March 27, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. – Phillip Lolley loves football. He loves talking about it. He loves studying it. He loves watching it. He loves everything about it.
But most of all, he loves coaching it.
It was that fascination with football that made Lolley a legendary coach at North Jackson High School, that prompted him to spend summers traveling to talk and share knowledge with college coaches. One of those was Miami defensive coordinator Tommy Tuberville.
When Tuberville became Auburn’s head coach after the 1998 season, he remembered. And he hired Lolley as strength and conditioning coach. Soon, Lolley was coaching defensive backs. He moved off the field, back on when Gene Chizik arrived and off again in Chizik’s final season.
Always, Lolley wanted most of all to coach, but he was a loyal soldier who did what was asked of him and did it with dedication and enthusiasm. He never complained. He spent the past two seasons as Gus Malzahn’s director of external football relations, working with NFL scouts and high coaches.
Along the way, Lolley helped Auburn win a national championship and three Southeastern Conference championships. He sent a stream of defensive backs into the NFL, and they swear by him to this day.
Next season, Lolley will be on the field again, but it won’t be at Auburn. He will leave Auburn in June with his state retirement and coach defense for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. Lolley, who sometimes seems to know everyone involved with football, gave Edmonton head coach Chris Jones his first fulltime coaching job as a North Jackson assistant.
At 59, Lolley doesn’t act like a man who is anywhere close to being done with the game.
“Auburn, I can’t say enough about it,” Lolley said. “It’s been a great ride. It’s been wonderful. But I’m kind of antsy. A lot of things are bottled up inside me, and I’ve got to see some things. Auburn has been a wonderful place, but I miss coaching.
“The job I’ve had the last year or two has been a blessing. I’ve really enjoyed it and could do it forever, but I want to be up there with the guys challenging and doing things.”
For sure, it will be a different kind of challenge.
Instead of 11 players on the field, there are 12 in the CFL. Six players can be in motion at the same time and can run toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. There are only three downs.
“When I talk to people about defense, all it is is solving puzzle,” Lolley said. “… It’s a new puzzle to me. It’s been real intriguing for me to look at it.”
If you listen to Lolley for long, he’ll be talk about the days of his youth when he learned the toughness and the work ethic that have served him well. His stories are endless. But always, the conversation turns to football. When he talks football, he talks pressure and man-to-man defense. And he is passionate.
“They say playing man-to-man is going to be very difficult because of all the motion,” Lolley said. “I say hogwash. You can solve any puzzle if you know what you are doing. We are going to play a little bit of everything, but we are basically going to be a pressure, man-to-man type team.”
Jones played high school football in South Pittsburgh, Tenn., just over the Alabama line, and in college at Chattanooga. Lolley hired him at North Jackson, helped him become a graduate assistant on Mike DuBose’s first staff at Alabama and an assistant coach at what is now West Alabama.
Jones called Lolley as Auburn was preparing folast season's Southeastern Conference Championship Game. He wanted Lolley on his staff badly enough that he said, if necessary, he would even wait a year to fill the position. Finally, Lolley decided he would leave his roots and move north to do what he loves most to do.
Former defensive back T’Sharvan Bell, who finished his Auburn career in 2012, loved to talk about “Coach Lolley’s country sayings.” He could even do a nifty Lolley impersonation. But Bell, like so many others, respected Lolley as a coach and as a man who exuded toughness but loved the young men who played the game.
“Best coach I’ve ever been around,” Bell said. “No question about it.”
Now Lolley will move on to coach a different kind of football in a different country. But his beliefs in what wins and his passion for the game won’t change. He’ll be on the field again, teaching lessons of pass defense, tackling and toughness.
And, really, that’s where Phillip Lolley belongs.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: