NCF Nation: Bear Bryant

Iron Bowl stakes have never been higher

November, 25, 2013
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Good luck finding a rivalry in college football as deep-rooted, passion-filled and polarizing in one state as the Iron Bowl.

Alabama and Auburn get it on every year in late November, and they spend the remaining 364 days in that state reliving the game.

It’s not just football. It’s life.

And while it’s a rivalry that has spawned scores of legendary names, games, moments and memories, it has been a while since an Iron Bowl has meant more for both sides going into the game than the one that will be played Saturday afternoon on the Plains.

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Elsa Hasch/Getty ImagesThe anticipation for Saturday's Iron Bowl on The Plains is palpable.
It’s only the second time in Iron Bowl history that both teams have been ranked in the top five nationally. Alabama is No. 1 and Auburn No. 4 in the latest BCS standings.

The only other time came in 1971, when Alabama entered the game No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and Auburn was No. 5. The Crimson Tide rolled the Tigers and Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan 31-7 that day to capture the SEC championship.

The buildup to that game was obviously huge, especially with both teams being unbeaten and Sullivan being announced as the Heisman winner on Thanksgiving night, two days before the game.

The same goes for the 1989 game, which was the first Iron Bowl to be played at Auburn. Previously, the game had always been played in Birmingham at Legion Field, and there are a lot of Auburn people who will tell you that there will never be a more important game in the series for them than that 1989 affair.

Of course, it helped that the Tigers beat the No. 2 Crimson Tide 30-20 in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium to earn a share of the SEC championship along with Alabama and Tennessee.

One of the strangest Iron Bowls was played in 1993, when Auburn was on probation after being hit with NCAA sanctions. The game couldn’t be shown on television. So other than those at Jordan-Hare Stadium that day, the only people who saw Auburn's 22-14 win were the 40,000 or so fans who watched the game on closed-circuit television at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Alabama’s campus. Auburn's victory completed an 11-0 season under first-year coach Terry Bowden.

The game in 2010 will go down as the most electrifying comeback in the series. Cam Newton and Auburn rallied from 24 points down to win 28-27 in Tuscaloosa and save the Tigers’ national championship season.

Legendary names on both sides have left their mark in this series.

Ken Stabler's Run in the Mud in 1967 will never be forgotten, nor will Bo Jackson's going over the top in 1982 to beat Alabama in what was Bear Bryant’s last Iron Bowl.

Perhaps the most stunning finish came in the 1972 Punt, Bama, Punt game. Auburn's Bill Newton blocked a pair of punts in the fourth quarter and both were returned for touchdowns by David Langner to give Auburn a 17-16 win over No. 2 Alabama.

It’s hard to find a more thrilling game than the 1985 classic. Van Tiffin booted a 52-yard field goal in the closing seconds to give Alabama a 25-23 win. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.

So as we try to put into perspective where Saturday’s game ranks in the annals of this storied rivalry, we could go on endlessly talking about the memorable players, plays and games that the Iron Bowl has provided.

But in terms of stakes for both teams, I’m not sure we’ve seen anything quite like this.

Alabama is chasing history and looking for a third straight national championship, something that hasn’t happened in the modern era.

Imagine the thrill for Auburn to be able to end the Crimson Tide’s historic run right there on the Plains, especially when you consider the way Auburn was reeling this time a year ago.

The Tigers were putting a miserable 3-9 season to bed in which they closed out their SEC schedule with a 38-0 blowout loss to Georgia and an even more lopsided 49-0 loss to Alabama.

Now, a year later, here they are going toe-to-toe with Alabama, with the SEC’s Western Division title on the line. Not only that, but Auburn could thrust itself right into the middle of the national championship picture with a win, especially if Florida State or Ohio State stumbles in these next two weeks.

For a rivalry that has given college football junkies just about everything we could ask for over the years (and then some), this game Saturday might be the most anticipated yet because of what it means to both sides.

Let’s hope the game can match the stakes.

Celebrating Bear Bryant's 100th birthday

September, 11, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A little more than half an hour before kickoff of every Alabama home game, the leathery visage of the legendary coach of the Crimson Tide, the late Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, appears on the video boards at either end of Bryant-Denny Stadium and begins to speak. And before all of those games when the university has played the video, no one has ever heard what Bryant says. The minute the 101,000 fans see him, they begin roaring.

"Well, the older people are," said Paul W. Bryant Jr., "and the younger ones don't know quite what the rest of them are talking about."

Time silences our heroes, robs us of them and then steals the witnesses who can tell the hero's story, and the day comes when all we have left are statues and houndstooth beach balls. Stories can be handed down, books can be written, movies produced. But the emotions that connect player to coach, or fan to hero, are not easily handed down from one generation to the next. Legends may not be kept in a cedar chest in the attic.

The flesh-and-blood Bear, the all-too-human man who inspired the fealty and worship of thousands, who coaxed and bullied and demanded that his players and his assistants meet a standard they didn't know they could meet, is disappearing. He has been dead for three decades, and as those who stood witness to him die, we are losing Bryant again.

Forgive the personal nature of this story. For those of us who grew up in Alabama in a time when our state was viewed as a cauldron of hatred, Bryant told the rest of the nation that we could produce success and character. He inspired a level of loyalty unlike any coach before or since in any state in any sport.

I can tell you where I was the day he died, and not just because it was my 23rd birthday. I know where I was because that was the first time a death ever made me cry. The notion that he is just a football coach to the 80 million millennials estimated to live in the United States makes me want to cry again.

Gene Stallings played for Bryant, coached for him, coached against him, and eventually became the first coach after Bryant to lead Alabama to a national championship.

"One of the reasons of his great success over an extended period of time was, we all wanted to please Coach Bryant," Stallings said. "The players wanted to please him. The assistant coaches wanted to please him. The alumni wanted to please him. The administration wanted to please him. The president of the university -- Coach Bryant just had that little something about him that people wanted to please. We'll do anything just to hear Coach Bryant say, 'You did a good job.' He didn't say it too often. But we wanted him to say it.

"You know, there was a little fear factor, and I don't think there's anything wrong with fear factor….whether or not you were doing your job well enough to please Coach Bryant."

Stallings is 78 years old. Bryant's players are just as likely to be grandfathers as fathers. His youngest players, the freshmen on that 1982 team, are getting solicitations from AARP.

"Some of my teammates and I were talking about this two or three weeks ago," said Ronny Robertson, who played for Bryant in the mid-1970s and is the senior associate athletic director for development at his alma mater. "When we were at Alabama and playing for Coach Bryant, there was this guy at Notre Dame that coached a long time ago named Knute Rockne, and he was a real good football coach. That's about the way I think the kids today look at Coach Bryant."

Bryant died suddenly, four weeks after he coached the final game of his 25-year career at his alma mater. Bryant was 69 years old, according to the calendar, and much older than that according to a body worn down by stress and illness, by late hours and lifestyle.

Today, on what would have been Bryant's 100th birthday, the university will hold a ceremony at the Paul W. Bryant Museum on campus. Alabama also commissioned a documentary, "Mama Called," and a book, "Inside the Vault: The Paul W. Bryant Collection," that will make their debuts today, too. Bryant's centennial falls during the week in which No. 6 Texas A&M, where Bryant coached for four seasons, will play host to his alma mater, the No. 1 Crimson Tide. On Friday night in College Station, players he coached at both schools will gather to celebrate his memory.

To read more of Ivan Maisel's legacy of Bear Bryant, click here.

Bryant's life in pictures Photo Gallery.

A look at Bryant's legacy living on in Houndstooth fashion.

Pac-12 as NFL coaching pipeline

June, 4, 2013
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ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel looks at which conferences send head coaches to the NFL and makes a conclusion: "The shortest road for any FBS head coach to the NFL is through the Pac-12. In fact, no other conference even comes close."

He points out that Chip Kelly (Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles) was the 15th Pac-12 coach to jump to the NFL since "Tommy Prothro moved crosstown from UCLA in 1971 to coach the Los Angeles Rams."

And during that span the SEC has sent three to the NFL. The Big Ten one.

Figuring out exactly why this is true is more of a challenge, particularly because folks in other regions will get mad hearing the real reason: Brains and sophistication.

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Matt Rourke/AP PhotoChip Kelly's offensive creativity helped him become the latest Pac-12 head coach to land an NFL head coaching gig.
Hey... take it easy. Just saying. And you Pac-12 folks need to behave.

Just look at the list: Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, John McKay, Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson and Chip Kelly. Those are some of the most innovative minds in football history, particularly offensive football.

Schematically, the Pac-12 -- historically and I think still at present -- is the nation's most sophisticated league. There's just more ... stuff. Playbooks are thicker. That, by the way, includes both sides of the football. The QBs are asked to do more. And that forces defenses to do more, too.

This, by the way, fits in with those who -- wrongly -- view the Pac-12 as a finesse league: A conference that is physically inferior has to use its wits to succeed.

But sophistication is about more than scheme. It's about psychology and managing people. There's more diversity on the West Coast. That complicates the job, so doing it well is meaningful. John McKay probably would have been successful coaching in Tuscaloosa. Not as sure the same could be said of Bear Bryant in Los Angeles.

Part of that is this: There's not as much "Yes, sir," "No, sir" on the West Coast as there is in other regions, particularly the Southeast and Texas, though that as a historical trend is likely narrowing. Going old school on an 18-to-23-year old from L.A. or Seattle probably won't work as well as it would on a kid from small town Alabama. The way a successful Pac-12 coach talks to and motivates his team is, in general, different. And, historically, it's probably closer to the NFL model, where the players are paid professionals and less willing to respond positively to a ranting coach.

Understand, there are plenty of exceptions to that. Frank Kush at Arizona State and Don James at Washington were as old school intimidating to their players as any of their contemporaries. Probably part of the reason neither made the NFL jump, either.

There's another level to that sophistication: Big cities. The NFL is a big-city league. So is the Pac-12. Maisel thinks this matters:
It could be that universities that share a market with NFL teams lose more coaches to the league. A school such as Boston College, clamoring for attention in a crowded market, might be more liable to hire a prominent NFL assistant coach such as Tom Coughlin, who left the Eagles for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1994. That best explains why, even without counting Johnson or Erickson, the 22-year-old Big East has lost five head coaches to the NFL.

But there are other potential reasons:

  • Out of the box hires create fast-rising stars: Kelly, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll each arrived in the Pac-12 in creative ways. Mike Bellotti made the inspired decision to hire Kelly away from New Hampshire. Harbaugh mostly generated head scratches when Stanford hired him away from San Diego. And Carroll was USC's 174th choice after a bumbling search. Heck, even Bill Walsh was a frustrated NFL assistant when he arrived at Stanford.
  • Previous NFL experience: Carroll had previous NFL coaching experience. So did Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh and Dennis Erickson. Harbaugh was a longtime NFL QB. Several other guys on the list at least had a cup of coffee as an NFL assistant before taking over a Pac-8/10/12 team. You could conjecture that many of them viewed returning to the NFL as their ultimate ambition, unlike a college coaching lifer.
  • Recruiting rules in SEC: The most important skill for a head coach in the SEC is without question: Recruiting. The competition for recruits nationwide is brutal, but it's a blood sport in the Southeast. And that is not really a skill that translates in the NFL.
  • Money: Some conferences' pay scales are competitive with the NFL. The Pac-12's is not.
We at the SEC blog want to express our deepest condolences to the Mal Moore family and everybody at Alabama over Moore’s passing Saturday at age 73.

Moore was so much a part of that football program and athletic department and, really, one of the few remaining links at the university to Paul "Bear" Bryant.

His role in Nick Saban’s hiring and jump-starting the Alabama football program back on track will forever be remembered by Crimson Tide fans.

On a personal note, two of my most enduring memories of Moore came right after Alabama won its first national championship under Saban, in 2009, and last season after Alabama won its third title in four seasons under Saban.

We were standing just outside the Alabama locker room at the Rose Bowl following the Tide’s 37-21 victory over Texas, and somebody asked Moore if he felt like the $4 million a year contract that the university had given Saban was a good investment.

Moore beamed. “Hell yeah!” he said in his familiar drawl.

He then giddily offered that a statue of Saban would be going up on Alabama’s famed Walk of Champions, just adjacent to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Last season, an emotional Moore stood on the field at Sun Life Stadium in Miami following the Tide’s 42-14 dismantling of Notre Dame and struggled to find the right words for what it meant to him and the entire Alabama family to be along for such a historic ride.

“It never gets old, and the best part is seeing all these great Alabama people soaking it all up,” said Moore, his smile as wide as the gaping holes the Alabama offensive line punched in the Irish defense that night.

Seeing the immense pride draped across Moore’s face in both of those instances is something I’ll never forget.

His love for Alabama was legendary. The same goes for the way he so selflessly and humbly served his beloved alma mater for more than 50 years.

Memorable SEC upsets

March, 28, 2013
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In honor of Florida Gulf Coast's stunning run in the NCAA basketball tournament, I started thinking back to some of the biggest SEC football upsets of my lifetime.

The mid- to late-1970s is about as far back as I go, but I’ve gone back and picked out some of the more memorable ones over the past 30 or 35 years.

These are all SEC vs. SEC matchups, and I’ll rank the top 5 as well as five more that just missed the cut. I’ll come back later Thursday with a few more, including some upsets in non-conference and bowl games.

Here goes:

1. Mississippi State 6, Alabama 3 (1980): The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide had won 28 straight (and an SEC-record 27 straight conference games) and were heavily favored against the unranked Bulldogs. But Mississippi State played suffocating defense that day in Jackson, Miss., and snuffed out a late Alabama drive. The Crimson Tide had moved to the Bulldogs’ 4, but were out of timeouts. Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs took the snap and started down the line of scrimmage to the right side. Mississippi State’s Tyrone Keys shot through and tackled Jacobs, forcing a fumble that Billy Jackson recovered to seal one of the greatest wins in Mississippi State history. Alabama’s wishbone attack, which had been averaging more than 300 yards per game, mustered just 116 rushing yards against the Mississippi State defense. The Crimson Tide lost four fumbles in the game. And in a classy gesture afterward, Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant visited the Mississippi State locker room to congratulate the Bulldogs on the win.

2. LSU 17, Alabama 13 (1993): The No. 5 Crimson Tide had gone 31 straight games without a loss and were coming off an unbeaten national championship season. Inexplicably, they lost at home to an unranked LSU team that had lost five of its first seven games that season and finished 5-6. The Tigers were a 24-point underdog that day and in the midst of their fifth straight losing season. Alabama starting quarterback Jay Barker was out with an injured shoulder, and the Tide -- using three different quarterbacks -- threw four second-half interceptions. Coach Gene Stallings finally went to David Palmer at quarterback late in the third quarter, and “The Deuce” directed the Tide on a pair of scoring drives. But LSU held on for the win, and Stallings said afterward that he waited too long to go to Palmer, who was normally a receiver.

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AP Photo/Phil SandlinTim Tebow bows his head in dejection after his No. 4 Gators lost 31-30 at home against Mississippi on Sept. 27, 2008.
3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (2008): The Rebels would go on to have a very good season, but ventured into the Swamp that day as a 22-point underdog with losses to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt during the first month of the season. Nobody gave them a chance. The Gators were ranked No. 4 and riding high with Tim Tebow running the show. But the Rebels stuffed him on fourth-and-short late to pull off an improbable road win. The game is best remembered for Tebow’s emotional speech afterward, when he promised that nobody would work harder than him and his teammates the rest of the season. The Gators would go on to win their next 22 games in a row, including the 2008 national championship.

4. Auburn 23, Georgia 23 (1994): Even though it wasn’t a loss, it sure felt like one for No. 3 Auburn, which had its 20-game winning streak under Terry Bowden stopped. The Bulldogs were unranked and had lost at home to Vanderbilt a few weeks earlier. But they rallied from 14 points down on the road thanks to a couple of Eric Zeier touchdown passes and survived a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by Auburn’s Matt Hawkins with 13 seconds to play. That was Ray Goff’s next-to-last season at Georgia, which finished 6-4-1 and didn’t play in a bowl game. It didn’t get any better the next week for Auburn. The Tigers, who were on NCAA probation, lost to Alabama.

5. Alabama 9, Tennessee 6 (1990): The Vols were ranked No. 3, coming off a 45-3 demolition of Florida and very much in the national title picture. Alabama had started the season with three straight losses, the first season with Stallings as coach, and was unranked entering the game. But Alabama’s defense stole the show that day before a stunned crowd at Neyland Stadium and shut down Tennessee’s high-powered offense. With the game tied at 6-6, the Vols were able to get into a position for a 50-yard field goal attempt with 1:35 to play, but Alabama’s Stacy Harrison blocked it. The ball scooted more than 20 yards the other way to the Tennessee 37, and Phillip Doyle won it for the Crimson Tide with a 47-yard field goal on the last play of the game to make it five in a row against the Vols.

The five that just missed the cut:

Ole Miss 22, Alabama 12 (1988): Yep, it's the infamous brick through the window game. An irate fan tossed a brick through the office window of Alabama coach Bill Curry after the Rebels stunned the No. 12-ranked Tide in Tuscaloosa. It was Ole Miss’ first win ever against Alabama in the state of Alabama, and spoiled the dedication of the new Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum. Alabama didn’t complete a pass that day.

Alabama 17, Auburn 15 (1984): The Alabama fans refer to it as the “Wrong Way Bo” Iron Bowl. Auburn coach Pat Dye elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the fourth quarter, but Bo Jackson went the wrong way on the play. Alabama’s Rory Turner forced Brent Fullwood out of bounds on the sweep, and the Tide held on to beat the No. 11-ranked Tigers and knock them out of the Sugar Bowl. It was a sweet end for Alabama to its first losing season since 1957.

LSU 31, Tennessee 20 (2001): The No. 2-ranked Vols were coming off a huge win at Florida and poised to go to the Rose Bowl to face Miami for the national championship, but backup quarterback Matt Mauck rallied the Tigers in the second half after filling in for the injured Rohan Davey and gave Nick Saban his first of two SEC titles in Baton Rouge.

Georgia 24, Florida 3 (1985): The Bulldogs romped past the No. 1-ranked Gators with freshman running back backs Keith Henderson and Tim Worley both rushing for 100 yards. It was the only game Florida lost all season. The Gators were ineligible to play in the Sugar Bowl because of NCAA sanctions, but finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll.

Arkansas 25, Tennessee 24 (1992): The Vols were ranked No. 4 and had already beaten Florida, Georgia and LSU. The Hogs opened that season, their first in the SEC, by losing to The Citadel, resulting in the firing of Jack Crowe as coach. Joe Kines took over as interim coach and guided a 1-4 Arkansas team to a stunning comeback win against the heavily favored Vols in Knoxville. Todd Wright won it for the Hogs with a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left.
They don't make athletic directors like Mal Moore anymore. The modern athletic director is a guy whose favorite athletic gear is a deposit slip. He climbs the ladder of "development," the euphemism for fundraising. He has to hire a search firm to hire a coach, because he didn't coach himself.

Moore, whose ill health dictated that he step aside Wednesday as the Alabama athletic director after 13 years, has been none of that. Well, check that. Moore could raise money, as they say down South, like nobody's bidness. The university has spent more than $200 million on new and expanded athletic facilities during Moore's tenure.

All of that started with Moore calling the big wallets and saying in his soft Crenshaw County drawl, "We sure could use your help."

But buildings aren't the reason that Moore succeeded. They are the results. Moore succeeded because no man or woman, living or dead, cares more about the University of Alabama than he.

Moore serves as the strongest sinew connecting Alabama football today with the Bear Bryant Era. For 46 of the past 55 years, Moore has served as a student-athlete, assistant coach or administrator at Alabama.

Think of it -- Moore has won 10 national championship rings as a player (1961), assistant coach (1964-65-73-78-79-92) and boss (2009-11-12). That takes care of his fingers. When Moore recovers from his lung ailment and begins his tenure as special assistant to the university president, Dr. Judy Bonner, he can begin on his toes.

Moore could be as cautious as he was courtly. What he lacked in flash he made up for with sheer doggedness, having learned his work ethic from the master, Bryant. Moore succeeded because on his fourth attempt at hiring a football coach, he got it spectacularly right.

For Ivan Maisel's full column, click here.
Penn State's Bill O'Brien has earned another coaching honor for his Year 1 success in State College, and the latest award has a link to his predecessor.

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Rob Carr/Getty ImagesBill O'Brien became the second Penn State coach to win the Bear Bryant award.
O'Brien on Thursday night was named the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year winner at a ceremony in Houston. It's the third national coaching honor for O'Brien, who also earned the Maxwell Football Club's Collegiate Coach of the Year award and ESPN AT&T Coach of the Year award. O'Brien swept both Big Ten Coach of the Year awards after guiding Penn State to an 8-4 record, including wins in eight of its final 10 games. The first-time head coach guided Penn State through a difficult offseason that included the announcement of severe NCAA sanctions and the departures of several key players.

He beat out Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Stanford's David Shaw, Kansas State's Bill Snyder and Vanderbilt's James Franklin for the Bryant award, which recognizes coaching excellence both on and off the field.

Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was the initial recipient of the Bryant award in 1986. Paterno had several famous matchups against Bryant's Alabama teams and had a friendship with the longtime coach. In 2001, Paterno broke Bryant's record for career coaching wins at a major conference (the record later was removed after the NCAA vacated Paterno's wins between 1998-2011).

O'Brien is the first Big Ten coach to win the Bryant award since Ohio State's Jim Tressel in 2002.

High stakes for Spurrier's return to Swamp

October, 18, 2012
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For those who watched Steve Spurrier take Florida football to unprecedented heights in the 1990s and, in the process, change the way football is played in the SEC, it's still surreal to see him on the visitor's sideline in the Swamp.

Yes, this will be his fourth trip to Gainesville as South Carolina's coach, and the novelty isn't nearly what it once was.

But this is the Head Ball Coach. He is as much a part of Gator lore as the Gator chomp. He won a Heisman Trophy as Florida's quarterback in 1966 and brought the Gators their first SEC championship (six of them before he was finished) and their first national championship in 12 memorable seasons as coach of his alma mater from 1990-2001.

The Swamp was born under Spurrier, literally and figuratively. He coined the nickname for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium after his second season at Florida.

Spurrier's explanation was simple: "Only Gators get out alive."

But Spurrier didn't just name the Swamp. He's the one who put the magic into it with a 68-5 home record as the Gators' coach.

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AP Photo/John RaouxOn Steve Spurrier's last visit to the Swamp, the Gamecocks clinched their first-ever trip to the SEC championship game.
He is trying to bring that same magic to South Carolina, and even though he won't say it, you know winning this game Saturday against the No. 2 Gators would rank up there among his favorites.

A win would put South Carolina in the driver's seat in the East Division, and it would further validate the No. 7 Gamecocks as one of the elite teams in this league.

Spurrier won the last time he was in the Swamp, clinching the Gamecocks' first-ever trip to the SEC championship game in 2010. He was given a victory ride on his players' shoulders.

It was the kind of scene that made you rub your eyes and wonder if it was all real.

Spurrier, in his vintage oh-gosh style, insists that going back to the Swamp as the opposing coach isn't that big of a deal.

"I don't think it's much of a storyline now that it's eight years that we've played each other, the fourth time I've been down there coaching," Spurrier said. "I guess it is a little unusual to be on the other team when you come into the ballpark and your name's on the wall up there, but I think everybody handles it very well. It's our team against their team.

"This is a game between the players. As coaches, we try to direct them a little bit, but these players are going to pretty much decide who's going to win this thing."

The reality is that most of Florida's current players were too young to remember seeing Spurrier's Gators pitch it around the ballpark in the Fun 'n' Gun days and win four straight SEC championships from 1993-96, a dizzying run that culminated with a national championship.

As Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel noted this week, he was more worried about watching cartoons at the time.

What Driskel does know is that Spurrier remains an icon.

"I drive by his statue every day," said Driskel, referring to Spurrier's statue that sits just outside the Swamp alongside the statues of the Gators' other two Heisman Trophy winners, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. "He's definitely a Gator great, but it's not really anything that's going to bother us. Our players here didn't play for him or weren't here when he was around. So it's definitely bigger for the media and the fans."

Maybe so, but the guy who'll be on the Florida sideline Saturday doesn't need any refresher on the impact Spurrier has had on Florida, the SEC and college football.

Will Muschamp was a player at Georgia in the early 1990s when Spurrier was just starting his championship run at Florida.

"Being an SEC guy and growing up in this part of the country and being a huge fan of the Southeastern Conference, there are really two coaches that come to the forefront of your mind as far as what they have done for this league, and that would be Bear Bryant and Steve Spurrier," said Muschamp, who owns a deep respect for Spurrier and what he has meant to Florida.

There's no question that Spurrier has already etched his rightful place on the Mount Rushmore of SEC coaches.

Bryant is up there too, and sculptors are quickly gathering up pictures of Alabama coach Nick Saban. They're the only two coaches in history to win SEC championships at two schools.

If Spurrier is going to have any chance of joining them in that exclusive club, this is probably a game he needs to win Saturday. He'll be 68 in April and isn't going to coach forever.

While Spurrier will always be a Gator at heart, he is rooting for Florida to finish second in the East this season.

It's only fitting that perhaps the climactic game in that race will be played at the Swamp, where only Gators -- and maybe Gamecocks -- get out alive.
Everybody can recite who’s the all-time winningest coach in the SEC.

Bear Bryant won 232 career games at Alabama and became one of the most iconic figures in college football along the way.

To this day, Bryant’s name is mentioned with reverence around the Capstone.

But even if you take his 232 career wins out of the equation, the Crimson Tide would still have 582 wins.

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Bernard Troncale/US PresswireBear Bryant won 232 career games at Alabama.
So while the guy with the Houndstooth hat carved out a legendary career at Alabama, the Crimson Tide’s success on the football field hasn’t been defined solely by the Bryant years.

Frank Thomas won 115 games. Gene Stallings won 62 games. Wallace Wade won 61 games. Nick Saban -- in just five seasons -- has already won 55 games.

All five men, including Bryant, have also won national championships at Alabama.

In surveying the winningest coaches at all 14 SEC schools, some of what you find, especially when you take away each school's all-time wins leader, is telling.

For instance, Bryant is actually the winningest coach at two different SEC schools. He was 60-23-5 at Kentucky from 1946-53, and led the Wildcats to eight consecutive winning seasons.

Since Bryant’s departure from the Bluegrass following the 1953 season, the Wildcats have had 10 other head coaches, but only one of them compiled better than a .500 record, Blanton Collier, who succeeded Bryant, was 41-36-3 in eight seasons.

Steve Spurrier could join Bryant this coming season as the second coach to earn the distinction of being the winningest coach at two different SEC schools.

Spurrier owns that distinction at Florida. He won 122 games in 12 seasons in Gainesville from 1990-2001. He’s 55-35 in seven seasons at South Carolina, and can pass Rex Enright as the Gamecocks’ winningest all-time coach with 10 wins this season. Enright was 64-69-7 in two different stints at South Carolina from 1938-42 and 1946-55.

Since Enright stepped down following the 1955 season, the Gamecocks have had 13 head coaches. Spurrier is one of five since Enright to post a winning record. Other than Enright and Spurrier, only two other coaches have won more than 40 games at South Carolina -- Jim Carlen (45) and Paul Dietzel (42).

Georgia and Tennessee are the only schools in the SEC with three head coaches in their history to have won 100 or more games.

Vince Dooley is Georgia’s all-time leader with 201 wins. Wallace Butts won 140, and Mark Richt has won 106. Georgia has 747 wins all-time.

Gen. Robert Neyland is Tennessee’s all-time leader with 173 wins. Phillip Fulmer won 152, and John Majors 116. That’s a total of 441 of the Vols’ 794 wins.

In fact, Tennessee is the only SEC school that still has 600 or more wins if you take away the winningest coach’s win total. The Vols would still have 621 even if you didn’t count Neyland’s 173 wins.

Only eight other schools nationally would have more than 600 wins if you took away their winningest coach -- Miami (Ohio), Michigan, Navy, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC.

Florida has won 669 games, and 187 of those wins have come courtesy of two of the Gators’ past four head coaches. In addition to Spurrier’s 122 wins, Urban Meyer won 65 in six seasons from 2005-10.

At Ole Miss, John Vaught won career 190 games. Nobody else has won more than 67 there (Billy Brewer). Anybody want to guess who is No. 3 on the Rebels’ all-time wins list? David Cutcliffe was 44-29 (.603) from 1999-2004.

The biggest difference in the SEC when you start taking the winningest coach out of the equation can be found at Vanderbilt. Dan McGugin was 197-55-19. But without him, the Commodores would be just 367-519-31 all-time. McGugin last coached at Vanderbilt in 1934. Nobody else at Vanderbilt has won more than 39 games.

At some schools, there simply hasn’t been much longevity by coaches.

Charles McClendon is LSU’s all-time winningest coach with 137 career wins in 18 seasons from 1962-79.

But since McClendon retired, the only LSU coach to last longer than five seasons has been current coach Les Miles, who’s won 75 games in seven seasons.

Below is a look at the win totals for all 14 SEC schools and the winningest coach at all 14 schools:

  • Alabama – 814 (Bear Bryant 232)
  • Tennessee – 794 (Gen. Robert Neyland 173)
  • Georgia – 747 (Vince Dooley 201)
  • LSU – 733 (Charles McClendon 137)
  • Auburn – 711 (Shug Jordan 176)
  • Texas A&M – 681 (R.C. Slocum 123)
  • Arkansas – 680 (Frank Broyles 144)
  • Florida – 669 (Steve Spurrier 122)
  • Missouri – 625 (Don Faurot 101)
  • Ole Miss – 621 (John Vaught 190)
  • Kentucky – 578 (Bear Bryant 60)
  • Vanderbilt – 564 (Dan McGugin 197)
  • South Carolina – 555 (Rex Enright 64)
  • Mississippi State – 506 (Jackie Sherrill 75)
Does a coach define your program? Think Alabama and Bear Bryant, Penn State and Joe Paterno and Florida State and Bobby Bowden.

Does he cast a shadow that's hard to escape? Or is your all-time winningest coach mostly incidental?

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCoach Jeff Tedford is Cal's winningest coach of all time, but is he the face of the program?
ESPN.com is looking at the winningest coach for each FBS program today, and the results from the Pac-12 are interesting.

Some teams are trying to regain the past glory of a legendary coach (Arizona State and Frank Kush, Colorado and Bill McCartney, UCLA and Terry Donahue and Washington and Don James).

Some teams all-time wins leader paved the way for present glory (Oregon and Mike Bellotti and USC and John McKay).

Some are just names on a list, Hall of Famers or otherwise, men glaring at us from black and white photos (Pop Warner for Stanford, Lon Stiner for Oregon State, Ike Armstrong at Utah and Babe Hollingbery for Washington State).

And for some teams, well, things are complicated.

For one, Jeff Tedford, who has been hot-seated by many reporters and California fans, is the Bears all-time winningest coach. Then there's Oregon State's Mike Riley, who most feel is sitting on the second-warmest seat in the Pac-12. He needs just three victories to eclipse Stiner as the Beavers winningest coach.

A guy who might identify: Arizona's winningest coach Dick Tomey. Tomey went 12–1 in 1998 but was forced out in 2000.

Hey, look at this patch of grass. It's lovely. Not perfect, though. Is that a clover? Hmm. What about the grass ... over there?

The most interesting names, of course, are Kush, McCartney, Donahue and James. Each is the standard for his program. Even fans too young to have witnessed their tenures know who they are. While these coaches' programs have experienced varying degrees of success both before and after them, no one has been able to duplicate their consistency. And those who have tried over the past couple of decades seem as though they shriveled up under the shadow of the legends who preceded them.

While fans fervently cling to the "It happened before, so it can happen again" position, the truth is comparisons are sometimes unfair. College football is much different than it was before the BCS era, which none of these four experienced.

But that doesn't keep fans from hoping for a second-coming.
1. Ohio State will pay Urban Meyer a bonus of $150,000 for going to a BCS bowl. Given that the Buckeyes have played in nine BCS bowls, more than any other program, that seems like a safe bet. That sounds like a lot of money for doing what Ohio State is paying him $4 million annually to do. On the other hand, it’s a bonus of less than 4 percent. That’s the head-shaking news here: a bonus of $150,000 is less than 4 percent of a head coach’s salary.

2. Bob Stoops complained to the Daily Oklahoman on Monday that the Sooners play more night games (18 in 2010-11) than any team in the Big 12. The Sooners’ opener at UTEP will kick off at 9:30 p.m. CT. As someone who applauds marquee schools that take road trips to play lesser lights, I’m not going to say that’s what Oklahoma gets for going to El Paso. The Sooners could always start losing -- Kansas played only 10 night games in 2010-11. But that solution may not be palatable, either.

3. Former Michigan All-American and 1947 Heisman runner-up Bob Chappuis died Thursday at age 89. Chappuis achieved something more rare than winning the Heisman. He made the cover of Time, one of only 17 college football-related covers in the magazine’s 89 years. Red Grange graced the first, in 1925, and Alabama coach Bear Bryant the most recent, back in 1980. In fact, Bryant has been the only college football cover subject in the past 46 years. Odd, don’t you think?
Kevin SumlinCal Sport Media/AP ImagesBetween a young team and a tough new conference, coach Kevin Sumlin has his work cut out for him.
It's Moving Day No. 2 on the blog network today, and the Aggies are following Missouri out the door into the SEC blog today. We introduced the Aggies to the SEC earlier, but now it's time to debate.

The Aggies' move to the SEC was more about having the program grow in brand-new soil, whereas Missouri's move was more about conference stability.

Will the Aggies thrive? SEC blogger Chris Low and Big 12 blogger David Ubben go head to head to find out.

Chris Low: OK, David, let's not tiptoe around. This is a big-boy conference in the SEC with big-boy stakes. I know everything is supposedly bigger in the state of Texas, but do the Aggies really know what they're getting themselves into? For one, they tend to play all four quarters in the SEC. Judging by what I saw from the Aggies last season, somebody might want to remind them that there is a second half. Come to think of it, that's not very hospitable of me. I take that back. But, honestly, how do you think the Aggies will handle the grind of this league?

David Ubben: Now, now, Chris, that's not very nice. The Aggies are ...

As one final tribute to Texas A&M, I elected to forfeit the second half of that sentence.

In the early running, Texas A&M's going to have a lot of issues. Losing the volume and quality of talent they did in 2011 will hurt, especially on offense, as the program moves into a league -- and, particularly, a division -- known for defense. Ryan Tannehill wasn't great last year, but his experience helped, and Jeff Fuller and Cyrus Gray are a pair of NFL players that don't roll around every year.

I like the talent on campus at A&M a lot, though. They're just going to be young for now. With what they have now, they'll get better and better, as long as Kevin Sumlin does well. Based on what we've seen from his career, I think he will.

[+] EnlargeSean Porter
Troy Taormina/US PresswireLinebacker Sean Porter tallied 9 sacks for A&M last season, but the Aggies will need more from their defensive line.
Beyond these first three to four years, how well they progress will depend on recruiting. The Aggies think the SEC will be a big draw for Texas recruits who want to play in the best conference in college football. Being able to offer that could help them surpass Texas on the recruiting trail and on the field.

Are you buying that? I strongly lean toward no, but I could see it happening. What do you think? Is playing in the SEC going to be a draw for Texas kids? Why or why not?

CL: I absolutely think the SEC will be a draw for some Texas recruits who see it as a chance to stay in the state and still play their college football and also be able to do it against SEC competition. That's a pretty sweet proposition: Stay close to home in the football-crazed state of Texas and compete in the football-crazed SEC, which has a standing order with the sculptor who designs that crystal trophy every year for the BCS national champion.

There's also another side to this story. The boys in the SEC think their chances of going deep into the heart of Texas and landing elite prospects are better than ever with Texas A&M joining the league. Rival coaches can tell mamas and daddies (that's the way the Bear used to say it) that they'll be able to keep up with their sons just like they were in the Big 12 with the Aggies now part of the SEC family, although the recruiting atmosphere in this league isn't very family-oriented. Just ask Urban Meyer. He got so tired of the recruiting shenanigans in the SEC that he's now pulling his own in the Big Ten, according to some of his new brethren there.

That leads me to my next question: Has anybody informed the Aggies that the rules are a little different in the SEC? Unlike the Big 12, it's not the first team to 40 points that wins.

DU: For the record, the league changed those rules for Baylor-Washington in the Alamo Bowl. First to 60 wins now, but that's irrelevant news for the Aggies.

A&M's front seven's actually been really good these past two years, but this year, it was the secondary that let the team down. The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks, but the team wasn't happy that it took a lot of risky blitzes to get those sacks. The defensive line wasn't the unit applying the pressure most often — it was linebackers and defensive backs. That meant a lot of big plays in the passing game; the Aggies ranked 109th nationally in pass defense, giving up more than 275 yards a game. Now, they won't see the same caliber of quarterbacks in the SEC, but we will see if the front seven can handle the power of teams in the SEC West, which, to their credit, do have a handful of quarterbacks with a lot of potential. Tyler Wilson's great now. AJ McCarron and Kiehl Frazier could be elite soon.

We'll see what new defensive coordinator Mark Snyder can fix.

On the flip side of the recruiting debate, how much do you think SEC teams will try and slide into Texas? Could we see some collateral damage in the Big 12? Will the SEC one day take over the world? I heard Nicolas Sarkozy already has a special security detail in place in case Mike Slive comes after him.

CL: I'm not sure about taking over the world. It's just college football that the SEC one day would like to own. Some might suggest it already does.

Arkansas and LSU will probably be helped the most in terms of going into Texas and getting players. Other schools in the SEC might be more apt to target players in the state of Texas and make a push for those select players, but I don't think you're going to suddenly see a mass of teams in the SEC setting up camp in Texas on the recruiting trail. There's no need to when you look at how bountiful the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina are in most years.

You mention some of the quarterbacks in the Western Division. It's fair to say that this wasn't a quarterback's league this season, and I also realize that the Big 12 has produced some quarterbacks over the last few years who've put up Xbox-type numbers.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireThere's little doubt that the state of Texas and the SEC share a deep passion for football.
But my question for you: Is Texas A&M capable of playing the kind of defense it takes to win big in the SEC?

DU: I think so, eventually. They know they have to, which is huge. They've seen how teams succeed in the SEC, and it's with defense.

If you invest in something, especially with the resources A&M has, good things will happen. Don't forget, the Aggies defense was really, really good last year. The athletes are there. For A&M, it's about putting it together.

CL: With all due respect, "really, really good" on defense in the Big 12 is entirely different than being "really, really good" in the SEC on defense. The more I watch this conference, the more it's ingrained in me that you're never going to win at a high level unless you can run the ball, stop the run and consistently win the turnover battle. Everything else is window dressing. I understand that's not exactly rocket science, but being able to run the ball creates a mindset that positively impacts your entire team. The same goes for playing good run defense.

So if I were offering any advice to the Aggies as they make the big jump, it would be to fortify their offensive backfield and recruit like crazy in the offensive and defensive lines. There's no such thing as too much depth in the SEC.

Having a little Texas flavor in the SEC is exciting. I know you're on record as saying the Aggies might struggle next season. But over time, I think they have what it takes to be an upper-echelon team in the SEC. Of course, that's the beauty of the SEC. So does everybody else in the league.

DU: Oh, there's no respect due when we're talking Big 12 defenses. The best in the SEC are on another stratosphere from the best in the Big 12.

Your game plan sounds like what I'd recommend, but it's easier said than done. Like Mizzou, A&M will have to start mining some of those junior colleges down south like the rest of the SEC West.

Generally, I'd agree with you on A&M's long-term prospects. The Aggies will win less than they did in the Big 12 ... which is to say not much. But they could put it together and have a huge year every now and then. I don't see them surpassing Texas as a program, but they're on their own now.

For some Aggies, that's enough. Next year, the Aggies will struggle, but watching them grow and try to build a new program will be fascinating.
  1. “A Memorial for Joe” will honor the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno on Thursday, 29 years to the day that former Alabama coach Bear Bryant died only four weeks after his final game. The fact that both coaching icons died so soon after they left coaching has been noted time and again this week. The coincidences continue to pile up. Both Bryant and Paterno won their last victory against Illinois. Paterno’s last loss ever came to Alabama in September.
  2. You can’t quibble with the success of Boise State coach Chris Petersen. The Broncos went 50-3 the last four seasons with Kellen Moore at quarterback, and is 73-6 overall. But now comes Petersen’s biggest test. According to PhilSteele.com, Boise State is dead last among FBS schools in returning starters with six. Depth is usually the last thing that mid-majors can count on. Then again, with the Big East on the horizon, we won’t be able to call Boise State a mid-major for much longer.
  3. You know that a head coach has made it when he keeps winning even as his assistants depart. With that in mind, keep an eye on Wisconsin next fall. Head coach Bret Bielema is in the process of replacing six of his nine assistant coaches in this offseason. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst became head coach at Pitt and took three coaches with him. Bielema may be young – he turned 42 this month – but he’s developing a coaching tree. Dave Doeren left his staff last year to become head coach at Northern Illinois.
When asked why he didn't retire from coaching, Joe Paterno often was reminded of his friend, rival and fellow coaching icon, Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Paterno looked up to Bryant and coached against him five times (four times as a head coach, once as an assistant). Their last meeting took place Oct. 9, 1982, when Paterno's third-ranked Penn State team faced Bryant's fourth-ranked Alabama squad at Legion Field, in Birmingham, Ala. Alabama won the game 42-21.

Barely two months later, on Dec. 15, Bryant, 69, announced his retirement from coaching. Two weeks later, Alabama beat Illinois in the Liberty Bowl in Bryant's final game, giving Bryant 323 career coaching wins, the most in Division I history.

On Jan. 26, 1983, Bryant died after being admitted to a hospital with chest pains. He was just 29 days removed from his final game.

Paterno was keenly aware of the short time Bryant lived without football. Like Bryant, Paterno also passed away not long after he stepped away from coaching.

Paterno's death on Sunday morning in State College, Pa., comes 84 days after he coached his final game at Penn State.

Like Bryant, Paterno's final game came against Illinois. Had Paterno been allowed to coach the remainder of the season -- and his health had allowed him to -- his final game would have taken place Jan. 2 in the TicketCity Bowl.

Paterno recorded his 324th career coaching win on Oct. 27, 2001, moving him past Bryant for the most victories among major college coaches.

Paterno coached 46 seasons at Penn State. Bryant spent 38 seasons as a head coach, the final 25 at Alabama.

Although Paterno's departure from coaching was more controversial than Bryant's, the parallels between the two men, even in their deaths, can't be denied.
The SEC went 6-3 in bowl games, and one of those losses was by LSU to Alabama in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

What did we learn in the postseason? Here’s a look:

1. The SEC rules: OK, most of us already knew this, but the SEC reasserted itself as the best conference in college football. There were a few blips. Georgia didn’t finish its game against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, and a kickoff return for a touchdown sunk Vanderbilt against Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But when the bowl dust had cleared, four SEC teams were ranked in the top eight in the final USA Today coaches’ poll, and three teams were in the top five of both polls. Alabama was No. 1, LSU No. 2, Arkansas No. 5 and South Carolina No. 8. All four teams won at least 11 games, and Alabama, of course, won the big prize. The Crimson Tide made it six straight BCS national championships for the SEC, which has its clutches on college football like never before.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAfter notching his third BCS title win, Nick Saban has cemented his place among the best SEC coaches of all-time.
2. Saban reaches new heights: That argument about the two greatest coaches in SEC history is starting to become a genuine argument. Alabama’s Bear Bryant will always be a part of that conversation, but who’s No. 2? Steve Spurrier is a lock for the College Football Hall of Fame when he retires, and if you go way back, Gen. Robert Neyland deserves mention as well. But with his third national championship in 10 seasons as an SEC head coach, Nick Saban is quickly cementing a spot right up there alongside Bryant. The fact that Saban has done it at two places (Alabama and LSU) is what separates him. And keep in mind that LSU was 3-8 the season before he got there and Alabama was 6-7 the season before he arrived in Tuscaloosa. He’s building a mini-dynasty at Alabama, and it’s a run that easily could include a few more national titles.

3. McCarron is coming: The Crimson Tide kept sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron under wraps this season. They shielded him from the media, wanting him to instead focus on everything that goes into quarterbacking the team. They also didn’t put a lot of the offensive burden on his shoulders. That is, until Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game. McCarron played with the confidence and poise of a fifth-year senior, and was the key to the Crimson Tide’s game plan. He came out throwing against LSU’s defense and finished 23-of-34 for 234 yards. It’s a great way for McCarron to go into this offseason. He will be the unquestioned leader of that offense next season and will be asked to do a lot more. The best news for Alabama fans is that he’s plenty capable. He’s the most physically gifted quarterback Saban has had at Alabama, and the whole experience of the national title game could be the springboard he needs to become one of the SEC’s elite quarterbacks the next two seasons.

4. Head Ball Coach is revived: Despite whether Steve Spurrier is second, third or fourth when you start ranking the best SEC head coaches of all time, he’s proved at South Carolina that there was plenty left in his tank. Spurrier, who turns 67 in April, clearly didn’t go to Columbia for one last taste of football before hitting the golf course full time. He went to win, and the Gamecocks are winning at unprecedented heights. Their 30-13 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl capped their first 11-win season in school history. They recorded their first top-10 finish in the polls in school history, and they’ve won nine or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history after making their first appearance in the SEC championship game in 2010. The "Head Ball Coach" should have a good team in 2012, too, so there could be more firsts on the way.

5. Arkansas’ seniors step up: What else can you say about Arkansas’ senior class and the way it set the tone for this team all season? Really, it’s a senior class that changed the course of Arkansas football. And in taking down Kansas State 29-16 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the Hogs’ seniors again led the way. Joe Adams had his fourth punt return for a touchdown this season. Jarius Wright caught his 12th touchdown pass. Jerry Franklin led the team with eight total tackles, the fourth straight season in which he’s led the Hogs in tackles. Jake Bequette had two sacks. Tramain Thomas was his usual solid self, and Jerico Nelson had an interception and 61-yard return to seal the game. It’s a senior class that left an indelible mark on Arkansas football and a senior class that paved the way for the Hogs’ first 11-win season since 1971.

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