson and was recruiting coordinator when NFL star Andre Roberts signed with The Citadel.
Drayton also coached at Coastal Carolina, and at Southern Miss with Johnson, now the defensive coordinator at Auburn.
"It's an honor to be mentioned as a potential candidate," said Drayton, who lives in Hattiesburg, Miss., with his family and worked last season with Montreal of the Canadian Football League.
Another possible candidate is ex-Citadel player Kenny Carter, now the running backs and special teams coach at Louisville. Carter recently interviewed for the head coaching job at Eastern Michigan.
Other names with Citadel ties: Former quarterbacks coach Craig Candeto, a former Navy QB and now head coach at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio; Brevard coach Paul Hamilton, a former Citadel assistant who worked at Air Force and was head coach at East Tennessee State and Elon; Citadel graduate Keith Jones, secondary coach at Navy; and Citadel graduate and former Bulldogs assistant David Solazzo, now assistant head coach at Massachusetts.
Some Citadel players took to Twitter to support Bulldogs slotbacks coach Bill Mottola, who is in his third year at The Citadel and was offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky.
"I hope they hire someone from within," said former quarterback Ben Dupree. "I honestly think the option offense really benefited us, and I want it to be a smooth process for the guys who are coming back."
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.
With signing day looming in February, The Citadel is in the middle of recruiting season. Leckonby said recruiting coordinator J.P. Gunter will be the "key person" in communicating with recruits.
"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."