From Harbaugh to Saban, big-time coaches face the eternal search for anyplace they'll be left alone

Illustration by Timba Smits

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"Out there ... "


" ... Jim is a really big deal ... "

snip snip

"In here, in this chair, he's still a big deal ... "

snip snip snip

" ... we just don't treat him like one ... we treat him like Jim."


Bill Stolberg is talking, snipping, smiling, just as he has for the past four decades, holding court in the flatiron-shaped building at the crossroads of the University of Michigan campus. He's talking about Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, whose haircut is crafted within this very Barbicide-anointed shrine, the State Street Barber Shop.

"He just comes in and sits right there," says Stolberg, pointing to the window seat. "I don't know when he's coming. I don't make a big deal out of it when he does. He reads the newspaper, and we talk about anything but football ... unless, of course, he wants to talk football. But I don't think that's why he comes here. He comes here to just feel like a regular guy for a few minutes. There aren't many places in this town where he can do that."

There aren't many places in any college town where a headliner football coach can do that. Players come and go. The coach is the biggest star, and everywhere he goes, he's on the job. Every grocery run includes free recruiting tips from dads picking up milk. The oil-change tech has suggestions on how to defend the spread. Every sandwich comes with a side of "Coach, can we take a selfie?" And so it is that big-time coaches face the eternal search for an oasis, be it on a lake, in a corner booth, under a car, anyplace they'll be mostly left alone -- even if said refuge is covered in hair clippings. Here's your exclusive tour of the nation's coaching hideouts.

Can you hear him now? No? Good.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora finds a cloak of invisibility beneath his beloved '64 Corvette. "It's a funny thing. When I'm working on my Vette, my cellphone doesn't seem to work all that great," he says.

Walking in a briar patch

When he arrived at Washington State in 2011, Mike Leach took up walking to and from the office, usually even in winter. The trek takes him 40-55 minutes, including a 10-15 minute hike through a field of garbanzo beans that leaves his socks covered in burrs. It's also good exercise, Leach once noted: "Two birds, one stone."

Dead turkeys don't offer game plans

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher wanders into the woods of southern Georgia to hunt turkeys. Says Fisher: "I have yet to have a turkey tell me what I should do to stop Deshaun Watson."

A 3-iron and a bucket of balls

For Bob Stoops, entering his 18th season at Oklahoma, sanctuary is the far end of the university golf course driving range. In the offseason, he might sneak in nine holes before anyone notices the most famous Sooner is going for the green in two. "You have to go somewhere other than the film room, and you have to go somewhere where there basically isn't a football to be found."

No one got between the Bear and his ham steak

At the Waysider in Tuscaloosa, Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant ate the same breakfast-ham steak and eggs-at the same table nearly every weekday morning. Back then, people wouldn't bother him. Today, 33 years after his death, people still sit in that two-seat corner table topped by the coach's bust.

Take a seat at the Table of Truth

Another OU legend, Barry Switzer, found peace at the "Table of Truth" at Othello's Italian restaurant in Norman. The eatery's owner is said to have established the table that, legend has it, will shake if you tell a lie while sitting there.

The purifying waters of Lake Burton

Alabama's Nick Saban hides at Lake Burton in the northeast corner of Georgia, tooling around on his pontoon boat with wife Terry. Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss, who also has a place there, says Saban "just shows up at my place on his Jet Ski." The six-time national champion explains: "I have two normals. I have football normal, and I have lake normal."

'Overtime on relaxing'

Frank Beamer, just retired from Virginia Tech, says he could never relax when he was coaching so he's working "overtime on relaxing now." He was reacting to a recently tweeted photo of himself, from a parody account, being pampered in a salon with the caption: "[That feeling when] you give the exact same press conference for 28 years and then go get a pedicure and milkshake."

Losing himself in books

Now-retired legend Steve Spurrier, widely known as the most competitive coach-golfer, is also a ravenous reader who kept a huge library at home and the office, half football, half non-football.

Mack Brown: the Jason Bourne of dining

ESPN analyst Mack Brown found himself under constant attention during his 16 years at Texas. Eating out? Impossible. "There were places in Austin that would take care of us and get us a back room, but by halfway through the meal word was out and people were lining up to ask for photos once we were done." When dinners became largely take-home, arriving at home usually meant a fan or two waiting in the driveway.

Hiding in plain sight

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he had no such problems while leading USC from 2001 to '09. "I have no idea how those guys in the South do it," Carroll says. "When I was in LA, we could lose a game and I could go to dinner that night and no one would say a word. They were looking for George Clooney or someone from Friends. In Tuscaloosa or Austin, you're George Clooney or the guy from Friends."

Or ... just blending in

First-year Miami coach Mark Richt, who just spent 15 seasons burning like an ant under the magnifying glass of Athens, Georgia, says he has long found solace by retreating into normal life. Richt confesses: "There's a lot of comfort in having other parents just treat you like another dad at the ballfield."

A-OK with just a VCR

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, a hard-core NASCAR fan, still has a VHS tape library of races he recorded in the 1990s. When he wants to relax, he pops in a tape from a favorite race-especially those won by Jeff Gordon.

Remember me?

Lake Burton, Saban's refuge, also was a hangout for longtime Georgia coach Vince Dooley. He still goes today, at age 83, but no longer has to hide. "You know, a funny thing happens when you haven't been coaching for a while," he says. "All those places you used to go and it felt like such a hassle when everyone would bother you ... now you catch yourself going to those places and looking around, wondering, Hey, does anybody in here realize who I am?"

And therein lies the secret about the coaching spotlight they so long to escape. Deep down, they dig it.