Alumnus, Hired Gun, or True Believer: Which Kind of Coach Do You Want?

By Posted on: October 22nd, 2008 in Football Comments Off
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Real quick: How many alumnus coaches are there currently in the SEC? How many coaches have ever coached 20 years or longer at one SEC school? It’s not easy  to answer, is it? Only one, Phil Fulmer, is an alumnus of his school, ever since Houston Nutt pulled a Chinese Fire Drill with Ole Miss this past winter. (and he wasn’t technically an alum, having started at R-Kansas but finishing his career at OK State) What about the second question? No coaches lately have that kind of tenure, so you have to dip deep into the historical haversack to find the answer.

Coaches with that kind of longevity are what I call the Legend coaches. Most teams in CFB have them, but they are definitely an anachronism. In the SEC, Shug, Bryant, Dooley, and Vaught all reached a quarter-century at the same school, and certainly Robert Neyland would have gone over that at Tennessee had he not had the pesky business of a few wars to fight. Also, Bill Alexander of Georgia Tech had 25 years  at the Flats, back when they were in the SEC (remember?) Curiously, only Shug, Bear, and Alexander were alumni of their respective teams. The others were initial hired guns who went on to demonstrate tremendous longevity and success at their schools and on the way to becoming legends, transitioned through another subset  of coach that I call the True Believer.

True Believers are reborn and baptised with the blood, sweat and tears that they expend with each new crop of teams. They’re converts, and the bond may be even stronger than it is with an alumnus coach. These guys choose to be a part of your family.  The biggest examples of this are Neyland, a West Pointer, and Dooley, an Auburn man. Both are the signature coaches of their schools, but it was a family that they weren’t born into. I’ve often said that if I ever met Coach Dooley, I’d ask him if he had a little War Eagle left in him. I think he probably does, somewhere deep down inside…

But not all True Believers go on to become Legends. Look at Pat Dye. No one thinks of him as being anything other than an Auburn man. And he was just on the cusp of becoming a legend on the Plains. Actually, that’s still debatable. Maybe he does. He does have a field with his name on it, but he didn’t come close to eclipsing Shug. Had we not gotten screwed out of a MNC in 1983, I definitely think that Dye would be a legend on the Plains. What prevents it in my book is the cloud of NCAA probation that he left under and the losing of his pants in Lake Martin, which wasn’t discovered until recently. See? Some secrets get buried for decades…

But it is possible to have more than one Legend at a school. They’ve basically had three at Alabama, with Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas preceding you-know-who. Wade and Thomas were sending the Tide to the Rose Bowl back in the 1920s and winning all those back-dated National Championships they think they got.  Georgia Tech has had two, with Bobby Dodd joining Alexander as the legends of North Avenue. Georgia has had not only Dooley, but Wally Butts as well. You could even argue that Tennessee has had three, with Johnny Majors having a 16 year tenure and Fulmer now in his 17th season. If the Phil coup is successful this year, I think that Vol fans may soon be waxing nostalgic about Fulmer, clamoring back to the good old days of losing to Florida and in the SEC championship game…

But at least they’ll have that. Be grateful, teams who have your legends. Most schools in the SEC are virtual coaching graveyards, going through legions of them, assuring anonymity, not greatness. Vandy, Kentucky, MSU, and South Carolina all come to mind. Heck, Paul Bryant is the 2nd longest serving coach in Kentucky history. At least that’s not where his shadow was cast, though. Florida was (and still could be) a coaching carousel. Believe it or not, Spurrier’s 12 years in Gainesville is tops, and if you’re a Gator, you’ll always wonder ‘what could have been’ with that, watching the OBC struggle in Rooster Land. For Auburn fans, that would have been like watching Shug slug out his last days camped out in Starkville. LSU has had it’s fair share of coaches. Charlie McClendon put in 18 years in Red Stick, but you’ll never hear his name mentioned over a dinner table full of etouffee. The purple Tigers now seem more fixated with how Saban wound up in Tuscaloosa and if/when Miles might leave them. History on the Bayou dictates ‘not long’…

So that leaves us with the hired gun, which is virtually your only choice these days. Lest you forget, CFB is a business, and we need the best available man to lead the company to greatness and produce record dividends for the fans. Getting an alumnus coach is sooo 1970s and virtually impossible in this multi-cultural football world of instant gratification and extended contracts. Alas, the lure is still strong. Look at the hoops Michigan jumped through last year in an attempt to lure Les Miles back to Ann Arbor. I guess the more telling question would be why did he stay? The call to go home is equally as strong. Perhaps Les’ticles is on his way to becoming a true believer?

Even Auburn fans have felt the twinge of patriotism with openings in our own program. How many of you thought about trying to lure Pat Nix back with a offer of OC? How many entertained the idea of trying to get Pat Sullivan back home after the ousters of Dye and Bowden? See? It’s very strong, even when you know that your favorite son is either not qualified or not ready to step up to the standards of your program. Imagine the withdrawals and delirium tremens that Alabama has gone through in this respect. After Bryant, there was no way that they could allow the reigns of the program to be held by hands not washed in the wisdom of the Bear. But they realized that their potential gene pool of coaches was limited, so they went back and forth for a while, alternating between alumni and hired gun coaches–something that has extended up to the present day. I think that the idea of alumnus coaches might be past them now, but you never know with Bammers, especially when they strap on their leather helmets…

So let’s look at our own coach now, the much-maligned-of-late Tommy Tuberville. Technically, he’s a hired gun, but for how long? No, I don’t mean his possible ouster, that’s silly. I mean, when is he going to transition into the True Believer? Some think he already has. I think he’s damn close. Probably the one thing left, the last hurdle to clear, is the dark lord of Samford tower who still casts his shadow over the campus, waiting to take form again as he gathers strength. Okay, all LOTR references aside, seriously, that’s probably the one thing holding Tubs back. He’s also seen how fickle some of our fans can be, and maybe that abates his complete conversion to blue and orange somewhat. I think we would be extremely lucky for Tubs to become a true believer in the Auburn faith. He could go on and do even greater things for us. We just have a few little bumps in the road to smooth out. Auburn fans shouldn’t expect lofty aspirations every year–that’s not the way it is in CFB–especially the SEC. We’ve had a measure of success under Tubs by any standard, but that’s what we expect from members of the Auburn family.

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