The idea was tempting, Charlie Taaffe admits. And certainly many Citadel fans were rooting for one of the Bulldogs' most successful football coaches to return to the military school.
But after a night of "soul searching" on Sunday, Taaffe called Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby on Monday to say he would not be replacing Kevin Higgins as the Bulldogs' football coach.
"At this stage in my career," Taaffe said Tuesday, "I just don't feel I could give it the commitment that it would take to get The Citadel's program where we all want it to be."
Taaffe, 63, said he was not offered The Citadel job, but it is clear there was interest on both sides. Leckonby called Taaffe a week ago, just after Higgins resigned after nine years to become an assistant coach at Wake Forest. And Taaffe had told friends he was interested in a return to The Citadel, where he compiled a record of 55-47-1 from 1987-95.
"I realize this is probably my last chance to be a head coach," said Taaffe, who is in his fifth season at offensive coordinator at Central Florida. "But I'm happy where I am and with what I'm doing. And to be honest, I thought about those (FCS) bus rides when you are getting home from a game at dawn. I don't know if I'm ready for that again."
Taaffe and Central Florida went 11-1 this season, losing only to South Carolina, and are preparing to play Baylor in the BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. Knights quarterback Blake Bortles could be a Heisman Trophy candidate next season, if he doesn't enter the NFL draft this year.
Taaffe was an assistant coach at Army when former Citadel AD Walt Nadzak hired him in 1987, and Taaffe led the Bulldogs to an 11-2 record, a Southern Conference title and a No. 1 national ranking in 1992, running the wishbone offense. His departure from The Citadel in 1995 was controversial; he was fired after a second DUI arrest, though he was acquitted both times.
But Taaffe, who went on to coach in the CFL and at Maryland before going to Central Florida, remains a popular figure among Citadel boosters and was inducted into The Citadel's Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
"I was really surprised when that happened," he said. "It was something I never thought would happen. But we have a lot of friends at The Citadel and we love Charleston, and (wife) Jan was on board with the idea of coming back. It's nothing negative against The Citadel at all. I just didn't think the time was right in my life and in my career."
Leckonby and his search committee met Monday to whittle down a list of more than 50 candidates who have applied for or shown interest in the job. Sources have said offensive coordinators Clay Hendrix of Air Force and Ivin Jasper of Navy could be targets. Hendrix is also the Falcons' offensive line coach and a Furman graduate.
If Jasper is not available, The Citadel could go down the Navy staff to running game coordinator Ashley Ingram or offensive line coach Chris Culton.
Lenoir-Rhyne coach Mike Houston, who ran the triple-option while guiding the Bears to a 13-2 record and the Division II national championship game this season, also is thought to be high on The Citadel's list.
Leckonby said one Citadel assistant coach has expressed interest in being the head coach and would be interviewed. Sources indicate that coach is offensive coordinator/line coach Bob Bodine.
Complicating matters is Georgia Southern's search for a new coach after Jeff Monken was hired Tuesday at Army. Monken also ran the triple-option, and option coaches Jasper and Houston are thought to be on GSU's list, as well. Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell, who led the Bucs to a 10-3 record this year, could emerge as a candidate at either school.
Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Brent Davis has pursued The Citadel job in the past, and could be an internal candidate at GSU, as well. Brevard coach Paul Hamilton, a Charleston native and former Citadel assistant, is among the many coaches who have thrown their hat in The Citadel's ring.