I never thought well in the heat of the moment. I can’t tell you how many times over my forty-three years of coaching I have thought hours later, “I wish I had said that instead of standing like an idiot.” The following are funny and sometimes irreverent comebacks or statements about football situations that I wish I had used had I been bright enough or quick enough. I would guess I should say that some of these are R rated.

• Heard during a tackling drill: “Son that hit sounded like a mouse pissing on a cotton ball.”
• Said to one of our honor student football players: “You are the stupidest smart kid I have ever coached!”
• Getting ready for a certain team drill: “Half you guys over here, half you guys over there, the rest of you behind me.”
• Describing the blocking ability of our offensive line: “They couldn’t knock a sick squirrel off a commode.”
• A favorite of a former assistant: “If ifs and butts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas!”
• Lou Holtz during a film session to an offensive lineman: “I know you just got married but all holes don’t have to have hair around them.”
• During a scrimmage: “You are playing like old people screw. It’s slow, it’s disgusting and somebody is going to get hurt.”
• To an offensive tackle after missing a block: “Give me your helmet! I’m going to roll it out there and hope someone trips over it.”
• Along the same lines: “We’d do better with a cardboard cutout playing corner back.”
• To a running back: “Son you couldn’t escape from a wet paper bag.”
• Overheard after the HC said, “Men, the team with the biggest d@#$s will win this game!” A smart aleck from the back row said, “Coach, were in trouble. I’ve seen us all in the shower!”
• NC State defensive end Ronnie Banther when asked by Coach Lew Holtz if he could whip an Ohio State All-American offensive tackle. “NO SIR! BUT I’LL FIGHT HIM TILL I DIE!”
• From another assistant “He was so confused he didn’t know whether to scratch his watch or wind his ass.”
• An opposing coach: “You are so stupid you could fall in a barrel of titties and come out sucking your thumb.”
• From a friend talking about our passing game: “It’s like Halloween. Looks scary but it ain’t real.”
• Finally, my favorite, after blowing the same three assignments in a row, “It’s hard to believe you were the fastest sperm.”

Hope you enjoyed. For more unique humor you might wish to purchase one of Don Miller’s books at


Forty years ago, on a Monday much like this one, I stood on a practice field awaiting the start of football practice. There would have been great anticipation and nervous excitement this particular morning as there always was great enthusiasm on the first day of practice. By Wednesday’s afternoon practice, bumps, bruises, muscle soreness and “dead” legs would strip the some forty or fifty players of their enthusiasm…but this was still Monday morning.

The practice field, freshly cut low was adorned with sharp white lines. The grass would be moist with the early morning dew, as it always was for twenty-nine years. Before the end of practice, the air would become uncomfortably hot and humid. For twenty-nine seasons hot and humid was always this way. Football in the South begins the last week of “hot” or the first week of “hotter still” and no matter where you are in the deep South you cannot escape the late summer heat and humidity.

This would be the first of two practices, the second would begin with even more heat and the humidity would continue to rise higher as practice went on until it finally concluded with ten perfect plays and ten perfect forty yard sprints. Blow an assignment or a snap count, we started over at one. Forty or fifty young men dressed in orange helmets and shorts, with short, light gray tee-shirts, now dark gray with perspiration. This is the fortieth anniversary of Mauldin High School’s one and only region championship in football. Maybe being the only one is why it is so special.

For those not familiar with the city of Mauldin, located in the upstate of South Carolina…or too young to remember, it was more rural than city forty years ago. The town was a strip of businesses and industry laid out along a crossroads navigated by people on the road between distant Columbia and nearby Greenville. There was no “named” main street and only a couple of signal lights on US 276 to impede their travels. The population was scattered from the outskirts of the small town of Simpsonville to the south and north to Interstate 85. It is part of an area now known as the “Golden Strip.” A couple of years would have to pass before it attained the moniker. Little was golden about the strip in those days, just a few business and a citizenry primarily located in suburban developments separated by large tracts of land farmed by families who had been in the area for decades. We were so rural it was easy to be viewed by our rivals as the “Southern Rednecks” of the county. I would say, at the time, we took this to be a compliment.

The community had embraced this “newer” school, beginning its fourth year of existence. Because of its youth, athletic success had been fleeting, especially in the area of men’s sports. Everyone…community, student body, faculty and administration seemed to be holding their collective breath as the season began. It did not take long for them to exhale and our team’s enthusiasm seemed to be a transmittable disease. As the victories piled up so did the fever pitch of our fan base.

Forty years ago we played old school football; “butt blocking, put a hat on ‘em, slobber knocking, knock his d!@# in the dirt” old school football. We didn’t know it was old school, we thought we were on the “cutting edge” of football innovation with our “acid soaked” tear away jerseys. Like most schools we were a run first, pass “when all else fails” or as my wife, Linda Gail, continued to point out throughout my career, “The forward pass is not a trick play.” For us it might have been. We weren’t a “three yards in a cloud of dust” kind of team, we were a finesse, run the “veer option and get the ball on the corner” kind of team and we did it well.

There was nothing finesse about our defense. We did our best to intimidate on defense…which we did quite well…and yes maybe we were a little dirty. We taught “eyes to the throat” and “run through the ball carrier till you hear glass break” tackling. We used the face mask as a weapon. It wasn’t we wanted to intentionally hurt people…well, maybe we didn’t want to hurt people. We did give a “skull and crossbones” helmet decal for the “Hit of the Week”.

The ’76 Mavericks were ten gallons of fun poured into a five-gallon bucket. It was inevitable some of the fun would spill out and it seemed much of the fun was agitated by one particular member of the team, Bucky Trotter. Any time I talk to a former team member, Bucky Trotter’s name comes up. Who else would deliver a Halloween gift to the opposing team’s captains? A dead squirrel hanging from twine fashioned into a hangman’s noose. I recently spoke with the Greenville High coach from those days and he remembers it well…and not happily I might add. An intimidating HELTER SKELTER chant after quick cals dissolving into something resembling a bar fight, a Wednesday night meal followed by a “fake fight” held in different areas around the community, one so realistic the police were called out. Thursday practice “war games” were followed by the coaches meeting at Jay’s for steak…for eleven straight weeks. Every Friday the coaches had to go to the principal’s office to rub a good luck charm we called “the little man with the big d!@#”, a small brass figurine with a big d!@#. These were a few of the rituals we employed to feed our superstitions and to keep ourselves amused.

Yep, more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Friends and former peers always ask if I miss coaching football. I miss the game night competition, I miss the bonds formed with players and coaches but I have not missed many practices. This group might be the exception because they made it fun. Everything was a competition, a chance to prove themselves. It didn’t matter if it was a game or practice, every play was a chance to excel or grow. I remember the daily linebackers versus offensive linemen board drills, three on three drills and the now banned Oklahoma drills. There was no going through the motions. Fun but also special AND NOT JUST TEN WINS SPECIAL.

I hope we have a reunion. I have put a few bugs in a few ears. A chance to rekindle old friendships and a chance to relive old memories. 1976 was a special year, in a special place with a special group. It would be fitting to have a special celebration.

Don Miller has also written three books, including “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”, stories from forty years of teaching and coaching. They may be purchased or downloaded at


I wonder how many YEARS of my life have actually been spent driving mowers and tractors in circles? In my own yard, on football and baseball fields? Finishing up where I started only to do it over again…and again…. I find that my mind drifts with the repetitive mindlessness of the job…until I run over something I shouldn’t or cut a clump of Linda Gail’s flowers.
This time of year, the hot and humid doldrums of summer, my mind “circles” to twenty-nine seasons as a football coach…despite not having coached football in fifteen years. It’s been that long? With the coach’s clinic this weekend I am reminded that the football season is just around the corner. The smell of my freshly cut grass, along with the heat and humidity, takes me to the fields of my past. Twenty-nine first practices followed by twenty-nine first games. Fields freshly manicured with sharp white lines almost glowing from the reflected light from above.

In some ways my twenty-nine seasons were a study in frustration. Eight seasons finishing above .500 and a small, very small, handful of break-even seasons. We have at least three coaches in South Carolina with eight or more state championships during their career. It gets much worse, five of those winning eight seasons occurred during my first nine seasons. Three winning seasons over the last twenty. My own tenure as a head football coach boasts one winning season, six wins out a total of thirteen over four seasons. What made me think I was head coaching material?

I spent this past Friday morning with best friend, former boss and Linda Gail’s former high school classmate, Mike “Hawk” Hawkins. I was lending “moron” support as we attempted to erect a backyard swing from scratch. The “blind leading the blind” didn’t quite describe it. More like the “blind leading the stupid.” Somehow with a bit of “cussin’” on my part and a lot praying on his, we got the job done. Maybe it won’t collapse in on itself. More importantly, being around “Hawk” reminded me of why I coached football for twenty-nine years despite the frustration. It was the people and the personalities surrounding high school athletics.

My last game coaching football was Mike’s last game as head coach at Riverside. No man could have put more into a program than he did but it wasn’t in the cards. My first five years as his assistant netted two winning seasons and a couple break evens but then the wheels fell off the jalopy. To quote Linda Gail and thousands of others, “You can’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears.” We had great kids who tried and worked hard but were “athletically challenged” proving that you could do most everything right and still not be successful. Weekly we found our X’s to be much smaller and slower than our opponent’s O’s. Tasting just a bit of success is what made my last game much sweeter.

I don’t know how many games we won my last year…it wasn’t many. It doesn’t matter because we won the last one. A playoff bound Mann team came to the River and our kids rose up and smacked them in the nose. Hawk devised what I have always called a “bastard” defense, throwing caution to the wind and our kids executed it. As the seconds ticked down a senior defensive end who, in a normal defense, would not have been dropping into pass coverage, did. Geoff Rigsby intercepted the confused Mann quarterback to ice the victory…my last victory. I didn’t know it was my last game at the time. I was living vicariously through “Hawk” who was being carried from the field on the shoulders of his players while what few fans were in attendance were bring down the goal posts…well bending the goal posts.

A friend who used to coach with Hawk and I, Rick Scott, once said, “Winning is better than sex.” I bit, “How is that?” “Sex only last a few minutes. A win lasts all week long.” Well! I would guess he is correct. I’ve enjoyed my last win for fifteen years.

For more humor by Don Miller click on the following link:


I am old school…although I “fully” admit to be having embraced my “hippy” gene in my old age. Despite the discovery of this hippy gene, I am sure my former players and coaching chums will be somewhat surprised to read the view I am going to express. “Act like you’ve been there before” was a mantra I used or have heard used a thousand times that had been expressed by the immortal Bear Bryant. If you are in athletics you understand, “Act like you’ve been there before,” is an old school statement about celebrating…a score, or now, even a first down. Old school was all about anything other than “self-expression.” “There is no ‘ME’ in TEAM!” Whether it is the “Ickey Shuffle,” “Lambeau Leap” or “dabbin’,” I still would like to see them score and just hand the ball to the official but we are in a “hey look at me world,” in a game that should be about having fun. What’s so bad about that?

Cam Newton has re-defined the definition of “having fun” …and the position of quarterback along with the word “polarizing.” Loved by Panther fans and hated by everyone else, I would predict that he could care less about those who use detractions like, “showboat,” “braggart,” and “classless,” which are some of the mild ones I have seen. In fact, by his own admission, he uses the detractors as motivation. With the frame and strength of a linebacker, a strong arm and better than average “pro” speed, he is the “freak of nature personified” and probably does not need any more motivation to be successful. With good looks and a “million dollar” smile, I do admit to a bit of a man crush.

Do I wish Cam would just hand the ball to the official when he scores? Once I did, but seeing the faces of the youngsters who have received his game ball “gifts”, I have to agree with his particular brand of “having fun” even when he goes into his Superman pose. I once described a very good high school baseball player as having a “little league” mentality. This description was not a putdown. I was remarking about his ability to “have fun” in the same way as a “wide-eyed” little leaguer despite the pressure to receive a college scholarship or becoming a draft pick. He received both and had a career in the major leagues, both as a player and as a coach. I see Cam the same way, as in playing as a youth league player. There seems to be a “child-like” wonderment along with the “million dollar” smile. Yeah, he makes a boat load of money playing a child’s game but I would bet “his” money that money is not his primary motivation.

I try to live by, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” or at least keep my mouth shut and only “sin” in my mind. With many of our sports idols and “role models” I find myself asking, “What were you thinking” when it comes to some of their “off of the field” activities. As Johnny Manziel is finding out, Social Media is not your friend when you, yourself, are your own worst enemy. When one Google’s Cam Newton, there is very little “smut” to dig up. No arrests, no drugs, no spousal or girlfriend abuse. Yeah Cam had the wreck with many assuming incorrectly it was drug or alcohol related, and there is an “out of wedlock” child that he recognizes and takes responsibility for despite the lack of wedding band on his hand. He brought some baggage with him from Auburn, but was it his fault or the fault of an overly involved father or the climate that is college football? Not as tame as Tim Tebow but a far cry from Johnny Manziel. More importantly is his foundation for disadvantaged kids and his many activities giving back to the Charlotte and Atlanta communities. Not only does he provide money but he also invests his time. Gee, I hope he is a good guy…did I forget the “Santa Cam’s Surprise Sleigh?”

Professional athletes have the opportunity to do much good and it is heartwarming for a retired teacher and coach to see a young man who GETS IT and DOES IT. Johnny maybe you should go talk to Cam about what you might do with your time. Is Cam perfect? No way! Most twenty-six-year-old men will have skeletons in their closet that, in twenty or thirty years from now, they will wish weren’t there. I am sure Cam will be no different…than I was.

Viewing this year’s Super Bowl will be interesting and a win-win for me regardless of the outcome. I will pull for the local Panthers and their brash young quarterback but can’t help but pull for “old school” Peyton Manning and hope he gets to ride off into the sunset with a second ring. I will be disappointed whichever team comes up short and I guess I will be pulling for both offenses.

When I watch Cam Newton “having fun” I think of a brash pitcher from the 1930’s who was once quoted to have said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” Dizzy Dean had predicted that he and his brother would combine to win forty-five games in 1934. He was wrong…they won forty-nine. Win or lose on Super Bowl Sunday, Cam ain’t braggin’…but I guess we will have to wait and see how the game plays out to see if he is dabbin’.

Don Miller has written and self-published three books that may be purchased through or downloaded on any device with a Kindle app.

Inspirational true stories in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING by Don Miller #1.99 on #Kindle

“STUPID MAN TRICKS” explained in Don Miller’s FLOPPY PARTS $.99 on Kindle

“Baby Boomer History” in Don Miller’s PATHWAYS $3.49 on Kindle


I read that the Buffalo Bills have hired a new assistant coach. Ordinarily news like this would not find its way out of the city of Buffalo but today it is nationally news worthy. And why would that be? Their new, full-time, specialty teams, quality control coach is a female and the first of her kind. Kathryn Smith is the first full-time NFL assistant coach. This comes on the heels of Jill Welter’s internship as she served as an Arizona Cardinal linebacker coach during the summer. Back in April of 2015, Sarah Thomas became the first female NFL official. I guess these would be major steps in women’s rights. It doesn’t seem that long ago women newscasters were arguing with the league for access to the side lines and, GASP, the locker room. My guess is, once the furor and the abusive and stereotypical comments die down, they will be successful in this bastion of testosterone. I do find it interesting many men still believe that “A woman’s place….”

I have been involved with many firsts when relates to Women’s Rights. I taught for the first female principal in Greenville County, South Carolina, coached the first female to be allowed to play high school soccer and the first coed to play football at the varsity level. I was looking for none of these firsts and had the media not made an issue of it I would not have known. Title IX now that’s another story.

I wrote the story “Liberation” for the book FLOPPY PARTS and with the news of the day decided to dust it off. I hope you enjoy.

Even though Charlotte, NC was close by, we were sheltered from the rapidly changing outside world. It was a long twenty miles to the Queen City on a two-lane blacktop and, by the way we grew up, possibly a decade in time removed. We had gone through the duck and cover drills that assured us that any textbook would protect us from a nuclear attack provided we took all sharp objects from our pockets. We were raised to be stoic and to be seen and not heard. In some ways we were raised to be “un-included.” Words like duty, reverence and respect were a part of our vocabularies. We still believed in the “American Exceptionalism” of the post-World War Two United States despite the warts we tended to ignore. We were decidedly Republican and my grandmother openly worried more about having a Roman Catholic in the White House than a democrat.

Still, being typically male, I was more aware of my floppy parts than world affairs, and, beginning in the late Sixties, they both got tied in knots.
Even though any available female was fair game and a target for our raging hormones, we had been taught to respect women. It was okay to pursue, but you didn’t lay a hand on a woman. You gave up your seat to women and you opened doors for women. As males, we did this not because we viewed women as weaker but as a sign of respect, the same way we were taught to say “Yes, Ma’am” or “No, Ma’am.” Most importantly No Meant No and not maybe. It was easier in those waning days of the Sixties because the girls had been taught the same way… and they didn’t have The Pill. I admit I may be looking through “rose-colored” glasses because I had been surrounded by such STRONG female role models. I believe with all my heart that women who grew up in rural settings during the depression and World War Two were taught to be stronger than their urban counter parts. I remember asking my grandmother to describe the changes she experienced during the Great Depression. She laughed and said, “We were farming on the lien and it was so hard already we never noticed.” That would be that she was out in the fields with my grandfather doing hard “man’s work.”

Regardless of my beliefs, all of them began to change as I welcomed the new decade and my address changed to Newberry. There were many movements spawned by the period. Native American Rights, Gay Rights and environmentalism were a few that joined Civil Rights during the “Age of Love”. Also, there was my favorite – Women’s Rights. There was one positive about the Women’s Liberation Movement – bra burning. Whether they were wearing a bra or not, women deserved to have the same rights as men despite the chauvinist argument “I don’t know why they want to climb down off of their pedestals?” After watching MAD MEN I wonder how high that pedestal actually was and who really had the power. I am sure this portrayal was “exactly” the way it was in the Sixties.
Liberation was a battle ground where if you picked sides you were either labeled a eunuch, if you agreed with the cause, or a chauvinist pig if you didn’t. Most of the Newberry coeds were southern gals (Is my chauvinism showing?) and had grown up under the same Biblical tenants as mine. The “times they were ah changing” and it wasn’t unusual to hear discussions about “Who should pay for the cost of birth control?” or “Who should make the decision about getting an abortion?” Fifty years later I still avoid expressing opinions on those questions because to do so would be to spoil for a fight.

Women’s Lib finally tied me in knots in the early Seventies. I remember walking up to the campus library door and seeing the reflection of a coed approaching me from behind in the door’s polished glass. Her reflection was dressed in bell bottoms and a pea coat, fashion staples of the period for those individuals who took political positions somewhere left of center. I also had time to notice her really short dark hair and the narrow, hawkish shape of her face. Nevertheless, I paused and opened the door for her. Smiling, I nodded my head and then got my ears pinned back. With a face that truly had turned hawkish she spat, “What are you asking me to do? Inviting me into to your male-dominated world? Baby Dicked Chauvinist Pig!” If you are waiting for my snappy comeback, hell may freeze over first. I still don’t have one. I should add, she still managed to enter the library ahead of me through the still-opened door but then so did the next fifteen people as I stood with jaw “slack and agape.” Baby dicked? Where did that come from?

Despite wearing khakis, oxford cloth and penny loafers during most of my adult life, I find myself embracing my “Old Hippy” side with flip flops, blue jeans and tee shirts to accommodate my move to the center left of politics as I have retired. Hawaiian shirts are a far cry from bells and pea coats but I wear them proudly. I believe in equality above all else. Equal rights, whether racial, gender, sexual, religious or economic, should be our goal as a country or as a people of that country. Women should have the same opportunities to succeed or to fail as men and it should be for the same pay. I was again sheltered when I chose teaching as my vocation. Teaching opportunities and pay were always equal and, as far as pay was concerned…Sorry, wrong movement. Now, I don’t know about upward mobility into administration but I do know that if I were ranking principals, women would take the top two positions as the best of the many I have had. The best one asked me during my interview in 1974 if I would have a problem working for a woman. She kind of leaned in as if she were going to tell me a dirty joke when she asked me. I thought, to myself, “I want this job so badly I would work for an orangutan.” To her I simply answered, “No problems whatsoever, I love women. My mother was a woman.”

I think there might have been a price for the equality so deserved by women. I read more about the rise of attacks against women or spousal abuse and see that doors are not opened and seats not given up nearly as often as they used to be even here in this hotbed of Southern chivalry. I guess I should add despite a little hawk-faced witch from 1970. Could that be the price that women pay? Maybe they did knock themselves off of their pedestal.

During the late Seventies, athletics were equalized due to Title IX legislation…except it wasn’t, at least in the school district in which I toiled. Rather than add resources to girl’s athletics, resources were taken away from men’s athletics which left a bitter taste in most male coaches’ mouths. I remember being told that, as a baseball coach, half of any money raised by my baseball team could be spent by the softball team whether they participated in the fund raiser or not. Luckily I had great relationships with my softball coaches and this never happened. Everyone didn’t have those great relationships that I fostered with malice and forethought.

While sitting quietly in a graduate course that included a study of the distribution of monies for athletics, a young female coach commented that it did not matter. “God Football” gets it all and until they fire all of the football coaches, girls would get nothing. At a break I could not help myself and strolled over to advise her that, while her feelings might be warranted, expressing them in an open forum might not be the best idea, especially if she were looking for a job. I also pointed out that football paid the bills and probably was what allowed her to have a job. She said something about having to “audition instead of interview” and that she was not “giving up the cause” just to get a job and that “maybe I should wait until my advice was asked for.” Her bell bottoms and pea coat were showing and no good deed goes unpunished. Several months later as we were looking for a girls’ softball coach, I received a call from my principal informing me that he was sending a prospective coach to be interviewed. Yeah, it was her and the look on her face was priceless. No, she didn’t get the job. Instead, we hired a softball coach who was also an offensive line coach. To her credit, she didn’t back down either, but then I am sure she knew she was doomed from the start. Does this make me a chauvinist? I don’t think so… but I do admit to being a realist.

If you enjoyed this story you may download it and other “STUPID MAN TRICKS” in Don Miller’s FLOPPY PARTS $.99 on Kindle


I am a long time Clemson Tiger fan, albeit a bad one. I actually pull for the Gamecocks when they are not playing the Tigers. I have just had too many former players who opted to play for the “dark side” not to pull for USC East. Tiger friends, please forgive me.

I began my worship of football at a Clemson game in the early Sixties when invited by a friend and his family to go and watch my friend’s brother play at Death Valley. I guess that is when I became a full-fledged Tiger fan and began to worship before the altar that is football. Memorial Stadium was not the cathedral it is now but Death Valley sure did beat the heck out of Indian Land on a Friday night.

I got to meet the “minister” of the gridiron Tigers, legendary coach Frank Howard, and could not help but remember our introduction later when I went to a coach’s dinner featuring him as a speaker. The man was a riot and I had a hard time reconciling this Frank Howard with the same man I had met earlier. I guess it was his pregame jitters. A different time in 1976, Howard told a joke on Willie Jefferies, the hall of fame coach for the predominately black South Carolina State University Bulldogs. Howard joked about attending a State practice trying to pick up a nugget of information that might lead to a victory and noticed all of the footballs were painted dark green with lighter green stripes. When asked why Jefferies responded with a question, “You ever seen a black boy drop a watermelon?” The laughter was led by Jefferies, a black man himself with tears rolling down his cheeks.

My playing days were different from my coaching days. I never played with or against anyone who was a different color. When I coached I found out there was but one color that mattered on a football field and that was the color of the jersey you wore. An avowed racist of any color would help, hug, stand up for and drink after members of the other races during their entire careers. I hope this carried over into their lives after football, as well. Things said inside of the locker room might get you beaten severely or worse if they were said to anyone other than your teammates outside of that locker room.

I found myself in rarefied “coaching” air in the spring of 1981 while attending a coaching clinic at Clemson. Those were much different times to. The NCAA didn’t care if you had a coach’s clinic featuring the Clemson staff that ended with BBQ and beer served in sixteen ounce Hardee’s cups. They also didn’t care if food and libations were brought to your seat by very attractive Tiger cheerleaders or “Rally Cats.” Beer and BBQ! I would guess these were a Danny Ford party staple. There was even a “good old boy” comedian with a “tree climbing” coon dog for entertainment.

The clinic and entertainment portion was over and we were sitting around a table shooting the bull. I had managed to seat myself by the right hand of one of the “soon to be” Southern football gods, Danny Lee Ford, head football coach of the Clemson Tigers. To be honest I was more in awe of Jim Frasier. Seated across from me, he was the head football coach of the T.L Hanna Yellow Jackets. I didn’t know Coach Frasier but I had gotten to know Danny when Danny had been our recruiter at Mauldin during the Charlie Pell years. Danny had taken over for Pell in 1978 and was still just as “down home” as could be despite his new title. In his first full season in 1979, after a Gator Bowl victory completing Charlie’s tenure, Ford went 8-4 with a Peach Bowl loss. In 1980 the Tigers had a dismal 6-5 season and this was the subject of our conversation as we sat sipping at least one beer past too many. Had Danny been two or three beers ahead of me, he might have been in tears. He was lamenting being on the proverbial coaching “hot seat.” I remember Coach Frasier peering over his sixteen ounce Hardee’s cup, his eyes struggling to focus on Ford…or maybe it was my eyes struggling to focus on Frasier. “Boy” he said, “You helped recruit ‘em, all you can do now is coach ‘em up!” Danny and his staff must have done a pretty good job of “coachin ‘em up.” The rest they say is history. A story book 12-0 season and a National Championship during the 1981 Orange Bowl were realized and Ford went from “hot seat” to Southern football “Sainthood.”

This year’s 13-0 version is also “story book” but still two victories away from a National Championship. I cannot help but think about the differences and similarities between the two teams and their coaches. Actually, on the surface, there seems to be more differences when discussing the coaches. Aside from both having played at Alabama and “dismal” second full seasons, Dabo Swinney, this year’s “Saint-in-waiting”, would seem to have little in common with the Danny Ford I knew. Dabo is certainly a better speaker and Ford would not be caught dead “whipping it.” Despite a difference in styles, deep down I would guess there are many similarities when it comes to attention to detail and motivation.

With today’s finesse offenses it would be easy to say Ford coached a much tougher game. Strong offensive running attack and “snot bubble” knocking defense…WAIT! NOT SO FAST! It would appear you could make the same statement about the 2015 version.

Much has changed during the past five decades I have worshipped at the alter that is football. For the most part I think they are good changes even though it is sometimes hard to recognize the game today as the one I played as a boy and coached as an adult. Do I think our brand of football was tougher? Most assuredly! But I don’t guess Ford’s “three yards and a cloud of dust” was nearly as much fun as Dabo’s new version. One thing that has not changed is our pride in Southern football. “Go Tigers, Beat Oklahoma! The Orange Bowl is still ours!”

If you enjoyed this story I have written three books that maybe downloaded on Kindle or purchased in book form using the following links:
“Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”
“Floppy Parts”


This past Friday it ended. At least I think it did. My best friend coached the last game of his forty plus year career. That equates to over fifty years involved with the religion known as Southern football. Everyone who knows Mike Hawkins, Hawk as he is known wide and far, would have bet he would continue to coach until he drew his last breath. Then, having been carried off of a football field straight into the mortuary for cremation, would have his ashes scattered to the “football gods” over some yet undetermined football field “heaven.” I thought the same thing until I talked to him during the week prior to his “last game.” Mike has mellowed…A LOT…and seems to be at peace with his decision. Saying such, would I be surprised if he didn’t retire? Not at all.

As I begin this writing, I haven’t contacted him yet. I’m afraid to. I’m sure he has met this Saturday morning with a jumble of feelings although I am also sure he would never admit it. If I were writing a book, Mike’s season and career would not have ended on a late field goal during the upper-state championship. If I were writing the ending the Spartans would have blocked the field goal, returned it for the winning touchdown and gone on to win next week’s state championship game. It just goes to prove something I already knew. God could care less about who wins a football game because a win was sure something I prayed for… along with world peace. I still hope to be one for two.

Mike and I were introduced to each other some forty years ago on an athletic field that has dissolved into the fog of time…along with the introduction itself. We would spend the next dozen or so years looking at each other across athletic fields as we attempted to beat each other’s brains out at various sporting endeavors. During those years we probably broke even but who is counting…and it doesn’t matter anyway. Playing a game against each other doesn’t insure you will get to know someone either and Mike is as open as a giant clam. “Quare” is the Southern term I would have used to describe Mike. In the late Eighties I would find myself interviewing at a local swimming pool for the opportunity to coach football and baseball at Riverside and over the next twelve years would learn “Quare” really didn’t describe him at all. As I attempted to write a book on my teaching and coaching career I admitted to a former player that I was trying to write a story about Mike and was struggling. The player commented, “I don’t know why, you should have enough material to write a book.” The player was correct and the amount of material WAS the problem.

Being a bit odd is just a small part of his personality. Mike, despite his hard, old school exterior, has a heart like a marshmallow. Especially for kids…or animals. If you are in dire need Mike will move heaven and earth to help you. That includes friends or enemies alike. He is going to do what is right…well what he thinks is right. Generous and giving is a much larger portion of his personality than his “quareness.” I will always remember catching him sneaking food to the “stadium cat” and “roping off,” with crime scene tape, a killdeer’s nest so we would not run over it while cutting the field. There was even an impromptu celebration when we saw momma killdeer being followed by three minuscule chicks. After my heart attack in 2006 I had a stint surfed into an artery that saved my life. As I came back to the world of the living in CCU I knew I had not died and gone to heaven because the second face I saw was Mike’s. I knew I wasn’t in hell either because Linda, my wife, was the first face I saw. I just appreciated the fact they were both there.

For nearly thirty years Mike and I have coached and taught together, laughed together, cried together, watched each other’s children grow up and had grand-daughters within months of each other. Mike gave me the opportunity to get over a bad time in my life and I would not trade it for gold. I have tried to help him through his own bumpy roads and pray I have helped with his healing…it’s what friends do I guess. We both lost coaching jobs we believed we would never get over and ended up winning state championships with other programs, something that never would have happened had we remained where we had been. Sometimes lemons do make lemonade and I am just as proud for him as I am for me. Mike has been a winner in every definition of the word at every place he has ever been, on or off of the field. A winner with kids, his peers and his friends. I can give him no higher tribute than to call him Coach Hawkins, my friend.

I don’t know what chapters are left in our “book,” I just hope we write some of them together and that they are as memorable as his career. Enjoy a well-deserved rest Mike. It will take a while but you will get used to it. Love you Man!


I sat in a large lecture room during the summer of 1993 listening to the guest speaker during our annual state association athletic clinic in Columbia, S.C. Fresh off of a perfect season and national championship, Alabama head coach Gene Stallings was the speaker. I was impressed at the somewhat quiet, yet solid, demeanor of the Crimson Tide coach. His speech was a low Texas drawl I was sure could turn into a loud growl if necessary. Something in me believes it was rarely necessary. I was amused at a story he told about being embarrassed. In front of millions of viewers, a camera perfectly framed a reaction to a play that included an “F-bomb” expletive perfectly formed on his lips. One of those viewers was his youngest daughter, Martha Kate, who took him to task over the language he used.

You just knew Gene Stallings was a good man and there is nothing in his Bio today suggesting otherwise. One could not be hard-hearted enough not to tear up when Coach Stallings spoke about his son, John Mark. Coach Stallings teared up, I teared up and about a thousand others did to. John Mark was born with Down syndrome and was the light of his father’s life…along with his wife and four daughters. As you can tell, Coach Stallings spoke more about life than he did about football.

I never had the opportunity to sit down and hear Mark Richt speak in person. From clips, comments and sport’s stories I have read and viewed, I would say there is a lot of Gene Stallings in Mark Richt…except for the National Championship thing…but then again I am speaking about life. Richt, the former Georgia coach, now Miami coach, could have been bitter about his firing at Georgia despite two SEC championships, six SEC East championships to go with one hundred and forty-five victories to just fifty-one losses over a fourteen year career. Unfortunately college football is a “what have you done for me lately” profession. It’s about championships I guess.

Richt could have been bitter but made a profound “life” statement instead, “Life is about people, not rings. Rings collect dust.” While not the coach Georgia needs now, they think they need the rings, he is a man the world needs. Richt walks the “Christian Walk,” and has been a positive role model both on and off of the field. Along with his wife, the Richt’s have adopted two Ukrainian orphans, one with proteus syndrome, to go with their own two kids. This is something most people are very unlikely to know, Mark Richt plays everything close to the vest. One thing that he can’t keep close to his vest is the fact that he is a good man.

I wrote a book entitled “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…” It was about kids, peers, family and fans, along with memories of teaching and sports, all more important than victories, championships or passing test. I wish I had come to their lesson sooner. Is it more important to win championships or to produce up-standing, disciplined players? I know you can do both but which is more important? Good luck Mark Richt, I will be pulling for Miami to win championships when Clemson doesn’t. Interestingly, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney played football at Alabama. His mentor and head coach…Gene Stallings. He too is one of the “Right Men.” Theirs’s are legacies that are far more important than sports.

If you are interested in reading more by Don Miller his books may be purchased on Amazon or downloaded on Kindle at the following links
“Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”
“Floppy Parts”


Earlier in the week with equal parts understanding and trepidation, I viewed the story of a Missouri school district disbanding its football program. Danger and fear of head and neck injuries and, with the addition of less expensive and less dangerous sports, reduced participation in football is inevitable. When I say less dangerous, I believe that in any sport there is a potential for injury but with collisions on every play, football is high risk. My apprehension is that this is the drip that will turn into a flood if we don’t work to make football safer and more fun to play. Fun may be more of the issue than safety. In a national poll, the highest percentage of former players listed no longer enjoying playing as their reason for giving up football.

As both a player and a coach, football was a part of my life for over thirty years. It’s still a part of my life as I have become a spectator; however I have found that it is not nearly as enjoyable because I do not know the kids who are participating. I am a little jealous of my friends who are still coaching…but not enough to brave the August sun, the long hours and what has turned into a yearlong season.

I never thought I would be talking about fun and football in the same sentence. Making football more enjoyable has come a long way with the new pass-happy offenses…that is unless you are a defensive coordinator. I think if I were still a defensive coordinator I would wear a paper bag over my head if I had to try to stop these “fun and gun” offenses.

There are just some parts of football that are not fun. Bumps and bruises aside, August heat and humidity are hard to endure. Offensive linemen don’t have fun…unless there is a “pancake” block I guess. I was an offensive lineman in high school and I can assure you I never walked out on the playground and suggested that we work on our blocking. “Hey! Stand there and let me run into you and then you can run into me.” During our Thursday before practice tag football games I witnessed that even “Big Eaters” like to play with a football.

Rule changes and new technology have actually made football safer but not totally. New diets and new year-round strength and conditioning programs have made it both safer and more dangerous. Force equals mass times acceleration. With the increase in size and speed, players are able to hit each other a lot harder. Want to lessen head injuries? Take the face mask off the helmet. Dental bills and nose jobs will increase but I bet you traumatic head injuries will decrease.

Football is harder to play than other team sports. Before you attack me, I did not say better or more important. To the person playing “tiddlywinks,” it is more important. Tiddlywink players, I support and applaud you. Hitting a baseball may be the hardest athletic technique to master as even a good hitter has a seventy percent failure rate. I salute pitchers for their skill. But that is not what I mean by harder. What I mean is, physical pain aside, a football team has more “moving parts” that have to be in sync. A baseball or softball game can be controlled by one person, the pitcher, if that pitcher has someone who can catch the pitch. In basketball, a game can be controlled by a point guard, a post player and three people willing to get out of the way. In soccer, within the team concept, there is a great deal of individualism and individual creativity. None of these sports require the precision that is necessary in football…These are sports that I have coached or coached and played so I have some experience to go with my opinion. Just so you other folks are not mad at me, I also believe that there is an artistic beauty to those other sports that you just don’t have in football. Football is just brutal, even when occasionally played with a little finesse.

I have never believed that any athletic event is a war, no matter what pro-athletes or, cough, cough, coaches say. I believe we use this description too often and it devalues what our military and law enforcement personnel go through. Football has a foxhole kind of mentality that you don’t get in other sports or, at least, the sports that I have coached.

Life lessons are learned when playing all sports; however, there is a uniqueness to lessons grasped in football. Just because of the sheer numbers in football, a very distinctive form of teamwork must be executed. Everyone has to learn a role, even second and third stringers. Outstanding football teams have good backups who understand their roles. Each player has to rely upon the guy next to him to do his job. The players absolutely must work together.

Football players must persist to achieve and to continue to work hard even when they are banged up or after a big loss or series of losses. It’s easy to come to practice after a win because you have an adrenaline high after the victory. I had one coach tell me that it was better than sex. Why? Because the high lasts all week. If you win a state championship, I guess the high lasts for a year. If this were a Viagra commercial we would need to seek medical help! What is grueling about the sport is having to get back up after a heartbreaking defeat or a whole series of them. I know it seems trite, but football is not about getting knocked down; it’s about getting back up.

I heard a young head coach speak this week. I felt for him. They are five games into the season and his team has scored just thirteen points…and given up over two hundred. That’s right. They have been outscored over forty to a little less than three. Talk about an exercise in futility! What impressed me first about him was his humor, even if it was a type of gallows humor. Secondly, he was optimistic that they were getting better… even if it was just picking up one first down.

I hope high school football doesn’t go the way of the dinosaurs or that we turn it into a flag football league. Had I had a son, I would have wanted him to play but would have supported him if he didn’t want to play. My daughter played futbol and was a tough knot. Had she wanted to play football, I would have supported her after I had tried to talk her out of it. I just believe it is worth the risk because of the life lessons that you learn and the friendships you cultivate. I hold this opinion because of the warm feelings that I have as I remember coaching and playing this awesome sport.