Sometimes Brent Thompson gets tempted to tell the Citadel team bus driver to stop when the Bulldogs are passing by the Revolutionary War battle sites at Ninety-Six, or Cowpens or any Civil War spot of significance.
This week, the first-year Citadel football head coach won’t let anything get in the way of preparation for a Saturday FCS playoff game pitting the Bulldogs (10-1) against Wofford (9-3) at Johnson Hagood Stadium. But looking back, it’s easy to wonder how football got in the way.
Thompson, 40, majored in “Peace, War and Diplomacy” at Norwich University, a private military-themed college in Northfield, Vermont, founded in 1819. It’s the perfect major for the leader of a hard-nosed, grind-it-out, triple-option football team representing The Military College of South Carolina.
Way better than Sociology or Phys Ed.
So perfect that Thompson almost doesn’t belong in sports.
“If not for football, I would probably see myself in the Secret Service or the CIA or the FBI,” Thompson said. “A government position, but not necessarily an elected position.
“I wanted to work for a government agency, have a military career. My degree really was all-encompassing in history and political science and things I was interested in at the time.”
Thompson still keeps up with foreign affairs and international politics as much as possible. He has friends in military and government jobs.
Favorite college class: “Citizen Soldier and American History.”
Favorite period of history: “Early American, the American Revolution and on from there.”
Favorite war movie: “Saving Private Ryan.”
Favorite Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger.
Thompson, the son of a football coach, experimented with coaching upon his 1998 graduation from Norwich after lettering twice as a defensive back. A graduate assistant position at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., led to a full-time job at Stony Brook.
A career was born.
“I always thought I’d give coaching a year or two and if I really didn’t like it, I would try to do something else with my degree,” said Thompson, a native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “I ended up loving my first few years of coaching.”
Thompson connected with head coach Mike Houston at Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, N.C., in 2010. He came with Houston to The Citadel in 2014 as offensive coordinator and triple-option architect, taking over as head coach after the 2015 season when Houston left for James Madison.
The leadership styles of Thompson and Houston aren’t that much different, Citadel players say, with one exception.
“We see Coach Thompson more,” first-team All-Southern Conference left tackle Isaiah Pinson said “He’s down on the offensive side more. Coach Houston was kind of a defensive coach. But Coach Thompson is always with us. He sees every mistake.”
Who yells more?
“Like I said,” Pinson said with a grin, “Coach Thompson is always with us.”
CNN and Appomattox
A man with a Sweet 16 FCS playoff game upcoming and twin 2-year-old daughters at home doesn’t have lots of leisure time. But Thompson still watches more CNN than most college football coaches, and he knows where history lives. On a recent recruiting trip in Virginia, he pulled over at Appomattox Court House to visit the hallowed crossing where Lee surrendered to Grant at the end of the Civil War.
“That’s what is so great about living in Charleston for someone who grew up in the North and just read about all these sites,” Thompson said. “You have two of the major wars fought on this ground and all around here.”
No regrets, however.
Advanced Postseason Football Success is Thompson’s preferred academic concentration these days.
“I haven’t loved every year of coaching,” Thompson said, “but there are years like this one that make everything worthwhile.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff