By WILL HIGHTOWER
Samford head football coach Pat Sullivan is entering his fifth season of coaching the Bulldogs. The Heisman-winning quarterback at Auburn talked with us about his career and the upcoming football season.
How did you get in to coaching initially?
It is something that I always felt compelled to do. My wife, Jean, was a big part in that decision. She told me that I didn’t want to wake up at age 50 and not be doing what I wanted to be doing, which was coaching. It had to be a joint decision because of all the hours it takes. I had been coaching my son, Patrick, in soccer and doing Auburn radio while doing insurance. I had been successful in that, and Jean had been successful in real estate. But we gave it all up when I decided to coach.
You recruited Ladainian Tomlinson to play at TCU while you were the head coach there. Could you see the NFL career he had in front of him?
You know, you never see that kind of thing. A lot of that is about being in the right place at the right time. Ladainian had character and a strong work ethic. When you get that with his kind of ability, it’s a really good combination.
How will it feel to return to coach against Auburn? (The Bulldogs play at Auburn on November 19.)
I have a lot of feelings whenever I go back there because I have a lot of good memories. I have a lot of friends there, too, but it will be a good feeling to be on the Samford sideline.
Which coaches have influenced your coaching?
Well, starting young, I played in the Toy Bowl league as a kid, and Brother Christopher was my coach. That along with good influences from coaches continued on through high school. My most influential coach was Coach [Shug] Jordan. We had a good relationship, and he was a great person.
What is the difference in recruiting at Samford as opposed to a place like Auburn or TCU where you have formerly coached?
With recruiting there’s always a lot of similarities. Number one, you have to identify players and then see if they fit in your program. Samford is a wonderful place and has an awful lot to sell. The situation at TCU was very similar to Samford’s when I came–not much success, not very good facilities and maybe not much of a commitment to athletics. So I am very proud of the change at both TCU and Samford. We have come a long way in our five years here. We are starting to attract the right kind of players both on the field and off the field, where our guys will be good citizens.
What do you expect from Dustin Taliaferro as he enters his fourth year of starting at quarterback?
I hope it’s a great year for him. He has had ups and downs, but he has that ability so we are very hopeful and excited for him.
How do you replace Chris Evans, who had over 1,000 yards rushing for each of the last four years?
Well, there have been a lot of contributors besides Chris over the last few years. It’s going to take two or three players to replace his contributions. I’m looking forward to Fabian Truss having a great year, and we also signed three freshman running backs this year.
What does the future hold for the Samford football program?
The program is on an upward spiral. When we started five years ago, there were a lot of new things needed. We changed conferences and I am not sure if we were ready for that. The change to the Southern Conference was a step up in the caliber of play from top to bottom. So it has taken a while to adjust, and we are still not quite where we need to be.
Do you keep in touch with any of your old teammates?
What you get out of athletics, when it’s all said and done, is relationships that last your whole life. It’s not about how many yards you threw for, how many touchdowns you scored, how many tackles you had. I’m very fortunate to stay in touch with my former teammates. And it’s the same way with the kids I have coached.
You have bounced around the Birmingham area several times in your life, correct?
I went to John Carroll in high school. When Jean and I came back from playing pro ball, we lived in Mountain Brook for six years, and since we came back to coach at Samford, we live in Vestavia.
What was it like to see your alma mater finally win another national championship?
I was excited for them. I think it’s very important for the state of Alabama. The state should be proud. When you look back at Alabama winning the national championship with Mark Ingram winning the Heisman, and then Auburn doing it with Cam winning the Heisman, it speaks volumes about the state.
Talk about the differences in the game today and when you played, as far as training, recruiting, etc.
Well, recruiting is much different. Back then, there were no restrictions. Coaches could call you anytime, visit you, take you out to dinner, and alumni could do the same thing whenever they wanted to. Today, it’s totally different. As far as the game itself, I think all the intangibles are the same. Of course, today players are bigger, stronger, and faster. But the same values still matter. If you work hard and have a commitment to your team, you will succeed. That was the same yesterday, today, and in 20 years it will still be the same. I will say the game is more complicated now. There are differences in the playbook, but many of the formations and plays we used are still used today.
As a former pro player, what did you think about the NFL lockout?
I don’t know much about the ins and outs of it, but I do think there needs to be benefits for former players. I have lots of friends who have issues today from their playing days.