Mark Story

Mark Story: For EKU's Hood, ties to Meyer, Muschamp will make trip to Swamp poignant

Hood AP

On the week when Dean Hood's Eastern Kentucky Colonels travel to Gainesville to face Florida, the EKU head football coach got a text from Urban Meyer.

"Good luck with the Gators," the ex-Florida coach wrote.

In the early 1980s, Hood and Meyer 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.

When Hood began dating a girl from St. John's, he and Meyer got to know each other socially and became good friends.

They still are.

Ohio State head man Meyer was the Florida coach when EKU agreed to play in Gainesville. At the time the contract was signed, Hood says Meyer made some "promises" to his buddy.

"Urban promised me they'd pay us a half million dollars (in guarantee money), he'd grill me a sea bass on Friday night (before the game) and he'd play his backups the whole game," Hood said.

On Saturday at high noon, EKU (9-2) will be in The Swamp to face Florida (5-4). Even without the backdrop of the Meyer/Hood friendship, it will be a game heavy with poignancy. There will still be a direct connection between Hood and EKU and the man who will coach the Gators, for the next to last time.

In 1998, Hood was the secondary coach at Eastern under iconic Colonels head man Roy Kidd. After that year, Hood left EKU to take a position on Jim Grobe's staff at Ohio University.

The man Kidd hired to replace Hood was Will Muschamp — the same Will Muschamp who announced Sunday he would step down at the end of this year, under pressure, after four seasons (with record of 27-20) as Florida head coach.

Hood said he knows Muschamp casually, but feels as if he knows him better than that because the two share mutual relationships with other coaches that both men worked with in the 1990s during their times at Eastern.

"One thing I always appreciated about Will, is that he's always been good to Coach Kidd," Hood said. "When he got the Florida job and they were coming up to play at Kentucky, he reached out to Coach Kidd to see if he wanted to come, offered him sideline passes. Here he was at the pinnacle of coaching, Florida, and he hadn't forgotten about the man who gave him his first (NCAA Division I) job. I liked that."

One Colonels player who should feel right at home in an SEC venue is Dy'Shawn Mobley, the former Kentucky Wildcats running back. In Mobley's last two games with UK in 2013, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder ran for 92 yards at Georgia and then for 143 more against Tennessee. Fullback Channing Fugate (Tennessee) and defensive lineman Patrick Graffree (UK) are other SEC transfers who have played prominent roles for Eastern in 2014.

The concern when FCS schools face FBS Power Five Conference teams late in seasons is the risk of getting beaten up physically.

"Every time we've played that kind of game, the Kansas States, the Cincinnatis, the Louisvilles, we've actually come out with fewer injuries than we normally have when we play an FCS opponent," Hood said. "I don't know if that is because our guys are so juiced up (against FBS foes), but that's been the case."

Whatever the outcome in Gainesville, Hood does not think it will have an impact on Eastern's hopes to receive an at-large bid to the Football Championship Sub-Division Playoffs. Jacksonville State (9-1, 7-0 OVC) has clinched the league title and the OVC's automatic berth to the playoffs. EKU (9-2, 6-2) will finish second. Its playoff fate depends on the selection committee.

"I think we are in regardless of what happens," Hood said. "We have nine wins, eight over FCS schools from automatic-qualifying conferences and one over an FBS school (Miami, Ohio). I don't think anything that happens should impact our standing with the committee."

As for those Urban Meyer "promises," Eastern will actually get more than a half million in cold cash. It will get $575,000.

After Hood got Meyer's text this week, the EKU coach reminded his friend of the rest of their "agreement."

"I texted Urban back and said 'You know, a guy from St. John's High School promised us a half-million dollars, to cook me a sea bass and play his backups,'" Hood said.

Meyer's reply was quick: "He's in Columbus."