Who has done the best coaching job in the Southeastern Conference this football season?
That’s an easy question: Steve Spurrier of South Carolina.
The Old Ball Coach – or, if you prefer, Steve Superior – has his South Carolina Gamecocks 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC.
They totally out-classed Georgia 35-7 and the hottest ticket in all of football will be Oct. 20 when Spurrier takes his team back to Florida to tangle with the Gators.
Alabama stayed No. 1 in the nation – and South Carolina, ranked No. 3, doesn’t have to worry about the Tide unless both make it to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
The success of Spurrier and Kentucky’s John Calipari in basketball make one wonder how UK would have done if it had expended the time, effort and money to lure Spurrier with the same zeal that it took to get Calipari.
Would the leaders of the University of Kentucky, who reportedly yielded to pressure to get Calipari, have been willing to make a go at Spurrier when he gave up his head coaching job with the NFL’s Washington Redskins and was on the coaching market?
Of course it has to be asked: Would Spurrier even have considered Kentucky because he would have no one to make fun of? Through the years, Spurrier has made the Wildcats his favorite punching bag.
But Cat fans can dream, can’t they? I mean, Calipari and Spurrier on the same campus!
What separates great coaches from ordinary ones in team sports is judging talent. In other words, who can play and who can’t?
Nowhere on the current college football scene is that more evident than at the University of Kentucky.
Look at the handling of quarterback Patrick Towles by the Kentucky coaching staff. There is no one on God’s green Earth who has seen him play and who doesn’t think that he can play.
But the Kentucky coaching staff, headed by Joker Phillips and his offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, proved totally inept by their handling of Patrick Towles.
All the big kid from Fort Thomas Highlands wanted was a chance. When circumstances of their own making surfaced and they had to play Towles, he responded immediately and had the Wildcats on the road to victory over Mississippi State before being hurt.
Should Phillips be fired? That isn’t the question. Here it is: Why shouldn’t wholesale changes be made in the Kentucky coaching staff?
The smartest football coach I have known was the late Blanton Collier, a Bourbon County native who coached Paris High in Central Kentucky.
Collier followed Paul “Bear” Bryant as head coach of the University of Kentucky Wildcats. He was no Bear Bryant, but no one else in college football has been a Bear – before or since.
Collier coached the Wildcats from 1954-61 and his teams had a 41-36-3 record. That got him fired! No one else has left Lexington with a winning record since then.
Meanwhile Collier’s Cleveland Browns won a National Football League championship. After that he had to retire because he had lost just about all of his hearing.
For the record, coaches of his era insisted that Collier was an even better high school basketball coach.
One of Collier’s daughters, Kay Collier McLaughlin, told Lexington Herald-Leader sports columnist Mark Story that the treatment of current UK coach Joker Phillips is totally unfair. She used virtually the same words her dad had used while educating me about coaching football at UK against Southeastern Conference teams.
The same things he said then in the middle of old Stoll Field at UK still exist.
A personal item I just remembered from that conversation: One of Collier’s daughters had just started working at The Courier-Journal in public relations. Collier asked me a question that caused me to laugh: “The C-J doesn’t pay much, do they?”
All I said was, are you telling me!
One other inside story about Collier: He called me and said he was going to have a Sunday night party and wanted the names of the Louisville media members.
On the way to Lexington I asked my wife if she thought any of the hard stuff would be served in the Collier household. Blanton was a good Baptist, but alcohol was offered.
Back to UK coaches
It is very true what Collier’s daughter said about the treatment of UK coaches and the lack of support they have received. At the same time, various UK coaching pretenders have overlooked talented prospects – right under their noses. Ever heard of David Akers? Frank Minnifield? Eric Shelton? All stars at the University of Louisville.
All from Lexington high schools. Akers is the premier field goal kicker in the National Football League, good for about a dozen points a game. Minnifield has been chairman of the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees after starring for the Cleveland Browns. Shelton also played several years in the NFL, until injuries ended his pro career.