If such a manual existed, the first line in “How To Be A College Football Coach” would be “Never look ahead.”
Yet no one would blame new University of Kentucky outside linebackers and special teams coach Dean Hood if he took at least a small peek past UK’s 2017 season opener at Southern Mississippi on Sept. 2 to the Wildcats’ home debut a week later against Eastern Kentucky University.
Hood, of course, was EKU’s head coach for eight years from 2008-15. He was relieved of his duties after the 2015 season in spite of a 55-38 overall record, three FCS playoff berths and two Ohio Valley Conference championships at Eastern.
“I haven’t thought about it a lot,” Hood says of coaching against EKU. “A lot of emotion, I’m sure, I won’t really feel or be able to explain until going through that game day. Obviously, I care about all those kids I coached (at Eastern).”
Any time one loses a job they’ve poured their life’s passion into, it is difficult. Losing a position as visible as NCAA head football coach must raise the emotional tumult substantially.
“There is obviously bitterness and disappointment and all that when something like that happens,” Hood said. “Charlotte healed us from all that.”
In between his exit at EKU in 2015 and arriving at UK for the coming season, Hood spent 2016 as an assistant on the coaching staff of Brad Lambert at Conference USA member Charlotte.
“I remember hanging up the phone when Brad called and telling (Hood’s wife) Crystal ‘Hey, honey, God has some work for us to do in Charlotte,’” Hood says. “Now, looking back, God had some work to do on us in Charlotte, too.
“It really was a great time. The right people to be around. Healed all those wounds (from the EKU firing). Got us past all that. I just really feel like that was God-led. I didn’t feel like we could have stayed in (Kentucky) and that happen.”
Other than telling his four children about the firing, Hood, 53, said the hardest part of separating from Eastern was losing his connection with players he had recruited.
“You sit in their living room, you tell their mom and dad ‘I’m going to take care of your son,’” Hood says. “(Not being able to do that) has been difficult.”
Yet Hood says he felt it would be unfair to new EKU Coach Mark Elder if the Colonels’ former head man stayed in touch with his old team.
“I never answered texts or phone calls or anything,” Hood said. “I didn’t want to be involved — well, I wanted to be involved but I didn’t feel like that was the right thing for the kids or for Coach Elder. I didn’t feel that would be fair to him. I stayed completely out of it — but that wasn’t because I wanted to. So that was hard.”
In his last season at Eastern in 2015, Hood almost led EKU to a victory over UK in the venue then known as Commonwealth Stadium. The Colonels led 27-13 after scoring a touchdown with 7:39 left in the game.
Kentucky proceeded to rally furiously behind Patrick Towles and Dorian Baker and won 34-27 in overtime.
The January before that game, players from UK and EKU had engaged in a well-publicized fight that moved from a Richmond bar to an Eastern dormitory and that involved Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker and then-Eastern Kentucky defensive lineman Patrick Graffree, among others.
Though Hood, an Ashtabula, Ohio, product, had long followed the careers of Youngstown, Ohio’s, coaching Stoops family, it was the UK-EKU fight aftermath that produced his first interaction with Mark Stoops.
Says Hood: “On game week, Coach Stoops called and said, ‘Hey, on our end, I’m telling my guys this game is about the game and if I see any chippin’ or pushin’ after a play or anything that is a carryover from that fight, I’m yanking them.’
“I said, ‘Coach, I appreciate you calling and we will do the same thing,’” Hood adds.
When Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky meet again Sept. 9, Hood will be on the same sideline as Stoops — and the opposite sideline from EKU.
For a guy who led the Colonels football program so recently, it’s hard to imagine that won’t feel weird.
“I just don’t know,” Dean Hood says. “That part, I’m sure, I’ll deal with on game day.”