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Released August 14, 2003

By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - 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."

Butler tosses 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.

"Tradition," Butler says. "I'd have to say it's tradition. Everyone knows Southern Miss' style of football, and we take that tradition seriously."

Few coaches 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.

"Like 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.

"Coach 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."

"I've 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.

After coaching 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 brown glasses.

Steering the 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."

"Coach 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."

Mirroring that 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 the coach.

"He commands 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.

Butler says, "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."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM