Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin turned down Law School and a chance at a Rhodes Scholarship for a pro football career in the Canadian Football League.
And even though he was a pseudo player-coach in the CFL, when his illustrious career was over he had no intentions of going into coaching as his after-football career.
"I never thought I would be a coach after my football career was over," Austin said. "I thought of a lot of things to do, but coaching was not one of them. It was not on my list of things to do or be. I did not have a desire to coach.
"Even though I called every play during my CFL career and helped develop the offenses we ran, I didn't think I wanted to be a coach after football. I was very involved in gameplanning and in helping develop the five and six wideout spread offenses we ran. That laid an unknowing foundation for me for the future, but I still was not thinking about coaching after my playing days were over."
In 2001, Kent went into private business back in his hometown of Nashville, TN, and was up to his elbows in running his company, but an old friend and mentor, Carlton Flatt, called on him for some help.
"He was my high school coach and when he asked me to volunteer my time to help with the quarterbacks and receivers at my old high school, I did not feel like I could turn him down," said Kent. "Carlton had such a huge impact on me I felt like I needed to give back to him and the school that meant so much to me too.
"I had a blast."
Then Kent's wife, Shelly, approached Austin about him getting into coaching.
"She told me I should consider it because when I was helping Carlton she said it was the happiest she had ever seen me," Austin explained. "Two weeks later, she came back to me again and said she was convinced I should do it, even though it meant moving my family, most likely to Canada.
"Two phone calls later and I had a job offer in the CFL. I not only had a job, but I had the coaching bug. I felt we were led to coaching."
A few years and a CFL championship ring as the head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2007 later, Austin was releaxing with his family in California during the offseason when his phone rang.
It was Houston Nutt.
"I was shocked. We were totally removed from TV and the internet and everything and I did not know David Lee had left Houston for the pros after Houston got the Ole Miss job," Kent noted. "When he called, I did not know what he was calling me for. I just thought he wanted to talk some football.
"Houston finally realized I didn't know what he was talking about, and he told me that he wanted me to be his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. That's when I realized David had gone to the NFL and there was an opening at Ole Miss. Even then, I did not think it was that serious. I thought I was getting a courtesy interview because of how close I am to David and that he had recommended me."
Saskatchewan GM Eric Tillman, an Ole Miss grad, was glad Kent was being considered by Houston, but his professional obligation to his employer was to try to keep Kent. Eric offered Kent a major contract upgrade, but when Austin got the offer from Houston, he accepted.
"It was a tough decision. Eric, a very close friend, made a great effort to keep us there, and we had a great situation there, but the chance to go back to my alma mater and coach with Houston Nutt and his staff was too big a lure," he said. "It was also an opportunity to get my family back to the South.
"And at the end of the day, it was Houston. If it had not been for him, I would have stayed where I was. I had to be going to work for a guy who is a great indivudal and a great coach, and a guy who gets it on every level. Houston is that guy."
David Lee had a major influence on Kent joining ranks with Nutt.
"David is as fine a human being as I have ever known and we are real close. When he vouched for Houston, that was all I needed to hear," Austin said. "How he treats people, his philosophy on coaching, it all fit what I wanted, and when I interviewed with Houston, he was everything David said he would be."
Kent was able to bring some of his Canadian-based philosophy with him, but some of it he had to leave behind.
"It's 12-man football with a wider field, so you have to think differently about the zones you can throw to," he explained. "It's also a three-down league so you can't waste a down. You have to think outside the box more and be more creative.
"I was able to transfer some of that thinking here. I had to rethink some things, but we were able to incorporate a lot of stuff from Canada that has been successful at Ole Miss."
Austin has been a big part of the Rebs' success this year.
The collaboration of Nutt and Austin has accounted for 30.8 points per game and nearly 4,800 yards of total offense in a balanced attack.
Now, the Rebel offense faces another strong challenge from Texas Tech's defense in the Cotton Bowl.
"Their defense is good. They are 11-1 and it's not just because of their offense," Austin assessed. "Statistics are all relative. The wins and losses are what count. They play in a league that pushes the ball aggressively and is offense-orientated.
"I see a defense that is well-coached. They don't do a lot of different things, but what they do, they do well. Their secondary does a lot of pattern-reading. They understand their assignments in the zones they play. Their drops are precise, their linebackers read things well and they don't take plays off. We are going to have to play four quarters of good football and execute."
The Rebels play a different style offense than Tech is used to. Is that an advantage for Ole Miss?
"We'll see. We feel we've got a great challenge, regardless of our style of play. We have to control the football and score, we understand that," Austin closed. "We feel they are going to play well and will force us to execute.
"Even though our style of offense is different from what they have seen consistently throughout the year, they have had a lot of time to prepare for us. We'll see how it comes out."
It's odd how life takes radical turns sometimes.
Just ask Kent Austin.
Kent Austin -
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