This dynamic is not limited to the Southeastern Conference: Coaches who played at one school wind up coaching for a rival school.
It’s true that in the 1960s, Oregon and USC weren’t quite the high-profile adversaries they are today, but the legendary John McKay played at Oregon and was an assistant coach for the Ducks before he moved to Los Angeles and became one of the two most successful coaches in USC history, Howard Jones being the other. (Pete Carroll was remarkably good, but he’s third on the list behind McKay and Jones, if only because longevity allowed the other two men to accumulate more accomplishments.)
As another — and better — example, Darrell Royal played for the great Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1940s. Less than a decade later, he began his career as the head coach at the University of Texas. Royal merely became the greatest head coach the Longhorn football program has ever known… and he was Oklahoma-born and educated. Man, how that must have stung the Sooners in the 1960s, when Bevo ascended to the top of the heap in college football.
Texas-Oklahoma is a major blood feud, but the rest of the Big 12 (especially with Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri removed from the picture) isn’t stuffed with rivalries which possess national resonance.
The SEC is where several games each season — Alabama versus Tennessee, Georgia versus Auburn, Florida versus Georgia, Auburn versus Alabama — gain a spotlight that is national, not merely regional, in scope. So many SEC games take on supreme significance for the local fan bases, while also happening to affect the national landscape. In this kind of spotlight, it is even more notable — and fascinating — that coaches who went to school at one SEC institution wind up coaching for a foremost rival.
The latest example of this dynamic will make his coaching debut at an SEC school this season… which, at this point, is just a couple of weeks away.
Brian Schottenheimer had his daddy, Marty — for my money, the most underappreciated head coach in the history of the National Football League — to learn from since he was a kid. However, as an active college football player, Schottenheimer learned at the feet of a master, Stephen Orr Spurrier.
Yes, Schottenheimer was a backup quarterback to none other than Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel at Florida. Schottenheimer had a front-row seat to history, as Florida won each of the first five SEC East championships and four league titles in five years (five in six if you count the 1990 season in which the Gators finished at the top of the standings but had their crown officially stripped from them).
First of all, a lot of you are surely wondering — especially if you’re New York Jets or St. Louis Rams fans — why Schottenheimer seemed to follow his dad’s play-selection philosophy more than Spurrier’s in the NFL. However, that’s another conversation for another time. What’s worth stressing here is that anyone who played or coached for Spurrier at Florida knew this much: Spurrier HATED Georgia and still does to this day.
Spurrier might have been a Johnson City (Tenn.) boy who loved to stick it to the Vols at every opportunity, but Georgia was and still is the SEC opponent Spurrier loves to beat more than any other. Georgia whacked Florida in Spurrier’s Heisman-winning 1966 season, a bitter defeat that has fueled Spurrier ever since. In the intervening years between the end of Spurrier’s Florida playing career and the beginning of his coaching career in Gainesville (a period of 23 years, almost exactly to the day), the Head Ball Coach gathered all the slights and insults and gut-punches the Gators received at the hands of the Bulldogs.
When, due to renovations at the Gator Bowl stadium (now the Jacksonville Jaguars’ renamed home stadium), the Florida-Georgia series briefly moved on campus for a home-and-home arrangement in 1994 and 1995, Spurrier — thrust Between the Hedges — pounced on his big chance to rub a little salt in UGA’s wounds.
Despite a comfortable 28-point lead late in the fourth quarter, and despite counter-claims that he really didn’t intend to do so, Spurrier — it remains — allowed backup quarterback Eric Kresser (not Schottenheimer) to throw a touchdown pass with 1:10 left to give Florida a 52-17 final margin of victory. The desire to hang “half-a-hundred” on Georgia might not have come from Spurrier’s mouth, but it sure showed in his actions. Spurrier might not have ever uttered the exact words, but responsibility for that fourth quarter in Athens certainly begins and ends with him alone.
This is the man Brian Schottenheimer played for.
This is the man who, in one month, will coach against Schottenheimer as the guide of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
On one level, Spurrier himself fits the pattern of a man who played at one SEC school and coached at another. However, Spurrier is obviously different in that he coached at his alma mater first and made quite a name for himself there. South Carolina will always be seen and remembered as Spurrier’s secondary SEC school. What’s more is that South Carolina has a long history outside the SEC; it didn’t join the league until 1992. The Gamecocks were an ACC school for some years, a Southern Conference school for a longer period of time, and an independent in the decades preceding the move to the SEC. If Spurrier was ever going to relocate to the SEC after his failed NFL experiment with the Washington Redskins, South Carolina did represent the best possible options, if only for the lack of a (threatening or contentious) history with Florida.
Back to Schottenheimer…
For a Florida graduate, no SEC school can be seen as more of a rival than Georgia. Yet, as Mark Richt’s new offensive coordinator, Marty’s son will get a chance to be the run-first coordinator Mike Bobo didn’t always want to be. (Cough, Todd Gurley inside the 10 at South Carolina last year, cough.) Schottenheimer will try to make Spurrier’s life miserable, and he’ll also stand in the way of first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain.
Schottenheimer becomes the latest person for whom an SEC allegiance acquired noticeable limitations, when a paycheck and the promise of a steady job came calling.
However, any student of the SEC knows that this is hardly an uncommon occurrence.
Pat Dye played at Georgia. He coached as an assistant under Bear Bryant at Alabama. He merely became one of the best head coaches in Auburn history.
One of Dye’s contemporaries — albeit with an SEC head coaching career which lasted much longer than Dye’s — was Vince Dooley. The Georgia coaching icon played at Auburn. When Dooley and Dye matched wits with each other, an Auburn player and a Georgia player were standing on the opposite sidelines, relative to their playing days.
Will Muschamp is the inverse of Brian Schottenheimer. Having played at Georgia, Muschamp became the head coach at Florida. He was once — and is now again — an assistant coach at Auburn, and will therefore coach against his alma mater for the fifth consecutive season and the seventh in the last 10.
If you had thought that Brian Schottenheimer’s path — playing for Steve Spurrier at Florida and now coaching at Georgia — lies beyond any and all comprehension, you now know better: This sort of thing is not all that rare in coaching circles.
It makes life in the SEC even more delicious — we’ll see if the Gators chomp Spurrier’s former backup quarterback this season or not.