First of all, in addition to working with Mark Murphy and Inside the Auburn Tigers, I am excited about doing this series of columns. It gives me a chance to communicate with Auburn people and football fans all across the country.
I have done a lot of thinking about this project since I agreed to do it, and I can't think of a soul in the Southeastern Conference who has any more background than I do on the history and tradition of this conference. I go back to when I was a kid in the 1950s going to Athens with my mother and daddy to watch Georgia play Alabama, Tulane, Kentucky or somebody as an eight or nine-year-old.
Of course, growing up in Georgia and having played football and being recruited as a high school athlete, I made trips to Atlanta where Bobby Dodd was head coach at Georgia Tech. I visited Clemson where Frank Howard was the coach. Bowden Wyatt was the head coach at Tennessee and I loved him.
Going to Georgia was memorable playing for four years there and playing against Coach Dodd and Coach Bryant (Bear Bryant, Alabama head coach) and Coach Jordan (Shug Jordan, Auburn head coach). Coach Jordan and Mrs. Jordan were close friends of our family and they would come to visit us every summer. Back then you talked about football, or hunting or fishing, or whatever. We didn't have all of the entertainment we have today. Information was passed on from generation to generation sitting around and talking at the dinner table.
As a player it was memorable going to Georgia and playing on a football team that was picked eighth in the conference and we ended up winning the conference championship. The nine years that I spent at Alabama, working for Coach Bryant, and coaching against the great Tennessee teams and the great Auburn teams in '69, '70 and '71 was memorable.
I played in all-star games after my senior year with great players from Auburn and Ole Miss, which was strong, and LSU and other SEC colleges so my knowledge and understanding of this conference goes back to the '50s. Watching the growth of where it was then and where it was today, it has been a phenomenal journey because I really believe that football today is bigger and better than it has ever been.
A lot of the guys my age, and some not as old or older, they want to think their days were better, but we couldn't any more compete with these football teams today than a grammar school team could compete against a high school team. There would be individuals who could play on these teams now, but overall with the team speed and the year-around training they get now there would be no comparison.
It has been memorable going through the processes of seeing the different offenses and different defenses develop in SEC football. When I played at Georgia we ran a spread formation with two backs and the wing-T. Tennessee was running the single wing and that was in the early stages of the "I" formation in college football. Alabama went through the wishbone years and Kentucky won an SEC championship running the wishbone when Fran Curci was there.
Watching the conference change and grow has been fun. I think one thing about the conference is that it is obvious all of the institutions realize how important it is to have a successful football program and they have spent a lot of money on facilities and all of the ingredients it takes to compete at the highest level. They have also gone out and hired what in my opinion, from the 1950s until today, is the best group of coaches the Southeastern Conference has had at the same time.
You can go to the East and there are Urban Meyer, Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier along with Robbie Caldwell, Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley. Three of those are kind of unproven, but the other three are proven.
On the SEC West side there are great coaches as well. I think Gene Chizik is going to be a great coach at Auburn. He has already had one successful year and I?think he is destined to be a great coach. Nick Saban has proven he is a great coach. Les Miles has got his critics, but he has won a national championship. Bobby Petrino has proven he can win at Arkansas. Houston Nutt is a little squirrelly, but he has had his great years. He seems to have his great years when he is not supposed to have a great year and when he is supposed to have his great years something always happens. Dan Mullen has done a great job at Mississippi State and I would say right now that football enthusiasm at Mississippi State is at an all-time high.
Dan Mullen holds the Egg Bowl Trophy after Mississippi State's 2009 victory over Ole Miss.
I think across the country, because of the nature of the rules in the game today and reducing the scholarship limit to 85, there are more teams that have a chance to be successful than ever. Another reason for that is because there are more good high school players coming into college, more than there have ever been in the history of the game. There are better high school coaches than there have ever been and better year-around training programs for high school kids so there is more talent available out there.
You have programs like Connecticut, Central Florida, Boise State, TCU and Utah you would laugh at 15 years ago, but now you don't want to play them. There are also new programs starting like South Alabama. I think that has been a great thing nation-wide and we have been fortunate to live where the peaks are the highest, right here in the Southeastern Conference.
I can say I am glad and delighted to be part of that growth and watching it from the '50s to the '60s as a player, to the '70s as an assistant coach and then as a head coach at Auburn in the 80s and then watching the programs from here in the '90s to where we are today it has been a phenomenal journey.
I am excited about sharing my experiences and knowledge about the game as it is played today with the Auburn folks and the football fans across the country.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)