The SEC coaches took a variety of paths to becoming among the elite in their profession.
In this installment of our questionnaire, they discuss where they learned their craft.
What coach that you worked for, played for, or studied influenced you the most?
Gary Pinkel: Oh, Don James. Without question. Played for him. Nick Saban was on the same team at Kent State [along with] Jack Lambert, an All-Pro linebacker, is in the Hall of Fame. Won the first [MAC] championship ever with him. Then I went and coached with him for 12 years at Washington -- offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the last seven years. The foundation of our program I took to Toledo, took that to Missouri, and it's the Don James blueprint. It's his foundation. He's had a remarkable influence on me.
Gene Chizik: That's difficult because there were so many guys that had a great influence over me. I'd have to say that Mack Brown certainly had a great impact on me and just being around him for two short years. Just really imparted a lot of wisdom from being in it for a long time. A lot of wisdom and a lot of knowledge about team things and chemistry and staff chemistry and things of that nature, that, to me are things that are invaluable as you move forward in being a head coach.
Hugh Freeze: I didn't play or coach with them, but the people that I talk football with are Gus Malzahn, Noel Mazzone and probably Kevin Sumlin. Now, Kevin Sumlin and I talking ball is probably going to stop, since we're in the same conference now. So really, Gus Malzahn and Noel Mazzone. Chad Morris at Clemson and I talk a lot now. Chad, Gus and I are from the same world. All three of us came from high schools, went to college, and run the same system.
Dan Mullen: Boy, that's hard. I've had a lot, even back from when I played. One of the things I've always tried to do is take a little bit from each place I went. The attention to detail that a Paul Pasqualoni had to the game at every single position. You take that from him. The crossover of offense and defense from Bob Davie. The motivation of working with Urban Meyer. Grinding, learning the game from a guy like [former Syracuse/Notre Dame assistant] Kevin Rogers. I was his [graduate assistant] for a long time, so I kind of view him as a real mentor of mine. You just take a little bit from each of them, more than focus in on one person.
Mark Richt: Coach [Bobby] Bowden, without a doubt.
Nick Saban: Well, I think that Don James, my college coach, influenced me a lot because he really got me started in this profession. Organizationally, and character-wise, he was first-class. George Perles, who gave me my first job at Michigan State in a position of responsibility -- like a coordinator -- really taught me a lot of things about being a good defensive coach. And Bill Belichick, who I worked for in the NFL as a coordinator for four years. ... Probably just from a pure football standpoint -- I'm talking about evaluating personnel, game-planning, philosophical sort of things that are important to being successful and winning -- I would say those three guys are the best. And Bill Belichick, because he's the most recent, is probably the most important.
Derek Dooley: I don't think there's one coach that I can say influenced me the most because so many of them had an influence one way or another. Probably my philosophies of winning started with my high school coach, who had a big influence on me. Then the operation part of it, and recruiting part of it, probably was Nick [Saban] because he was the last coach I worked for. The first and the last, but I worked for everybody in the middle, too.
Kevin Sumlin: That's hard to say. Just because I've had so many good guys. R.C. [Slocum] is around our program now. Joe Tiller's had a huge effect. Mike Price gave me my first job. Joe really shaped me as a young coach. But there's no doubt that being around Bob Stoops and R.C. Slocum had the biggest impact on me.
Les Miles: [Bo] Schembechler, [Bill] McCartney, those two.
James Franklin: I wouldn't necessarily say there was one. I probably stole a little bit from all the guys I worked with. Mike Sherman, Mike Price, Ralph Friedgen. I could go on and on all the way back to Denny Douds. I tried to steal a little bit from all the different people that I was fortunate enough to work for or even be around. Even my time with Andy Reid, and obviously Mike Sherman with the Green Bay Packers. The guy I was with the longest was Ralph Friedgen; just how he prepared, and how he worked and how detail-oriented he was. That was probably the guy that I was around the most that probably had the biggest impact.
John L. Smith: Well, rather than single anyone out, I think we're a product of everybody we are with. At least I know that I am a product of everybody that I worked for, and to a degree, everybody I've worked with. That being said, all the coaches, from Jack Swarthout where I started at the University of Montana, Chris Ault at Nevada. Dennis Erickson was a huge influence on my life. I'm a product of all the guys I've worked for.
Joker Phillips: Well I've taken from all of them, I've plagiarized from every coach I've ever worked for -- my high school coach, I played for two college coaches and I had a chance to play for Joe Gibbs in the NFL. Every one of them. Glen Mason ... Bill Curry ... Lou Holtz ... Rick Minter, who's on my staff ... Rich Brooks. I like to say I've kind of gathered things from those guys and put my own little twist.
Will Muschamp: I think all the coaches that I've been in contact with as a player or a coach have influenced me from Little League until now. I look back to Gainesville, Fla., to Cecil Mercer, the head coach of the [Dixie Baseball League] Mustangs. We were 9 through 12, and I think we lost three games in four years, and we had more fun playing and enjoying the time we had there. But every coach has had an impact on my life. That’s why I enjoy coaching.
[Note: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's schedule during the coaches' trip to Bristol didn't allow him time to get to this question.]