Nick Saban during his playing days at Kent State
Here’s a look at the coaches … as college players.
Nick Saban: He played in the secondary for the only Kent State team to win a MAC title. Want to know where his fire comes from? Read this piece on his playing days.
Saban’s teammates on the 1972 championship team included Jack Lambert and former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.
That 1972 title came just two years after the tragic shooting of four Kent State student protesters.
Saban was on campus at the time, a detail discussed in this terrific story of how the 1972 team helped heal a community.
Bret Bielema: Played defensive line at Iowa, where he was named a captain in 1992. As for preparation? He earned a scout team defensive MVP as a freshman.
Gus Malzahn: He was a walk-on receiver at Arkansas for one season in 1984.
Jim McElwain: With Spurrier retired, that opens up a spot at quarterback. McElwain played quarterback for three seasons at Eastern Washington.
Kirby Smart: He started alongside Champ Bailey in Georgia’s secondary in the late 1990s. Bailey was first-team All-SEC in 1998, when Smart made the second team.
Mark Stoops: He also played in the secondary and was part of four bowl teams at Iowa.
“He’s one of the all-time great people that I’ve ever had the honor to coach,” Hayden Fry, the Hawkeyes’ Hall of Fame former coach, told USA Today in 2013. “Very intelligent, great personality, a leader on the football team. He wasn’t real large — probably 170 pounds then — and yet he played like he weighed 200. All those Stoops boys were that way. It was in their bloodline.
“Frankly, I never thought he’d be anything but a football coach.”
Les Miles: He was an offensive lineman on two Big Ten championship teams at Michigan in 1974 and 1975 and played in the 1976 Orange Bowl, according to his LSU bio.
Dan Mullen: A quarterback in high school, Mullen admits he wasn’t much of a prospect. In 2014, he told Philly.com that he “made up for my slow speed with my weak arm.” Division III Ursinus College turned him into a tight end.
Barry Odom: He arrived at Missouri as a once-promising running back but soon switched to linebacker. His 362 career tackles rank fourth all-time in program history.
“He was the constant leader,” former Tigers linebacker coach Ricky Hunley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I just wish he had the size so he could have made it to the next level. I thought he could have been something special (in the NFL).”
Hugh Freeze: If this team needs a shortstop, Freeze is the best qualified. He played baseball for two years at Northwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to Southern Miss, arriving after Brett Favre left.
He did not play college football, but he certainly learned the value of recruiting the JUCO ranks.
Will Muschamp: Coach Boom started as a walk-on before earning a scholarship and eventually a starting spot in Georgia’s secondary.
“He wasn’t a great player, but he was a really good player,” former coach Ray Goff told AL.com in a 2015 story about Muschamp’s playing days. “He was physical. What you see on the sidelines is the way he was as a player. He was very intense. He’ll knock your jockstrap off, now. He’s a very physical guy.”
Muschamp was voted a team captain in 1994.
Butch Jones: He walked on and played two seasons at Division II Ferris State, but injuries forced him to the sidelines.
Kevin Sumlin: He walked on before turning into an All-Big Ten linebacker at Purdue. He graduated in 1986 with 375 career tackles, then seventh on Purdue’s career list.
Sumlin still is very much a favored son in West Lafayette, Ind., whose Boilermakers have struggled mightily since Joe Tiller was fired. Tweets like this are common:
Derek Mason: Yet another defensive back, Mason played four years at FCS Northern Arizona.