LITTLE ROCK — Four of the honorees were sons of football coaches and the other a son of a Church of Christ preacher.
After hearing all the sentimental references at Tuesday’s Broyles Award luncheon, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said, "I feel like it’s Father’s Day."
There was also a touch of Mother’s Day as each of the five finalists took time to pay tribute to their wives or fiances, who generally raise the family while the assistant coaches are putting long hours into coaching and game-planning.
Narduzzi, the oldest among the five finalists and who guided the No. 1 defense in America, won the 2013 Broyles Award in a field that some longtime observers claimed was one of the best group of nominees in the 18-year history.
"I got into the coaching profession because Dad was a coach," said Narduzzi, who read excerpts from a three-page letter a former player had written him about his late father, who was a former coach at Youngstown State. The former player, now an executive with a major restaurant chain, expressed his appreciation that Narduzzi had followed in his father’s footsteps in coaching because of how much Narduzzi’s dad had taught him about life.
"I still have an old pair of Dad’s shoes in my closet because it is a piece of him," Narduzzi said.
Baylor offensive coordinator Phil Montgomery, who developed one of the most prolific offenses in college football history this season, noted the awkwardness of coaching at Baylor (affiliated with the Baptist Church) while his father, who lives in Abilene, was a Church of Christ preacher and a graduate of Abilene Christian, a school affiliated with that denomination.
"He’s an old Church of Christ preacher who has to wear Baylor attire everywhere," Montgomery said. "People give him a hard time ...
"But coaching is all about uniting to work with kids and how to change them to be leaders in their communities."
Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt looked at Montgomery and noted his father was a high school coach in Alabama but his grandfather was a Baptist preacher.
"From the time I was a child, I wanted to be like my father," he said.
Sometimes, the results weren’t always positive.
He remembered following his father about as a 9-year old and sitting in on some meetings. After a loss, the coaches were debating what went wrong in the previous game.
"I blurted out that if if we had run this certain play one more time, we would have scored and won," Pruitt said. "Dad took off his belt and wore me out right there."
Kurt Roper, the offensive coordinator at Duke, is another son of a coach, Bobby Roper, a former player under Frank Broyles.
"All I wanted to do was to be like my Dad," he said.
He did get into coaching via a circuitous route.
He went to Rice University on a football scholarship to play for former UA assistant Fred Goldsmith.
"I was a right-handed quarterback but I threw like I was left-handed," he said. "One day, coach Goldsmith called me into his office and told me I needed to think about what I was gonna do because he didn’t think my football scholarship would last that long.
"I started to major in business and one day my economics professor called me into his office and said that he hoped I was a good football player because he thought this business stuff was not gonna cut it for me.
"Then, I decided I had to be a coach."
Rhett Lashlee, Auburn’s offensive coordinator and a former quarterback for head coach Gus Malzahn at Shiloh Christian, noted he had three father-type mentors, his step-father, Malzahn and current Springdale Har-Ber coach Chis Wood, who was his junior high coach.
"They all had an impact on me to teach me to push myself to do things you don’t think you can do," he said. "I think that’s coach Malzahn’s great assets — to push everybody to do things together they don’t think they can do on their own."
In addition to praising his father, Pruitt pointed out his fiance, whom he said brought him a box lunch and dinner every day and evening during the season.
"Once you get married, that’s gonna stop," he said one of the assistants told him.
"It’s the players who give us an opportunity to coach," said Roper.
Relationships with players, as well as family, played a large role in everyone’s success.
Lashlee said the best advice given him about coaching came from former Auburn head coach Pat Dye.
"Coach ‘em as hard as you’re willing to love ‘em,"
Folks got a taste Tuesday of how much five coaches were willing to love.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)