By Jeff Shearer
It's something you'll hear often when high school football stars sign with Auburn.
"Auburn just felt like home to me."
It's not a recent development.
That's how Mike Kolen felt a half-century ago when he chose Auburn out of Birmingham's Berry High School in 1966.
In his book, The Greatest Team: A Playbook for Champions, Kolen writes about his admiration for Coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan.
"I liked everything about him. He was super organized and would have been a great CEO in business. His expectations were high," Kolen writes. "It was an outstanding opportunity for a young man like me to be exposed to such a quality and disciplined program."
The title of Kolen's book refers to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the NFL's only unbeaten Super Bowl champions.
Nicknamed "Captain Crunch" at Auburn for his hard-hitting style, Kolen arrived in Miami in 1970, the same season the Dolphins hired Don Shula as head coach.
Like all teams, Shula's Dolphins focused on the fundamentals. While tangibles were important, Kolen says, intangibles were even more so.
"But I'm totally convinced that a big part of our success was TEAM as an acronym," Kolen says.
Kolen devotes much of his book to breaking down trust, enthusiasm, attitude and motivation.
T: "Trust is really the foundation of any collaborative effort or any championship endeavor. The importance of trusting each other and having each other's back. And being committed to being trustworthy to your teammates is so vital, not only on the football field, but in the business world."
E: "Enthusiasm is really the fuel behind any championship endeavor. We had a lot of enthusiasm on our team down in Miami, and especially when we had our perfect season, 17-0, and we won the next Super Bowl as well. But you can't be a champion, and you can't have a championship organization without enthusiasm right in the center of it."
A: "Attitude is so vital in terms of the perspective you're going to have. A never-give-up attitude. One that is contagious, in regard to thinking and playing like a winner in every situation. It's a challenge. I also stress in the book a little bit about humility being a vital part of an attitude."
M: "Motivation is overcoming initial inertia and all of us have some of that experience at times. In a team environment, I've found out that the greatest motivation is love and respect for your teammates, for your coaches, for your leadership in an organization and really being motivated by that."
Kolen played eight seasons in Miami before transitioning into careers in real estate, fitness center ownership and financial services.
Lessons learned at Auburn, in lecture halls and practice fields, have benefitted Kolen for a lifetime.
"Coach Jordan had such a solid program for so many years," Kolen says. "Paul Davis, his defensive coordinator during the years I was there, was an experienced head coach at Mississippi State before he came over to Auburn. We had two great coaches who we could draw from and look up to who were truly champions.
"They knew what they were doing and they were enthused about it. Totally committed to it. And I think as a result of playing under such quality coaches it did prepare me for eight years of professional football," he says.
Kolen returns to his alma mater every spring to present the Mike Kolen Award at A-Day to Auburn's leading tackler from the previous season.
On April 9th, he'll be back at Jordan-Hare Stadium to honor Johnathan Ford for the second straight year.
"It's been a real thrill for me," Kolen says. "You're congratulating a player from the previous year who had a great impact on Auburn's defensive side of the ball, being the leading tackler. Being there at Auburn, being out on the field, kind of reminds you of some old memories. It's just a really next experience, and something I've thoroughly enjoyed over the years."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer