Lance Thompson: All Auburn all the time now
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― Lance Thompson has been around this SEC coaching block a time or two.
Alabama, LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Alabama.
And now Thompson is at Auburn.
"In my business," he said with a nod to the Iron Bowl, "it's 'anything is possible.'"
Anything, indeed. Nick Saban hired him on multiple occasions, but Thompson said he contacted Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp after last season to see about joining Muschamp's new defensive staff. Soon afterward, with Gus Malzahn's approval, he became Auburn's linebackers coach.
Don't worry about the move. Others have made it, too, including Pat Dye. He played football at Georgia, one of Auburn's biggest rivals, and coached at Alabama, the biggest rival of them all, for nine seasons before stopovers at East Carolina and Wyoming led to Auburn.
SEC championships followed, and Auburn named the field after him.
"It's just the nature of the profession," Dye said. "When you're at Alabama, you're 100 percent loyal to Alabama. When I came here, I was 100 percent loyal to Auburn."
Thompson hasn't coached a game at Auburn. Preseason practice will soon lead to that, when Auburn meets Louisville in the season-opener on Sept. 5. But Thompson says he already understands Auburn.
"The people here have been unbelievable for us," Thompson said. "Work environment-wise, I've really enjoyed Coach Malzahn and his philosophy and the way he handles people, his staff and team. We have an outstanding defensive staff. It's a really competitive environment with this defense. We have a wonderful group of men who treat kids with respect, good coaches, good teachers, on and off the field."
Thompson said Malzahn has "done a phenomenal job."
"More than with Coach Malzahn, is the way that he is as a man. Football is football. Football is a tough, competitive environment. But Coach Malzahn is a special guy… with the way he talked to the team about sportsmanship. I've been coaching for 29 years, and I've never really seen a coach talk to his team like that about sportsmanship. How to win a game, how to lose a game. That's a class act.
"He told me when I interviewed with him: 'I'm not going to let the college game change me. I am who I am.'
"He's legit with it. He's very transparent. A lot of people can say stuff like that and whatever sounds good at the moment, but what this guy says is real. As a coach, as a man, you respect that."
"I've worked with some guys for nine or 10 years, and they probably couldn't tell you my children's names. I worked for Coach Malzahn two weeks, my daughters came over for a recruiting weekend, he and his wife knew everything about them, where they went to school, what they were studying, everything about them. That made a huge impression on me."
Thompson coached with Muschamp at LSU.
"There's a cult of coaches in the SEC. We all know each other," Thompson said. "We've all been in the league a long time. We know how each other thinks and operates. We have a healthy mutual respect for each other. Then on game day, you've got a competitor's mindset where you want to go out and do what you've got to do."
Thompson was on the wrong end of Auburn's Pick Six win over Alabama two years ago, sitting in the coaches box at Jordan-Hare Stadium, watching Chris Davis score the game-winning touchdown on the last play.
He remembered what he thought.
"It's obvious we're not going to tackle him," Thompson said. "Well, we're going to be open next week."
Such is part of the profession.
"Congratulations to Coach Malzahn and Auburn," Thompson said thinking back. "The greatest turnaround in college football history. As coaches, you have to respect when other coaches have success in turnaround situations. I'm not a hater. I'm going to say, 'Congratulations to you. Good luck to you.' Do it with class and go on to the next game."
Thompson said he hasn't talked to Saban since he left, but says he owes Saban and his wife, Terry, much. He said he has talked to Alabama assistant coaches, but "we really don't talk about football. We talk about family.
"We don't talk about the game. We understand that part of it."
Dye made a shorter SEC tour, but it was plenty. He played at Georgia, but coached at Alabama and Auburn. Indeed, Muschamp played at Georgia and has coached at Auburn, LSU and Florida.
"It's not a big deal," Dye said.
"The Iron Bowl is the Iron Bowl, and your rivalries are the same. The Auburn-Georgia game didn't change when I came to Auburn. The Auburn-Alabama game didn't change when I came to Auburn. Whatever side you're on, you're totally committed to that side. I don't know if there's any extra incentive, but the Iron Bowl is big, and one of the biggest college football games every year. Me coaching at Alabama didn't change that at all. The Auburn-Georgia game has special significance. Me playing at Georgia and then coaching at Auburn doesn't impact the game, other than what we contribute to that particular game."
Dye, an occasional practice observer, says he hasn't watched Thompson closely during drills, but endorsed him the best way a coach could. "I know his players are making plays," Dye said.
Thompson is ready for this adventure, and beyond.
"After my deal is done, after the schools I've been at, I'll have a really good book to write," he said. "I've got some stories that you can't make this stuff up."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine