Pat Sullivan returns, still an Auburn legend
Nov. 21, 2014

PatSullivan
Pat Sullivan acknowledges the cheers from the Auburn fans before the 2011 game in Jordan-Hare Stadium


By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala.  Pat Sullivan has always been special to Auburn, from the Heisman Trophy he won in 1971, to a stint as an assistant coach, to his job as the radio color commentator on Auburn games, to the man the university still respects this very day.

It was Sullivan who made the pregame speech to the Tigers before the SEC Championship Game last season, and it is Sullivan who will lead his Samford Bulldogs into Jordan-Hare Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday to play Auburn.

There will only be mutual respect in this one.

"He did a great job speaking to our team. He was there at halftime for adjustments and advice. It was a really special moment," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

It was Sullivan who won the first of Auburn's three Heisman trophies, who was Auburn's honorary coach before the SEC title game. It is Sullivan who will bring back one Auburn's favorite players of recent years in Kodi Burns, the quarterback who turned receiver who is now on the Samford coaching staff.

Of Sullivan, Malzahn said, "It’s kind of weird to play against him but you’ve got a job to do." Same goes for Burns, just as it went for Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who coached against Malzahn for the only time in 2011 when he was on Samford's staff.

Sullivan, of course, there, too, just as he had been before. So beloved, even as an opposing coach, he was honored in pregame ceremonies when he brought Samford to Jordan-Hare the last time. Since then, they've erected a statue of him in front of the stadium. He stands with Auburn's other Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson and Cam Newton. 

But Sullivan was first.

"There is no way young Auburn fans could appreciate what Pat Sullivan meant to Auburn in the late '60s and early '70s. He brought about a rebirth of Auburn football," said former Athletics Director David Housel before Samford's last visit to Jordan-Hare. Nothing's changed.

"I think Pat Sullivan did for Auburn what Bo Jackson did for Auburn  he gave Auburn hope. Pat was a great football player, but he's also a great human being. He was a spiritual inspiration leader for the Auburn people when we needed one." 

"He was part of the Auburn people. They knew it. He knew it.

"No one will ever be appreciated or loved or respected any more than Pat Sullivan."

"He’s obviously an Auburn legend," Malzahn said, "and I think the world of him."

Sullivan isn't lost on today's players. It was just last year when then-Auburn running back Tre Mason was at the Heisman ceremonies when he looked at his phone and smiled.

"Pat Sullivan just texted me."

That text meant as much to Mason as anything that happened, remembered Shelly Poe, an Auburn assistant athletic director for media relations.


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Sullivan has dealt with health issues. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, given a 40 percent chance to survive, and came through it. He missed the first three games this season after undergoing cervical fusion. He's been coaching from the press box.

"I have enjoyed being in the press box as far as seeing the game is concerned. I have missed being on the sideline and the interaction with the players," Sullivan said.

Malzahn said he visited with Sullivan in 2006. After the 2012 season, Sullivan was on the selection committee that chose Auburn's new coach. They chose Malzahn. The irony is that Sullivan applied for the Auburn job after the 1998 season. The Tigers hired Tommy Tuberville.

Sullivan remained loyal to Auburn.

"He's one of the true classy guys in college football. He is respected by everyone," Malzahn said. "I've never heard anyone say anything negative about him. I lean on him for advice. He’s an Auburn legend."

Samford is a huge underdog Saturday, but Sullivan says the tough part will be "playing against great players and coaches" as in, Auburn players and coaches. "Auburn is very talented and well coached in every area. You can see why they were ranked in the Top 5 for most of the year. They are one of the premier teams in the country."

Burns is a rookie compared to Sullivan. His last year playing was 2010. Caught a touchdown pass in the BCS championship game, too. He got into coaching -- and now he'll be coaching against Auburn.

"It will be fun to be back on the Plains," Burns said. "It is a good opportunity for our players to get to play in an SEC atmosphere, have a good time, compete and see what happens."

Sullivan calls Burns "a great young coach. He is a perfect example for our kids. He played the game and he has the players' and other coaches' respect. I think Kodi will be a great head coach one day."

Burns said he'll have no problem facing his old team.

"Not at all. I love Auburn, but at the same time, I love being here and I enjoy Samford. Samford reminds me of a small Auburn. It’s a beautiful campus, great people, just like Auburn," he said.
 
 Saturday, he'll be coaching against the people he coached with just last season.

"That's part of the business. You get to know people and you also coach against them," Burns said. "There are no hard feelings. Obviously, everybody wants to win, and that's part of the game. If you don't want to win, you're not a competitor. I love Auburn, but I want to win here at Samford."

Auburn honors Pat Sullivan in this video...



Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:

 

 

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