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Phillip Marshall: 90-plus years of coaching wisdom

Jan. 5, 2014

In the noise and chaos of BCS media day, three Auburn coaches talked about football and life Saturday. For an old columnist and reporter, it was fascinating to listen.

Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and safeties coach Charlie “Cheese” Harbison shared the wisdom of more than 90 combined years of coaching experience and the lessons of football and life they learned along the way.

Smith came from Mississippi State and Harbison from Clemson to join Gus Malzahn’s staff and work with defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Grimes followed Malzahn from Arkansas State. They are part of the staff of experienced winners that Malzahn put together.

Following are the words as I heard them Saturday and the occasional question or comment that I added to the conversation.

HARBISON: “I’m telling you, these guys are close. They love each other. They play together. It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t care who gets the credit. That’s what they’re here.”

ME: “I’ve never been around a great team that didn’t have that.”

HARBISON: “I haven’t either. One thing about us is we are a family. I want everybody but me to get credit. I’ll go out the back door and go home.”

GRIMES: “A rising tide floats all ships. It doesn’t just float some of them, it floats all those suckers.”

SMITH: “It’s a lot of fun. I’m a blessed man. For this to happen for me at this stage in my career is really neat.”

GRIMES: “I have been out in the desert and now I am in the oasis. I’m telling you now, I’ve been out in the desert. I have been in some tough places.”

SMITH: “We all have. I came here for this.”

GRIMES: “I just didn’t know it was going to happen so fast.”

SMITH: “That’s what people don’t realize. We are still a work in progress. When they start saying things we didn’t do, there is no way you can do it when you are assessing it, too.”

GRIMES: “We had so many unknowns going into this season.”

ME: “If you’d been around last year, you’d know even better how amazing this is.”

SMITH: “I know when you don’t win an SEC game there are some severe problems, and it probably is deep rooted.”

GRIMES: “There was unseen dysfunction. Lots of it.”

SMITH: “Ellis’ willingness to do what was best for the players has been big. You compromise some of the things you like to do in order to do what the kids you have in place can do. You do that if you are trying to fix it and win as you go. A lot of people just say ‘We are going to tear it down and rebuild it. Not us.’”

GRIMES: “The players that aren’t here eliminated themselves. We did not come in here with the idea we were going to try to run everybody off.”

SMITH: “We were just talking with our team about something we are going to fix after this game.”

GRIMES: “Right. There are some things we have to get fixed. Now is not the time to fix them. We are definitely a work in progress.”

ME: “How much of a challenge will it be going into next year as probably a top five team?”

GRIMES: “Success, to me, is harder to sustain than coming back from failure. What happens is you have a tendency to relax.”

SMITH: “We’re not going to relax.”

GRIMES: “Gus Malzahn and this staff will never relax.”

SMITH: “The thing about us – and I’ll tell it to anybody – is nobody works harder than we do. Now, we don’t do it with a frown. Some people work with a frown. We work with a smile, but nobody outworks us. Nobody is going to outwork Coach Malzahn.”

GRIMES: “No. I can’t outwork him, and I’ve got some grind in me.”

SMITH: “I was raised a farmer. My daddy was a farmer. My granddaddy was a farmer. I don’t know but one way. I don’t have as much times as others, so I’m not patient. I want to get it done right now.”

GRIMES: “I’ll tell you what is amazing is this time a year ago I was at the GoDaddy bowl in Mobile. It is going to be played tomorrow night. The next morning, I packed my stuff, went back to Arkansas and washed my underwear. The next day I was in Auburn, and I never went back to Jonesboro.”

SMITH: “It’s a neat feeling, but all it does is make you want to do it again. My goal is to coach 10 more years, and I want to do it every year. That’s what drives you. That’s what drives me. This is what we do it all for.”


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:





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