Mutual respect flows in The Citadel-Army matchup

(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - The Citadel coach Brent Thompson and his assistants all but shared their game plan with their next opponent this past offseason.

They're not overly bothered by it, either, instead thrilled to be part of the fraternity of coaches at military schools, many of whom run the unique triple option rushing offense.

Had the coaching staffs from The Citadel and Army known earlier this year they would square off at West Point on Saturday (1:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network), they surely would have skipped visiting with each other in February and later through video conference calls after the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down spring practices.

The first matchup between the two schools in 26 years only came about in August when the pandemic scrambled schedules nationwide. The Citadel (0-3) will complete its four-game fall schedule at Army (3-1) while also facing a third FBS opponent in a season for the first time.

"If you're knowingly on the schedule, you wouldn't normally (share philosophies and schemes) because there are certain things that you don't ever really give away," Thompson said, "but given that we didn't have any plans of playing each other here, we were pretty open as I know that they were pretty open with us.

"That's part of the reason why I do like visiting with them - I think they are good guys to learn from. Not only do they do a good job of coaching, but they do a good job of scheming. And they're not afraid to tell you what their thought process was. Therefore, we try to reciprocate every time they try to come down here - we open up as much as we possibly can. I'm a firm believer in learning from one another."

Thompson's respect for Army began while he grew up less than 35 miles away in Poughkeepsie, New York. He attended Army football camps and dreamed of remaining in the majestic Hudson Valley as a Cadet, but ended up at another military school, Norwich University in Vermont, where he played defensive back and majored in peace, war and diplomacy before graduating in 1998.

The Citadel and Army staffs share background beyond their offenses and head-to-head recruiting battles for top student-athletes. Army's Jeff Monken was an assistant and head coach in the Southern Conference at Georgia Southern, and five of his assistants coached in The Citadel's conference as well, including quarterbacks coach Cody Worley, who both played for and coached with the Bulldogs. Monken also has coached alongside The Citadel offensive coordinator Tony Grantham and safeties coach Orlando Mitjans Jr.

Monken has guided Army since 2014 and only once has his rushing offense ranked outside the top 10 in the FBS, finishing No. 1 overall in 2017. Thompson arrived at The Citadel in 2014 as coach Mike Houston's offensive coordinator and succeeded him two years later, and during that time the Bulldogs have not been outside the top 10 in rushing offense in the FCS, ranking No. 1 in 2016.

"I think when somebody knows us as well as they do, there are particular challenges," Monken said. "Because they know how we're trying to attack certain defenses. Now we have the same information as them, I have no reason to think they held anything back when they were talking to us. We didn't really have any plans to play them.

"It will be interesting and certainly we're going to make some adjustments. I know that they will, too. It's just going to be a great opportunity to play a team that looks a lot like us."

Said Thompson, who has a 26-23 record in a tenure highlighted by the 2016 SoCon championship: "We're all at some sort of disadvantage that we're trying to overcome. Therefore, we create our own sort of fraternity there. We try not to let the secrets outs, we just to keep them within ourselves and share ourselves because we know that defenses are constantly evolving. Eventually, no matter what level you're on, whether you're at Army or Navy, it's going to trickle down to you and someday you're going to run into the same problem and you're going to need help."

Just as Army and Navy are bitter rivals on the field, The Citadel and VMI, the other military school in the SoCon, share the same type of rivalry/kinship. The atmosphere is electric when the two schools bring their corps together and their teams square off in the "Military Classic of the South," a series that began 100 years ago.

Thompson considers the VMI game, which won't be played again until the SoCon's potential spring season, as "the closest thing that you can get to a similar opponent." He's hopeful The Citadel and Army will play again post-pandemic because of the mutual respect for each other.

Army holds a 7-2 lead in the all-time series, winning 25-24 on a game-ending field goal in the most recent matchup in 1994, but The Citadel captured the previous meetings in 1991 and '92 under legendary coach Charlie Taaffe. Both wins are considered a huge part of program history.

Updated October 6, 2020

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