- Randy Butler is a thinking man's coach. So it's no wonder he takes
a long, thoughtful pause to consider the meaning of these three
words: Southern Miss football.
As Butler reflects,
he sits underneath a framed poster of Southern Miss great Sammy
Winder, who's diving into the end zone against Ole Miss in the famous
mid-flight pose known to Golden Eagles fans as "The Leap."
Inscribed above the soaring legend is one word: "Commitment."
out a few words and phrases of his own. Tough. Hard-nosed. Blue-collar.
Then, as if a set of stadium light bulbs turns on his head, The
University of Southern Mississippi's assistant head coach and defensive
line coach leans forward in his chair to offer the one word that
sums up the Golden Eagles.
Butler says. "I'd have to say it's tradition. Everyone knows
Southern Miss' style of football, and we take that tradition seriously."
currently on the Golden Eagles staff have had as much to do with
shaping that tradition as Butler. Considered a cerebral coach for
his attention to detail and his low-key approach to teaching the
game, Butler has been at Southern Miss longer than any coach except
its leader, head coach Jeff Bower, who's been here 13 years. Starting
with their days as players, when Butler played as a freshman on
the same offense that Bower quarterbacked as a senior, the two coaches'
paths have continuously crisscrossed. "We were on the same
staff together at SMU (Southern Methodist University). We've fought
a bunch of battles together," Butler says.
Going on 11
consecutive years at Southern Miss, including two years there as
a graduate assistant during Bobby Collins' early-'80s dynasty, Butler
has parlayed a successful playing career on the Golden Eagles' offensive
line into an even more successful coaching career.
most guys coming out of college, when I was a GA, I thought I'd
spend 10-12 years in the NFL," says Butler, who with his long
legs and sturdy frame looks like he could still play reserve tight
end in the pros. "When I got my shot and things didn't work
out, I didn't know what to do."
He wound up
coaching, and some professional advice from his first boss helped
him along the way.
Collins said, 'If you ever move away to coach somewhere, do these
three things: find a good community; find a good person to work
with; and find a place where you have a chance to win."
got all of those things here in Hattiesburg. I love it here; I've
got the best of everything," he says. Not only is his wife,
Angela, a Hattiesburg native, but his two daughters, Anna Leigh
and Chelsea, have fallen in love with the city as well, he adds.
at five different schools in the 12 years prior to his coming to
Southern Miss, the 45-year old from Hartford, Ala., has risen to
the second-highest coaching position. "When Coach Bower's away,
I guess I'm the guy in charge of making sure nothing goes wrong,"
Butler says, an easy smile crinkling the corners of his eyes behind
Golden Eagles' ship on the course to success takes a lot of hard
work, and it starts with taking a keen interest in the players themselves.
Butler says that interest starts from the top down and "bleeds
down to the rest of the staff."
Bower does such a great job with the players, making sure they go
to class and do well in their studies," he says. "You
might not know it, but a lot of kids want that in a program today.
They crave that discipline. We don't just give it lip service -
just look at our graduation rate. It's very high, about 75 percent."
sentiment is Terrell Paul, a senior defensive end who has played
under Butler his whole career at Southern Miss. Paul says that Butler's
"laid-back style" might give some a false impression of
a lot of respect. He will laugh and joke with you, but once it's
time for business, he demands a lot of you. If you're not playing
hard, you'll get chewed out," Paul says.
Since his playing
days at Southern Miss, Butler has witnessed a lot of changes: new
coaches, new uniforms, new conferences, new facilities. But through
it all, success has been the one constant that resisted change.
Now, as the Golden Eagles enter into a new season with a new look,
with talks of a new stadium expansion and with one of the highest
profile games in school history looming, he says Southern Miss should
be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of the nation's best.
"When people say something like, "Wow, you're playing
Nebraska; that's a big school you've got coming in here,' I say,
'Hey, we're a big school, too. We've got the championships, we've
got the string of (nine) straight winning seasons."
He adds, "We
can beat anyone on any given Saturday. And that's not just talk
- it's performance."