Feb. 17, 2005
Charleston, SC - As the faxes roll in and the FedEx packages are dropped off at McAlister Field House, Citadel athletic director Les Robinson shakes his head in wonder.
"The interest has been extraordinary, overwhelming," said Robinson, who is in the process of hiring his third head football coach in five years. "This is my third time, and this is the most interest we've had yet."
Why the change? Robinson's previous hires -- of Ellis Johnson in December 2000 and John Zernhelt in January 2004 -- came in the middle of college football's busy season, when bowl games, Division I-AA playoffs and recruiting are at a fever pitch.
This time, football season is done, recruits are signed, spring practice is a few weeks off, and The Citadel has few competitors in the market for a head coach.
According to one unemployed assistant coach who is currently job hunting, The Citadel is the only Division I school now seeking a head coach. The job listings in the NCAA News include only one school advertising for a head coach: Upper Iowa University.
"Right now, we're the prettiest girl at the ball," Robinson said Wednesday. "We're the only kid on the block."
That means Robinson's pool of prospective candidates is sure to be a deep one, and he said he is in no hurry to name a replacement for Zernhelt, who resigned Feb. 11 to accept a job as tight ends coach with the New York Jets of the NFL.
"It's going to be a while," said Robinson, who has interviewed The Citadel's current assistants over the last two days. "I'm on a fact-finding mission now, and that could last for three weeks. We have the luxury of not having a deadline, so I'm going to be very thorough and listen to all entities: the Board of Visitors, former players, everyone."
Among the coaches with Citadel ties who have indicated interest in the job are Citadel graduates Kenny Carter, running backs coach at Vanderbilt; Keith Jones, assistant coach at Navy; and David Sollazzo, defensive line coach at Maryland.
Sollazzo, who played at The Citadel from 1974-76 and was an assistant under Charlie Taaffe from 1989-98, has been defensive line coach for four years at Maryland, where he works with Taaffe.
"That's a tough question," Sollazzo said Wednesday when asked if he was interested in The Citadel job. "I haven't heard anything from them, and I'm just waiting to hear something. The Citadel is a great school and my alma mater, and I love it. But we've got a good thing going here at Maryland, so right now I'm just in a wait-and- see mode."
Jones, who worked at The Citadel from 1997-2001, was also a candidate last year when Zernhelt was hired. He said he has let Robinson know of his interest.
"I've done that, and that's all I want to say about it," he said. "There's not a whole lot more I can say."
Two coaches at the Air Force Academy, offensive coordinator Chuck Petersen and receivers coach Tim Horton, also are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I've had no contact with The Citadel," said Petersen, who has been at Air Force for 15 years and graduated from the Academy. "But if the opportunity presented itself, I'd be very interested in talking to coach Robinson."
Horton, who has been at Air Force for six years, graduated from Arkansas and worked at Appalachian State for nine years.
"My philosophy is to just do the best I can where I'm at, and if you do that, opportunities will arise," he said. "I was in the Southern Conference for nine years and recruited the state of South Carolina and am very familiar with The Citadel. I have a great deal of respect for the school. I don't know who they will get, but I know the school will attract a very good coach."
Former Elon coach Al Seagraves, a Citadel assistant under Taaffe from 1986-95, helped the Bulldogs win the SoCon championship in 1992 and has a lot of support from Citadel alumni. He was fired by Elon in 2003 with a 40-48 record, including an 8-25 mark in his last three seasons.
Former North Carolina State coach Mike O'Cain, who was fired as Clemson's offensive coordinator after last season, worked for Robinson at N.C. State. In fact, Robinson fired O'Cain as the Wolfpack's coach after the 1999 season.
Robinson said he has not discussed The Citadel job with O'Cain, who was a Citadel assistant from 1978-80. But Robinson said their history together would not prevent him from hiring O'Cain, if he was the right man for the job.
"I don't have a history with anyone that would prevent me from hiring him, if he was the right guy," Robinson said. "Mike and I have a good relationship. He hugged me the day I fired him. I wouldn't have sent my brother back out there (to coach). It was over."
Senior safety Shawn Grant looks to continue his aggressive play for whoever the new football coach is.