- Paris Flash
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by Greg Higgins/eParis Extra! Sports Editor
On Monday, January 7th, two celebrated franchises will face off against each other for the right to be called champion. Alabama will be seeking its tenth title, while Notre Dame will be looking to win number nine.
With the game right around the corner, and so much anticipation involved, I sat down with legendary coach Gene Stallings to get his take on the game. Not only did I want to talk to him about the National Championship game, but I wanted to find out his ideas on several different college football topics.
Gene Stallings grew up in Paris and played for Paris High. Stallings was recruited by Texas A&M to play college football and, under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, was known as one of the “Junction Boys”. One of the first questions I asked the coach what his thoughts were on the move A&M made from the Big 12 to the SEC.
“I served on the Board of Regents,” said Stallings. “Originally, they were interested in Texas A&M, Texas, and several other schools going to the PAC 10.”
Stallings was not in favor of this move. He felt that A&M had nothing in common with the PAC 10 conference. ”I wanted to keep the conference intact if at all possible,” he said. “If we couldn’t and it was going to disband, then I wanted to pursue the Southeastern Conference.”
Ultimately, that’s what happened. The Aggies played their first full season in the SEC and shocked a lot of people with how well they played. ”When you consider that it was a new coach, new quarterback, new conference, [A&M] just had an outstanding year,” said Stallings.
That new quarterback Stallings referred to was John Manziel. Manziel not only won the Heisman Trophy this year, but he also was critical in the Aggies upsetting Alabama on Nov. 10.
One of the major topics of discussion in football right now is players safety, mainly concussions. Many different organizations, including the NFL, are taking extra precautions when it comes to concussions and players safety.
“Players are getting bigger,” Stallings says. “They’re getting faster. Your head gear is intended to be something that protects you. You’re not supposed to use it as a butting ram or something to hit someone. That’s not the idea of the head gear.”
According to concussionfacts.com, football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males, with players facing a 75% chance for a concussion. According the same website, a professional football player will receive 900 to 1,500 blows to the head during a season.
“As long as one head gear hits another head gear, there’s a chance there’s going to be some concussions. What we have to do is eliminate head-to-head contact.”
The Championship Game
In 1992, Stallings coached the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record. Alabama beat Florida that year in the first-ever SEC championship game. Then the Tide went on to defeat the highly favored Miami Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl and was named the consensus national champion. Of course Stallings is quick to point out that this game used to be always be played on Jan. 1. With the addition to the BCS and television rights, the game has subsequently been pushed back. By the time the game is played, both teams will have had a substantial amount of time off.
“You have to give your players a little time off,” he says. “Most of the time we do that at the early part. That gives them a little time off. They probably do a little running and weight lifting, but no ‘organized practice’.”
According to Stallings both teams will probably spend two to two and a half weeks getting ready for the game.
“Used to, you’d spend a week getting ready for this game at home. Then a week getting ready for the game at the site of the game,” remarks coach Stallings.
Coach Stallings’ philosophy was to make sure his players were ready to play on game day.
“One thing you don’t want to do is get your team ready to play too quick,” he says. “If you play on Saturday, you don’t want them ready to play on Wednesday. You want them ready to play on Saturday.”
Stallings’ workout week for his team was the same whether he was playing LSU in week one or Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
“A Monday practice, whether it’s the first game of the year or the last game of the year, is basically the same thing. A Tuesday practice, whether you’re getting ready for the National Championship game or the first game, you basically do the same thing on Tuesday.”
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday he explains are the same thing. Of course Stallings had a specific routine he stuck to all season long. Tuesdays were reserved for runs and passes and some kind of special teams play. On Wednesday, he would work on special run and pass plays and something special in the kicking game. Every week his team was prepared the same way for every game, no matter the importance of the game or opponent.
“A typical week is a typical week,” he explains. According to when the game is played, the “practice days” of the week would be changed accordingly by Coach Stallings. ”If the National Championship Game is played on a Tuesday,” he states, “Then to me, that’s a Saturday.” This helps keep the players in the same continuity that they’ve been in all season long.
One of the things that usually sets great coaches apart from other coaches is the amount of time they spend preparing for a game. Not just with players, but studying film and analyzing the opponent.
“I’ve always gone to work early,” says Stallings. “It was 4:30 or 5:00 [each morning] when I went to work.That would give me time to, not only study the game film, but you usually study situations. What do they do on first and ten? What do they do on third and one? What do they do on second and ten plus? So rather than just watching a game, you study these situations.”
Not only did Stallings study game film and situations, but he also studied practice film so that he could go over that with all of his players.
Although the players may enjoy a little time off in between the last game played and the National Championship game, the coaches are usually hard at work. Coaches are constantly trying to influence the top high school recruits to come play at their school, so some of this time is used for that purposes.
“There are certain rules of what you can do and what you can’t do.”
When Stallings was coaching, he would bring these recruits in and let them see the game day atmosphere at Alabama. He would take them to the different departments of the school and let them get a feel of what the Engineering department or Physical Education department would be like. The recruit would meet with the Athletic director, possibly the college president, and then the coach would get the final word with him.
When recruiting for Alabama, Stallings would primarily recruit in the state of Alabama, and a little in Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
“When I was coaching, I’d rather have the players from the South than somebody from New York or California. That way they didn’t have to travel as far. Where the parents could watch them play. Where they could go home every once in a while. That’s how I did it. Now, most of them recruit all over the United States.”
When talking about college football you can’t get very far without bringing up the BCS versus a playoff system. There are people all over the country that will argue why the BCS is the best system and others will argue why they think we have to have a playoff in college football.
“First of all,” says Stallings, “I think your two best teams should play for the National Championship. I’m personally opposed to a playoff. I think the season is long enough.”
Coming from an old school coach, I kind of expected that answer. However, the next statement from Stallings put everything in perspective and made me realize why this man is one of the greatest coaches ever.
“Somewhere along the lines,” he says, “we have to realize we go to school for an education and not to play football.”