University of Louisville

Mark Story: Muschamp, Meyer and other SEC stars have deep ties to the state

Mark Story
Mark Story

There seems to be an unlikely bond between the Florida Gators football program and Eastern Kentucky University football.

Will Muschamp, the new Florida head man, has a direct tie to EKU.

Back in 1999, then-Eastern coach Roy Kidd hired Muschamp, then 28, to coach the EKU defensive backs.

The venerable Kidd, now 79, said Friday the young coach was on his radar because coaches at Auburn, where Muschamp had worked as a graduate assistant, recommended him.

"I still remember this, coming home after practice one day and Sue (the coach's wife) asking me how the new coach was working out," Kidd said.

"I said, 'He's working out great. But he's not going to be with me long. Because, one, he's good. And, two, he's connected.' "

In recent years, Muschamp has become semifamous in college football circles for his, let's say, demonstrative sideline demeanor.

As a young coach at EKU, "he was enthusiastic, aggressive, and I liked the way he handled the kids," Kidd said. "Plus, he had played in the secondary (safety at Georgia), and that's a position I always believed you coached better if you played it."

Kidd was right about Muschamp's career arc. He was in Richmond for one season. He left EKU to become defensive coordinator at Valdosta State (for ex-Kentucky assistant and current Murray State head man Chris Hatcher) in 2000.

From there, Muschamp joined Nick Saban's staff at Louisiana State and his meteoric rise was under way.

Before landing the head position at Florida, Muschamp worked as defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas.

A good coach with good connections.

Said Kidd: "You could see, the year he was with me, Will was going places."

Meyer has EKU tie, too

Urban Meyer, the past Florida head man, also has a direct tie to EKU — more accurately, to current Eastern head coach Dean Hood.

Meyer and Hood grew up at the same time in Ashtabula, Ohio. Meyer was a tailback and free safety at St. John's High, a Catholic school, while Hood played tight end and middle linebacker for public school Harbor High.

The two high school football rivals got to know each other from attending the same parties. A friendship formed that has remained in place long after high school. Hood was part of Meyer's wedding, and Meyer was part of Hood's.

After Meyer flirted with resigning as Florida coach after the 2009 season, Hood says, he was not surprised that his friend did walk away after the 2010 campaign.

"I was not shocked. After last year ('09) went down, I think, in his heart of hearts, he wanted to walk away then," Hood said. "I think he felt like, maybe, the decision was too quick, and it wasn't the right time."

Since Meyer announced he was stepping down, Hood said, the two have spoken on the phone once and "texted quite a bit."

Said Hood: "I think the decision he made this time has been in his heart since (2009)."

Ex-Cards roosting in SEC

With apologies to Douglas MacArthur, old Louisville Cardinals head football coaches don't fade away — they go to the SEC West.

Last week's announcement that Les Miles has tapped ex-U of L head man Steve Kragthorpe as offensive coordinator at LSU means there are now not one, not two, not three, but four former Cardinals football bosses on the payroll in the Southeastern Conference's West Division.

Ron Cooper (U of L head man from 1995-97) is the secondary coach at LSU.

John L. Smith (U of L head man from 1998-2002) is special teams coach at Arkansas.

Bobby Petrino (Louisville head man from 2003-06) is the boss Hog in Fayetteville.

Now Kragthorpe (2007-09 at U of L) has joined the party.

Going forward, it makes for some fascinating sub-plots. UK won't see Arkansas in 2011 but will renew acquaintances with Krag-thorpe (0-3 vs. Kentucky at Louisville) and Cooper (2-1) on Oct. 1 when the Cats visit Baton Rouge.

On Nov. 23, LSU, Krag and Coop will travel to Little Rock to face Arkansas, Petrino and Smith.

For U of L fans, the most interesting game of the 2011 football season might not directly involve Louisville.