Checking off the coaches’ Christmas lists

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By Tommy Hicks

It gets lost in the shuffle of bowl games and now with an early signing period to contend with, but college football coaches are known to get pretty excited about Christmas Day. After all, they’re kids at heart and they have made their lists and checked them at least twice, and they are hoping Santa has them listed as naughty and nice (it’s a coach thing).

Mainly, they are hoping to snag the top items on their Christmas wish list.

This year, coaches in these parts enjoyed a pretty good Christmas, or so we have been told. Some of the gifts were ready for Christmas Day, even earlier, while others gifts, if provided, will be delivered at a later date.

The complete list for area coaches was not available, but some reliable elves, err, sources, have provided information on a few of the gifts received and requested:

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn: Ol Gus asked Santa for a DVD copy (in HD and BluRay) of the 2017 Iron Bowl and the 2017 regular season game against Georgia. He received a really big screen TV as well on which to watch his favorite programs. The games join a video library that also includes the Kick Six Iron Bowl.

Gus also asked that one of his players receive a Christmas wish, and that is good health (and strong knees, legs and ankles) for running back Kerryon Johnson. Gus also asked that Santa convince Johnson it is in the players’ best interest to return for his senior season at Auburn rather than heading off to the cold, cold NFL.

Troy’s Neal Brown: All Neal wants for Christmas is a quarterback that will take the place, with the same success and style, that this year’s QB Brandon Silvers produced. A head coach with a strong offensive football presence needs someone who can make his gameplan happen on the field, and Silvers, who threw for five touchdowns in the Trojans’ New Orleans Bowl victory, was that quarterback for Brown.

He also asked for another big non-conference game victory next season to go along with the LSU win the Trojans produced this year. He and his team will get a couple of chances to make that happen next season, the Trojans playing Boise State at home on Sept. 1 and traveling to Nebraska on Sept. 15. In fact, he’ll be happy with a couple of wins, if Santa is willing.

UAB’S Bill Clark: OK, he’s already received the CBS Sports National Coach of the Year award and the Blazers just returned home from playing in the Bahamas Bowl. On anyone’s scale that’s a pretty good couple of Christmas gifts (although UAB lost the bowl game).  He also opened one present early with the new football complex on campus that includes a covered practiced field.

It’s been a good year for Bill Clark, though he received coal and switches in the form of the cancelling of the UAB football program a couple of years back, so Santa is making up for the bad times in a big way. What Clark wants now is continued success and his team challenging for a Conference USA championship. With the positive image Clark is helping create in Birmingham, that possibility — just a short time after the program was axed — is much closer to reality than almost anyone expected.

South Alabama’s Steve Campbell: The new kid on the block, Campbell takes over the program that former head coach Joey Jones literally helped built from scratch. His wish, which he noted at his introductory press conference, is to produce a championship football team in Mobile. He has the resume to back up his claim, having won national junior college titles. And Santa’s gift to Campbell is a roster that will include 17 returning starters, not including the punter (a Ray Guy Award semifinalist) and place kicker.

Now if Santa could just drop off an experienced (a.k.a. JUCO quarterback) in the February signing period to join the three fifth-year senior quarterbacks and the redshirt freshman who will challenge for the starting job, that would be a good gift. Creating competition at perhaps the most important spot on the roster is a good thing, especially with a new coaching staff. Challenging for the league crown right away is on the wish list too.

Alabama’s Nick Saban: To be honest, the first St. Nick (Santa Claus) isn’t taking Christmas list requests from the top St. Nick in Alabama (Saban). He has a few good reasons. At the top of Santa’s list of reasons would be the $11 million-plus salary Saban pulls in each year. Santa feels if there’s something missing in Saban’s life, he should be able to purchase it.

Secondly, there are all those top-rated recruiting classes Saban has enjoyed the past few seasons. And even if he doesn’t finish No. 1 this year — which his former defensive coordinator is trying to take for himself — he’s still going to finish high enough on the listing to celebrate another stellar class of players arriving in Tuscaloosa.

There’s also his team’s selection in the College Football Playoffs this season. Again. Santa has been good to Saban in regards to this wish and he paid heed to Saban’s speech (to Santa, or was it to the CFP selection committee? Same thing, really) that his team’s “body of work for the season should be considered when voting on the four teams for the playoffs.

He has Miss Terry and the lake house in Georgia and the Mercedes-Benz dealership and those write-in votes in the recent special election for Jeff Sessions’ former seat in the U.S. Senate. He would be elected governor of the state if he chose to run and the race wouldn’t be close, no matter the opponent and that opponent’s credentials. So, yeah, Santa skipped Nick Saban’s house this year, but if things go the way many expect, in a couple of weeks he’ll have the only present he wants every year anyway.


Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at