Drayton leaving The Citadel for NFL’s Colts

Maurice Drayton

Thursday began with Citadel defensive coordinator Maurice Drayton telling Bulldog players he was leaving his alma mater for a job in the NFL. The day ended with new Citadel coach Brent Thompson hiring an offensive coordinator, Lou Conte.

And the transformation of the Bulldogs’ coaching staff in the wake of Mike Houston’s departure is still not complete. Thompson must replace Drayton, a 1998 Citadel graduate whose much-improved defense was key to the Bulldogs’ Southern Conference championship season in 2015.

Drayton and Thompson, who was The Citadel’s offensive coordinator, were the two finalists for the head coaching job when Houston bolted to James Madison after just two seasons. Thompson was the choice of athletic director Jim Senter, hired on Jan. 19, and Drayton was promoted to assistant head coach as well as defensive coordinator.

But that arrangement lasted less than two weeks, and just one day after The Citadel signed 17 new players on National Signing Day, Drayton accepted a job offer from the Indianapolis Colts. He’ll work as an assistant under special teams coordinator Tom McMahon.

“This is a bittersweet day for me,” said Drayton, who as a player and assistant coach has spent 16 years at The Citadel. “I love The Citadel because of what it stands for and because of my experiences here. I know firsthand the type of quality individual that is produced at The Citadel, and I attribute much of my success to lessons learned here. It has long been a goal of mine to coach in the NFL, and this opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up.”

Thompson said one of his first priorities when he was hired was to keep Drayton on staff.

“I know what The Citadel means to him and how important he has been to our success, and I’m thankful for the positive impact he has made on our program,” Thompson said.

“A chance to coach at the highest level of football is hard to turn down, and I’m happy that he has this opportunity to fulfill one of his personal goals by working in the NFL.”

Drayton admits to being disappointed when he was passed over for the Bulldogs’ head coaching job, and many Citadel alumni were, too. Drayton would have been The Citadel’s first black head coach in any of the three major sports.

“Definitely,” he said. “Some jobs are lily pad jobs, and some are launching pad jobs. But for me, The Citadel was a destination job, a place where I wanted to be and wanted to be for a long time. I would not leave to go anywhere else. When you are in that position as head coach at The Citadel, it’s more about relationships and family and the things the school stands for.”

Drayton informed Citadel players of his decision Thursday morning.

“That was very tough,” he said. “I got a little choked up when I was talking with them. But I knew I needed to look each man in the eye and thank them for what they are doing here at The Citadel.”

Drayton said the move won’t be easy for his family. His son, 16, attends the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg.

“This is home,” said Drayton, who played at and graduated from Berkeley High School in Moncks Corner. “This is where Grandma and Grandad are, aunts and uncles and family. It will be toughest for my son, he’s really found his place and his niche at school. But we’ll figure things out.”

Drayton’s improved defense was a key to the Bulldogs’ surge to a 9-4 record, Southern Conference championship, FCS playoff victory and upset win at South Carolina in 2015.

The Bulldogs ranked first in FCS with a school-record 515 interception return yards and five interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2015. The Citadel also led the Southern Conference and ranked third in FCS with 20 interceptions, the third-highest single-season total in program history, and with 31 turnovers forced.

The Bulldogs led the SoCon with just 10 passing touchdowns allowed and 11 fumble recoveries, and held foes to a league-best .365 third-down percentage, averaging 6.5 tackles for loss per game. The Citadel ranked second in the conference in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, sacks and pass efficiency defense.

Drayton was a defensive back for The Citadel from 1994-98 and has coached at Coastal Carolina, South Carolina State, Southern Miss and did two coaching stints at The Citadel. He’s also done NFL internships with the Colts, Packers and Falcons.

Drayton said he connected with the Colts’ McMahon through former Citadel assistant Joe Whitt Jr., now a cornerbacks coach with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

“We are excited for Coach Drayton to have this opportunity,” Senter said. “When you have good people who are successful, other programs and organizations are going to take notice. While he will be missed at The Citadel, I have full confidence that Coach Drayton is going to do a great job in the NFL just like he has done for us. We will continue to support him as he moves forward with his career.”

Conte, who spent last season as quarterbacks coach at Springfield (Mass.) College, coached fullbacks at The Citadel in 2014. He also worked with Thompson and Houston at Lenoir-Rhyne, where he coached running backs.

“Lou is a valuable addition to our coaching staff,” Thompson said. “He and I have worked together for four years, and he understands how we want to operate on offense. He is a good coach who is familiar with our program and the cadet-athletes we have on offense after coaching here our first season. I am looking forward to seeing our offense continue to evolve and improve under the direction of Coach Conte.”

Conte said he’s excited to be reunited with Thompson.

“His knowledge of the triple option and ability to create strong bonds within the team made me confident that the program is going to continue to be successful,” Conte said. “The Citadel’s reputation is second to none, and I can’t wait to get started building on the foundation of last season’s Southern Conference championship.”