By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - After starting on Auburn's freshman team in 1966, Buddy McClinton found himself buried on the varsity depth chart at safety in the spring of '67.
"I was fifth or sixth-string and thinking that this was probably not going to be a whole lot of fun," McClinton says.
Auburn's defensive backfield coach, Bill "Brother" Oliver, saw McClinton's potential.
"I just got a break and Brother Oliver saw something in me and gave me a chance," says McClinton, who would go on to start every game for the next three seasons.
The rest is Auburn history. Eighteen career interceptions, a record that hasn't been threatened in nearly five decades. Nine interceptions as a senior All-American in 1969, another Auburn record, the result of an Oliver-instilled devotion to film study.
"He always taught me, when I studied film, study it just like a quarterback would study it," McClinton says. "As a safety, I was the quarterback for the defense. I would look at the offensive formations.
"The key word was anticipate. We were trying to anticipate where the quarterback might go with the football. Realizing down and distance, tendencies, where are you on the field, that gave us a good chance to make a good jump and get involved in the play. That probably was the very best thing I had going for me was Brother Oliver teaching me to think like a quarterback."
An All-SEC player from 1967-69, McClinton and fellow Auburn defensive legend Gregg Carr, a linebacker from 1981-84, are candidates for the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class.
The Class of '18, typically consisting of 11 to 13 players from among 75 Bowl subdivision and 98 divisional candidates, will be announced on Jan. 8 in Atlanta before the College Football Playoff National Championship.
"It's just a thrill all over again," says McClinton, a Hall of Fame candidate in 2013. "Every year it is a who's who of college football legends. It's names that you grew up with and know all about. I follow college football very, very closely and I love pro football. So many of the guys that are on the ballot went on to great pro careers."
McClinton, a 2006 Alabama Sports Hall of Fame inductee and member of the 2011 SEC Football Legends Class, went on to achieve tremendous success as a commercial real estate developer based in Montgomery.
"You're only as good as the person next to you," he says. "In my case, I had Don Webb on my left and Larry Willingham on my right. They were spectacular. I had Mike Kolen and David Campbell in front of me. They were spectacular teammates. Knowing you're just one piece of a puzzle, and if somebody else doesn't do their job, it doesn't matter how good you are, how smart you are or how hard you're playing. If your teammates are not on that same page and plan, it won't matter You'll still lose.
"That's the same in business. I've always tried to be a part of a team. I've tried to hire people who are smarter than me because smart people make you look really smart. Recognizing that things aren't always going to go your way, you're going to get knocked down, but you've got to get back up. And when you get back up, you've got to go at it harder than ever. I think being a part of a team is so essential for young people today. I know it was for me growing up. It really lets you fully understand, you can't do it by yourself. It doesn't matter how good you are in whatever field you are in, you can't do it by yourself."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer