(STATS) - As a service academy that runs the triple-option offense, it takes a certain kind of person to run The Citadel.
The Bulldogs think they have that man after promoting offensive coordinator Brent Thompson to succeed Mike Houston following his departure to James Madison.
The pair oversaw a rapid rebuild in two seasons at The Citadel after arriving from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bulldogs went 5-7 in their first season in 2014, and after being picked to finish seventh in the Southern Conference's preseason media poll, they exceeded everyone's expectations with a 9-4 record, an upset of FBS school and intrastate rival South Carolina, a share of the conference title and a quarterfinal appearance in the FCS playoffs - their first postseason showing since 1992.
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"We thought we were ahead of schedule by about one to two years," Thompson said while on the road recruiting almost immediately after his initial news conference Wednesday. "It's a tribute to the players, the training they go to, their dedication."
The coaching search was short - athletic director Jim Senter interviewed two candidates as Houston was in talks with James Madison: Thompson and Bulldogs defensive coordinator Maurice Drayton. In introducing Thompson as the 25th head coach in The Citadel's history, the two central tenets Senter emphasized were developing principled leaders and the program's historical success while running the triple option.
Thompson displayed the latter in his short time with the success of the triple option on the field. The Citadel ranked second in the FCS this year averaging 346.9 rushing yards, had the two best single-game rushing totals in the FCS in 2015 and had 27 different 100-yard rushing efforts in his two seasons.
The former comes from his service academy days at Norwich University in Vermont, which gives him an easily accessible foundation to relate to his players off the field.
"What you're conveying are the opportunities at The Citadel is to learn so much more in a short amount of time versus a traditional college," Thompson explained. "You're giving them a vision five to 10 years down the line. You can find those guys, they're structured lifestyle guys, they go to school, they go to football practice and that's what we offer. It's a challenge.
"We can win a lot of football games with those guys."
One of those guys is quarterback Dominique Allen, who rushed for a team-leading 953 yards and 13 touchdowns directing the triple option and will be one of six quarterbacks, A-backs and B-backs returning for the Bulldogs. Thompson admitted he was surprised with Allen's rapid development given it was the sophomore's first extensive playing time in three seasons after playing at prep school in 2013 and getting little time as a backup as a freshman.
"The thing he has about him is he has a little bit of an edge that you don't see in his personality," Thompson said. "He's a smart player. He can be one of the best quarterbacks in The Citadel's history."
In addition to the transition of going from coordinator to head coach, Thompson and The Citadel will face higher expectations following its No. 13 ranking in the final STATS FCS Poll. Much like Houston before him, Thompson is ready to continue having his players embrace accepting those in tandem with their internal goals.
"I think it's OK to talk about that and I'll stress that," he said. "It's OK to talk about championships. We've only scratched the surface."