Matthew Mitchell was in a pickle.
In 1996, the current University of Kentucky women's basketball head man had launched his hoops coaching career at Central Holmes Academy in Lexington, Miss. Working at Class A private high schools in Mississippi, however, often meant coaching every sport.
The following school year, Mitchell felt the panic rising inside him when the school's new head football coach, Billy Jack Caston, drafted him as his defensive coordinator.
"This is six weeks before the season starts," Mitchell said. "I said 'I don't know the first thing about being the defensive coordinator. I don't know anything.' And Billy Jack goes 'That's your problem. I call the plays and run the offense and I don't fool with the defense.'... It was frightening."
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His brain racing, Mitchell searched for who he could call who would give him a primer on Coaching Defensive Football 101.
He rang Mark Hudspeth's phone.
On Saturday, Hudspeth and Mitchell will each play roles in the official unveiling of the renovated Commonwealth Stadium.
Ever the showman, Mitchell will front a band as the opening act for country duo Sundy Best in a pre-game concert. Hudspeth's part will be a tad more substantial. The Louisiana-Lafayette head football coach will lead the Ragin' Cajuns against Kentucky at 7 p.m.
The ties that inspired Mitchell to reach out to Hudspeth in a time of professional need were forged growing up in Louisville (pronounced Lewis-ville), Miss. In an era before Xbox, Netflix and Candy Crush, boys in a town of 6,463 people had to create their own fun.
"We had a group of guys, I guess 10 or 11, and we would play tackle football, no pads, every Sunday," Mitchell said. "Mark was two years older than me, but we always played in those games."
If there had been scouting reports on Louisville pickup football in those days, Hudspeth says Mitchell "was kind of a finesse player. He was tall, so you could throw it up to him and he'd go get it, and he had a really good arm. Whatever team he was on, they tended to run a lot of reverse passes 'cause he could really throw it."
Mitchell says Hudspeth "was real tough. In those front-yard football games with no pads, there were some like me that would make a tackle if you had to but didn't really want to. Mark was one of those guys who wanted to (tackle people)."
By the time of Hudspeth's senior year of high school in 1986-87, he was the starting QB at Winston Academy and Mitchell his sophomore backup. That year, Winston Academy lost in the state championship game.
"I was playing in the secondary (on defense) and a receiver got behind me late on a deep fade," Hudspeth said. "It went for a touchdown and, really, cost us the state championship. That was a really tough one for me to take. Matthew was on that team, too."
Had you looked in on the two buddies back then, would you have seen two future NCAA Division I head coaches?
Says Mitchell of Hudspeth: "Mark, you could see (coaching) coming a mile away. He was really driven, a leader, even when we were boys."
Says Hudspeth of Mitchell: "He was always the fun guy. I always said he was 'too cool for school.' I don't know if I had him pegged as a coach, but people always have responded to him."
Little Louisville, Miss., has produced quite the college coaching tree.
In eight seasons as Kentucky women's coach, Mitchell, 44, is 194-80 and has led the Wildcats to six straight NCAA Tournaments. Entering his fifth season as Louisiana-Lafayette's football coach, Hudspeth, 46, is 36-16 and has coached the Ragin' Cajuns to four straight victories in the New Orleans Bowl.
Andy Kennedy, who has taken the Mississippi Rebels men's hoops team to NCAA Tournaments twice in the past three years, is a Louisville product. Kim Rosamond, a women's basketball assistant at Vanderbilt, could soon give the town a fourth major-college head coach.
Though high-pressure jobs and young families make their free time scarce, Hudspeth and Mitchell are still in touch. Mitchell says he texts Hudspeth good luck before all his games and either congratulations or condolences afterwards. "During our season, he does the same for me," the UK coach said.
Yet this Saturday, Mitchell says his allegiances will not be torn. "I hope Mark goes undefeated this year — after Saturday," the UK coach said.
Believe it or not, that football season in which Mitchell, coaching at Central Holmes, and Hudspeth, then head man at his alma mater, Winston Academy, were essentially "coaching together" in spite of working at schools more than 60 miles apart worked out.
On Sunday nights, Mitchell would get Central Holmes game film and sometimes drive the 64.2 miles from Lexington, Miss., to Louisville, Miss., in his Toyota Tacoma to have Hudspeth develop his game plan.
Other times, Hudspeth says he would travel half way and the two would meet in Kosciusko, Miss. "Oprah Winfrey's hometown," Hudpseth says. "I can still see the restaurant where we'd meet. It was what we called in Mississippi a 'meat and three (vegetables).'"
That 1997 football season, Hudspeth coached Winston Academy to the state championship. "That's still one of the most meaningful things that's happened for me in my career," Hudspeth said. "I felt like I sort of redeemed myself for the state championship we lost my senior year as a player."
Meanwhile, even with Hudspeth helping Mitchell produce game plans for the Central Holmes defense from afar, the team lost its first five games. Mitchell recalls public meetings in Lexington, Miss., about firing all the coaches.
"But we stuck with it and won five games to end the season," he said. "That 5-5 was one of the great things I've ever been a part of. And by the end of that year, my defense was pretty salty. "
All it took was a friend in need.
Says Mitchell: "That year, (Hudspeth) was coaching his offense, his defense — and my defense. ... And he absolutely did it out of friendship."