Skip to main content Skip to footer
Phillip Marshall: Toughness, caring a winning combination

May 25, 2014

In almost 45 years of covering college athletics, I’ve covered hundreds, maybe even thousands, of coaches in sports across the spectrum. Some have been tough, hard-nosed guys who could be intimidating even for a reporter. Others have been more soft-spoken, more cerebral in their approaches to their games.

But one thing has been universally true: The most successful coaches I have seen have been those who demanded nothing less than the best their players had to give all the time but convinced those players that they cared about them as people and as athletes. Being tough and demanding is not the same as belittling, bullying and abusing.

You’d have a hard time finding any coaches more demanding and tougher on their players than Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes. They want maximum effort every time, all the time. They demand it, loudly. And their players will do anything for them. Why? Because they know they care.

You could go right on down the list, starting with head coach Gus Malzahn and going on to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, tight ends coach Scott Fountain, running backs coach Tim Horton, cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, safeties coach Charlie Harbison. They have different personalities, but their commitment to the well-being of the players they mentor, on and off the field, is beyond question.



The men who played for Pat Dye tell stories of being pushed far beyond what they believed they could do. And they cherish every minute of it to this day.

Those are just examples of many coaches in many sports. I could sit here and list dozens and dozens of them in almost every sport, but I’d leave somebody out.

College athletes will do almost anything asked of them as long as they believe the coach cares about them as people and they believe he or she will help them excel.

At the same time, athletes in any sport see quickly when it’s about the coach and not about them, when their well-being is secondary to the coach’s paycheck, when they are viewed as tools for the coach to reach his own goals. They will still compete, because that’s what they do. But they’ll tune the coach out forever, and, odds are, they will never reach the level of accomplishment that they could.

Moving on:

So now former athletes are suing the NCAA because they haven’t received full cost of attendance scholarships in the past? This is truly getting out of hand. They got the scholarships they, along with their parents, agreed to and signed.

Seems like lots of lawyers are working really hard to make national news. And, with the help of reporters who have decided it is their mission to reform college athletics, they are succeeding.

First-year Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl says he’s not patient and he doesn’t expect fans to be patient either.

"I'm not asking anybody to be patient – don't be patient - but don't quit on us," Pearl said in an interview with The Montgomery Advertiser. "Don't be patient, I'm not patient either, our players shouldn't be patient. It's been 10 years since we made the NCAA Tournament - don't be patient - but stay with us. I don't know what it's going to look like."

Fans often scratch their heads about why a recruit chooses one school over another. Truth is, you never know.

Way back in 1981, Auburn signed a big-time prospect out of Florida. I asked him later on why he chose Auburn when he could have gone to Florida or to any number of schools. This was his answer:

“When I visited Auburn last year, they were playing Richmond. They won 55-16. The night before, my high school team had won 55-16. That told me I must be being led to Auburn.”

You never know.

Until next time …


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




Auburn Football Tickets




Buy Tickets

BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE! is your home for buying tickets to Auburn athletic events.

Auburn Tigers
Official Store


Shop for your favorite items at the Auburn Tigers Official Online Store.

Tigers Unlimited, Join Today! Click for more information