5 strong, loyal SEC assistant coaches
Loyalty is a forgotten virtue among football coaches, especially those in high demand.
With coordinators getting paid multiple millions, there’s plenty of motivation for assistants to move and move up. Head coaches get fired as well, or schools quibble over contracts.
(See: Chavis, John. The man defines loyalty, spending 20 years as an assistant at Tennessee, leaving only when Phillip Fulmer got pushed out, then joined Les Miles at LSU in a move many figured could see him through to retirement. After six seasons, though, he’s switched allegiances to Texas A&M.)
Still, there are a few SEC assistant coaches who are both excellent at what they do and loyal to a fault. We found five guys who fit that profile.
Interestingly, four of them work for either Alabama and Missouri, the two teams that met in the SEC championship last December. Maybe loyalty matters after all.
5. Greg Knox, Mississippi State running backs: After three seasons at Stephen F. Austin launched his coaching career (’92-’94), Knox has spent two decades on the staff of Tommy Tuberville (Ole Miss/Auburn, ’95-’08) or Dan Mullen (’09-present).
4. Burton Burns, Alabama running backs: Burns has spent his college coaching career working for two coaches almost exclusively: Tommy Bowden and Nick Saban. Burton served on Bowden’s staff at Tulane and Clemson for 10 years before becoming part of Saban’s original Alabama staff in ’07. Burns was a New Orleans-area high school and college coach for several decades, and although Saban arrived at LSU one year after Burns cleared out for Clemson, the two traversed many of the same Louisiana coaching circles. Since he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Burns has coached backs like Glen Coffee, Roy Upchurch, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.
3. Andy Hill, Missouri associate head coach/quarterbacks: Think Gary Pinkel has coached at Missouri for a long time? Hill has been with the Tigers for much longer, ever since he accepted an offer to coach the team’s receivers in ’96. In other words, Hill has occupied a football office in Columbia, Mo., since before some of the incoming recruits were born. After developing players like Justin Gage, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Egnew, Hill shifted to quarterbacks in ’13. That makes him the perfect coach to corral Maty Mauk’s free-wheeling ways while meshing the quarterback with an inexperienced group of receivers that Hill should understand well.
2. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator: Saban’s right-hand man going on eight years now, Smart has coached defense for the boss going on 11 of the last 12 years. (After a one-year stop with Saban at LSU, Smart coached at Georgia for one season when the head man left for Miami, then rejoined him with the Dolphins in ’06 and followed him to Tuscaloosa in ’07.) Instead of branching out on his own, the 39-year-old Smart has stuck close to Saban and made millions running the defense for the Crimson Tide, where he’s collected three national championships. Smart has been plenty good enough to get a head coaching job elsewhere, and loses credit for some of what he’s accomplished because Saban is a defensive-minded guy. But Alabama’s eight-season run under Saban wouldn’t be the same without Smart.
1. Craig Kuligowski, Missouri defensive line: I can understand why Pinkel chose Barry Odom to replace Dave Steckel. Odom did a tremendous job as defensive coordinator at Memphis and many believe he’ll make a strong head coach soon. Kuligowski doesn’t have any experience coordinating a defense. But the man has earned the right to become a coordinator, if that’s what he wants to do. This will be his 24th season on Pinkel’s staff. Talk about loyalty. Kuligowski got a raise, sure, but he stayed despite a co-coordinator offer from Illinois. No one could blame him for being frustrated after waiting almost a quarter-century — let that sink in — for the opportunity. But he’s still a part of Mizzou, and don’t be surprised when players like Harold Brantley and Terry Beckner Jr. are the next high-round draft picks from that defensive line thanks to that decision.