Offensive Coordinator Chip Lindsey: A Former Player’s Perspective
photo: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
The average Auburn fan knows Chip Lindsey’s numerous accolades. They know about Arizona State and Southern Miss. They know about his time at Auburn in 2013 as an analyst. They may know that he was a terrific high school head coach at Spain Park and one of the assistant coaches of legendary high school coach Rich Propst at Hoover. However, lost among those various bios is his time as a coach at Sparkman High School, his first football coaching job.
That’s where his story really begins, and it’s one that I can share because I was there.
My first memory of Chip Lindsey came in 1998 on a hot and muggy Alabama summer morning. It was humid as almost every summer morning is in Alabama, but “The Pit” at Sparkman High School was a step beyond humid. It was named “The Pit” for a reason. In a time of exploding high school mega-stadiums, Sparkman High School’s football field was a throwback to a gladiator’s pit more so than a high school football field. The field was dug into the earth about 20 feet from the surrounding area with modest home-side seats set on the hill and a minuscule set of concrete visitor bleachers between the field and a fence that surrounded the school’s sewage pond.
In many ways, that field represented Sparkman High School football that, notwithstanding the occasional decent year, has been a train wreck for three decades. Despite trading places with Bob Jones as the largest school north of Birmingham and having access to talent due to sheer numbers, the school had been to the playoffs just once since 1982 (1996).
The offense needed a resurgence. In his fourth year coach Obie Childers was under enormous pressure to revamp the offense and produce or be gone. He looked outside the available coaches in the area and tapped fresh-out-of-college coach Chip Lindsey, who had just one year ‘s experience coaching baseball at Springville High School.
On a hot summer morning, I met my new offensive coordinator and position coach. He took one look at me and told me I would be swapping positions. That was a tough pill to swallow for a sixteen-year-old who had played quarterback at Sparkman since the seventh grade. It took me a long time, years even, to really understand the how and why.
Being a five-foot-three run-first quarterback who could also run and catch, the move made sense. Sparkman had probably thrown a total of twenty passes in the three years I had played there, and the new offensive coordinator wanted to open up the offense via the pass. Playing receiver wasn’t nearly as glamorous as quarterback. It didn’t have the prestige, but it was a team game—some say the ultimate team game. And it didn’t matter who was playing quarterback if no one could catch passes.
Lindsey was the only coach that I had ever played under that believed in a true building block approach to becoming better, starting with the basics: mechanics. Before his arrival, practices were nothing but 11-on-11, play after play. Lindsey broke down his players from the ground up. We spent our first days on feet and spacing. A week on hand placement and attacking the ball. Two weeks (and a ton of time in the classroom) on route trees and footwork. By the time we lined up against the opposing secondary, we were miles ahead of the defense on the little things, which allowed us to succeed.
There is a reason that his time at Sparkman isn’t well publicized. 1998 was a rough year for the program. Sparkman was four and six, missed the playoffs again, and Obie Childers was fired. Although Lindsey was retained, I didn’t see the field a single down as a varsity player, the only year that happened. That was tough for a one-time future starting QB. 1999 wasn’t much better, nor was 2000. I graduated, never having turned into the quarterback that I hoped and dreamed to be, nor did I play in college. Lindsey moved to Deshler, undoubtedly wondering about his future as a coach.
Obviously, things worked out for both of us, regardless of our mutual past at a bad football program. Yet, that time together was also influential for both of us, though it is doubtful he remembers me. I learned about mechanics and attention to detail and just as much about being a team player. As I look back on those years, it is obvious why he has succeeded. In an era of instant gratification, he focused on doing things from the ground up, and sometimes that is unappreciated.
Will his time at Auburn be a success? There is too much involved to know, especially with the things outside of his control. However, from a former player’s perspective, I can tell you that the Auburn offense will be both prepared and technically sound.