Sapakoff: Great opportunity, challenges ahead for new Citadel coach Mike Houston
Mike Houston is a 42-year-old Franklin, N.C., native who has never worked outside his home state.
The Citadel's brand new head football coach doesn't have NFL coaching experience and didn't turn Lehigh into an elite FCS program, as predecessor Kevin Higgins did. Houston didn't come straight from Army, like Charlie Taaffe.
The former Lenoir-Rhyne head coach doesn't have all the glitter that Ellis Johnson had on his pre-Citadel resume (Alabama defensive coordinator, Clemson defensive coordinator, Citadel grad).
But this guy will either work out splendidly or fly over the cliff in an entertaining heap.
No kidding, Houston plans to run a no-huddle, triple-option offense.
If that's not exciting enough, consider that he has spent most of his career coordinating aggressive defenses.
"We will play with our chins out over our toes, and downhill," Houston said.
What an opportunity.
Higgins left a solid foundation, including a 5-7 record in 2013 and nine SoCon victories over the last two seasons.
If applied consistently on both sides of the ball, Houston's approach might allow the Citadel to contend in a diluted SoCon in which Mercer and VMI replace Appalachian State and Georgia Southern next season, with East Tennessee State to replace Elon later.
"It obviously changes the landscape," Houston said. "You have two of the longtime members and perennial contenders leaving. That being said, you have a very good Mercer team coming in next year and VMI is probably our biggest rival. Then the re-emergence of East Tennessee State.
"But I'm excited about the roster that is currently at The Citadel and I'm excited about the enthusiasm of our alumni and administration for our style of play."
Like Taaffe, Johnson and Higgins upon Citadel introduction, Mike Houston sees every glass more than half-full.
"I came here," he said, "because I believe we're going to win here."
But while the SoCon gets easier, the non-conference slate gets more difficult for The Citadel, and not just a money date at Florida State.
The Bulldogs open the 2014 schedule at home against Coastal Carolina, suddenly an FCS title contender under multi-millionaire head coach Joe Moglia.
The Citadel for the first time plays at Charleston Southern. It's a must-win, payback game after the Buccaneers' surprising 32-29 victory at Johnson Hagood Stadium last September.
Houston almost aced his Citadel news conference. If a bit deliberate, the married father of two young boys convincingly demonstrated a grasp of detail and perspective. He has studied the roster, watched game tapes and already dug into recruiting.
"The football in this state is outstanding," Houston said. "At the same time, I want to make sure we recruit players that fit at The Citadel."
Yes, this is a peculiar place on the college football map with its military discipline a sensitive dance partner for any head coach. Houston acknowledged he has a lot to learn about institutional tradition, the important first step toward understanding.
Whatever he thinks he knows about the Citadel this week will seem like a fraction of knowledge a few seasons from now.
The adjustment process, Mike Houston will find out, directly correlates to how many of those no-huddle, triple-option plays work.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff