EKU coach Hood is well-connected

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 6, 2009 

Hollywood inspired the parlor game "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" based on the premise that any actor can be traced back to Bacon in no more than six steps.

If Kentucky college football had a similar exercise, it might be called The One Degree of Dean Hood.

The Eastern Kentucky University head coach — who will lead the Colonels into Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday to face Kentucky — has direct ties to some of the biggest names in college football coaching.

Take Florida's Urban Meyer.

In the early 1980s, Meyer and Hood were star athletes at rival high schools in Ashtabula, Ohio. Hood was a tight end and middle linebacker for Harbor High, a public school. Meyer was a tailback and free safety for St. John's High, a Catholic school.

"I was dating a girl from their school, so I went to a lot of their parties," Hood said. "Urban and I, we respected each other from competing. We became friends."

Across the years, they remained tight. "I was in his wedding," Hood said Thursday. "And Urban was in mine."

Though they share the same profession, the two have never worked together.

"It never worked out," Hood said. "When we were both assistants, we just never were at the same school. When he got the (head coaching) job at Bowling Green, I was at Ohio but was moving up to Wake Forest."

As Meyer stamped himself one of football coaching's brightest lights, Hood says he and his former high school rival eventually reached a mutual understanding: They didn't want to coach together.

"That was probably more me. I didn't want Urban to think when I called him that it was for any reason other than our friendship," the EKU coach says. "He's a very loyal friend. I wanted our relationship to be about our friendship, not career stuff."

There's Michigan's Rich Rodriguez.

In the late 1980s, both Hood and Rodriguez were launching their coaching careers on the small-college circuit in West Virginia.

At the age of 25, Rodriguez became head coach at Salem College. Hood was then coaching the secondary at Fairmont State.

"We played Salem, and it was unbelievable how much better they were than the year before," Hood recalled. "I didn't know Rich Rodriguez from a can of Vick's, but after the game I went up to him and just said 'Coach, you've done an amazing job with this team.'"

When Rodriguez got the head coaching job at Glenville State, he called Hood and hired him as an assistant.

"We didn't have anything at Glenville," Hood said. "Rich was so creative in finding ways to make up for what we didn't have."

At the start, the school had no weight room. Rodriguez compensated, Hood says, by commandeering a swimming pool and putting his football players through water resistance training.

"He's so passionate," Hood said. "No one is going to outwork Rich Rodriguez."

Subsequently, Rodriguez established himself as a coaching star at West Virginia and now is in the second year of what has been, so far, a rocky ride at Michigan.

"We don't talk as much as Urban and I do," Hood said. "We talk more in the off-season."

There's Wake Forest's Jim Grobe.

Grobe does not have the star power of Meyer and Rodriguez. Since Hood came to EKU two years ago from a job as defensive coordinator at Wake, there's not much mystery about their connection.

Still, among other football coaches, there are few college head men more respected than Grobe.

In 2006, Grobe took Wake Forest — a private school with rigorous academic standards and lousy football tradition — and won the ACC championship to wind up opposite Louisville in the Orange Bowl.

"People will say I'm biased because I was a part of that, but I don't think there is a better American sports story in the last 25 years than that," Hood said.

Grobe's secret, Hood says, "is that he's the same way with the housekeeping staff as he is with the university president.

"You don't have to worry if he's in your house recruiting that he's one way there and another way when you get to campus. He is the ultimate genuine person."

Among the coaching greats he's been one degree from, Hood would include his stint (1994-98) as an assistant to legendary EKU head man Roy Kidd.

On Saturday in Commonwealth, the Eastern coach says you'll see a little of all these coaches in him.

Said Hood: "I've always said, 'we're all born original. We all die a copy.' I've tried to take a little bit from every one of them."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230, 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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