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Great coaches sometimes fly under the radar

When you watch a college or pro football game on television you see three things. The most prominent is commercials, followed by game action and then the constant sideline shots of the two head coaches. Like the president of our country, the networks seem afraid they'll miss the head coach sneezing or perhaps throwing a fit on the sideline. After all, he is the most visible representative of the university or organization that employees him.

University of Florida head football coach Urban Meyer has garnered far more than his share of TV time since his hiring early last winter. His 39-8 record in four seasons, two each at Utah and Bowling Green, fueled speculation among ESPN and other media outlets that he would immediately return the Gators to Steve Spurrier like glory years. His spurning of media darling Notre Dame likely even tripled his mystique.

University of Alabama coach Mike Shula likewise gets his airtime. The former Crimson Tide quarterback and son of NFL coaching legend Don Shula jumped into the frying pan when Alabama selected him over another favorite son Sylvester Croom to be it's head coach three years ago. Many said he was picked over Croom because of race, which is another old story.

Regardless of the team, the TV networks spend an inordinate amount of time during games with the cameras on the head coaches. I'm not complaining, just pointing out that head coaches at major schools find themselves in the spotlight. In fact, they are the spotlight.

As I was watching the Florida-Alabama game on Saturday, as usual the cameras showed hundreds of shots of Meyer and Shula on the sidelines. In most cases, they both seemed to be just standing there watching the action like a paying spectator. We know that's not true, but that is more often than not the way it appears with the head coaches.

Sometimes during the second half the cameras - and the commentators - briefly focused their attention on Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines. My thoughts were, "It's about time." Alabama has one of college football's best defenses, both last season and this year. Other than a check of Kines' game plan, I doubt if Shula ever involves himself in the defensive side of game preparation for the Crimson Tide.

You see, Shula is 40 years old. Florida's Meyer is 41. Joe Kines is 61 years old. In other words, Kines' college days at Jacksonville State University in Alabama were about over when Shula and Meyer were born. In fact, Kines' served a previous stint as defensive coordinator at Alabama while Shula was playing there.

Except for what was essentially an interim term in 1992 at The University of Arkansas, Joe Kines has never been a college head football coach. When Kines' got his chance at Arkansas, he brought former Clemson head coach Danny Ford on board as a staff member. The next thing you know, in 1993 Ford was suddenly the Razorbacks' head coach. Kines' was busted back to the roll of assistant coach. Ford, the bigger name, somehow got the rug pulled out from under Coach Kines.

Besides Alabama and Arkansas, Kines has been a defensive assistant coach at Florida State, Georgia, Florida, Clemson and Jacksonville State. He also coached four years with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has been coaching the college or pro game for 33 years. In my mind, Kines has forgotten more about football than Shula and Meyer combined. It looked like it, too, in the Tide's big win over the Gators.

My whole point in this expose' of Joe Kines' career is that like most other businesses, coaching is not a what-you-know deal, but a who-you-know proposition. I always said former Georgia defensive coordinator and Georgia Southern head coach Erk Russell was the best college football coach ever, including Bear Bryant. Like Kines, he was not a self-promoter or a pretty face, so he never got the big-time chance.

Even with all of this football experience, neither man ever enjoyed the big bucks and benefits that come with being the head man at a big school. If they even got one, they never won the interview. They also missed the TV spotlight. I don't know, maybe they both will admit that's a pretty good trade-off.

Web posted on Thursday, October 6, 2005


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