Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners and head coach Tyrone Willingham shake hands after the Sooners defeated the Huskies on September 13, 2008 at Husky Stadium in Seattle Washington.
Photographer: Otto Greule Jr
Copyright Getty Images
Houston Nutt turned to his right and peered into the end zone to watch the last play of the game. Once the clock filled with zeroes in a 42-24 Ole Miss win against Southern Illinois earlier this season, he silently turned toward midfield and walked.
Maj. Billy Mayes of the Mississippi Highway Patrol shadowed him, step for step, on his left. Looking across the turf, Mayes made eye contact with the two troopers escorting SIU coach Dale Lennon. Mayes raised his hand. The gesture was reciprocated. At midfield, Nutt extended his right hand to Lennon's, then leaned in and told him how hard his team played and how talented he thinks it is.
"Thanks," Lennon said sincerely, looking into Nutt's eyes.
From first step to the moment the two parted, it took all of about 20 seconds -- a blip in comparison to the 188 minutes the game occupied. It was yet another episode of one of college football's most overlooked scenes: two coaches, meeting at midfield, an almost-constant backdrop to the final score on broadcasts.
A right hand extended, a wish of luck or a compliment. Often, in order to combat the volume from the band or the crowd, the two coaches might have to yell in each other's ear.
LSU coach Les Miles said his postgame handshakes have run the gamut between well wishes to "no words and kind of a stare and a loud noise."
"And it really didn't make any difference if you were shaking hands with a coach that had just won or just lost," Miles said.
But, he added, "Frankly, I've had most unusual exchanges at the midfield stripe."
Miles declined to shake and tell, but things do happen. Consider the recent midfield awkwardness around the country:
After a 55-21 Stanford win over Southern California in 2009, then-USC coach Pete Carroll approached then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh with a three-word question: "What's your deal?"
Twice last season, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley thought his team had won games that it eventually lost. He may not have physically shaken hands twice in two games, but the events did spawn some high-tension postgame words -- and the persistent offseason joke from Dooley, whose Vols finished 6-7: "I was 8-7 in postgame handshakes last year."
Jackie Sherrill and Tommy West participated in a memorable handshake after a 2003 game in Starkville, Miss. Sherrill, then the Mississippi State coach, had dismissed defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn after the previous season. Dunn found employment at the University of Memphis under then-head coach West.
At midfield, the two coaches extended their right hands and West seemed to wish Sherrill luck after the MSU win. Sherrill had more to offer: "Tell Joe Lee I'm glad he wrote it down on his calendar."
West appeared stunned, but not for long. As the two men walked away, West turned around, pointed his right finger and shouted this: "Hey, that's (expletive)." After two more such declarations, the men got nose to nose. West, sensing the no-win situation in front of the cameras, forced a smile and slapped Sherrill's arm with his left hand, then walked away.
State trooper Mayes can only remember one handshake Nutt received that didn't seem particularly warm: When Ole Miss won at Florida in 2008, he recalls Gators coach Urban Meyer simply slapping hands with Nutt and not offering a word.
And the most professional opposing coach, at least from under Mayes' wide-brimmed hat? Miles.
Though the plaudits certainly have their place, the postgame handshake may be one of college football's rare havens for honesty. Take South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, for instance. After his Gamecocks beat Georgia 45-42 in Athens this season, he said he told coach Mark Richt exactly how he felt.
"I told coach Richt last week we were extremely fortunate and you were extremely unlucky in this game, and that's why we won it," he said. "And I think he agreed with me."
But the usual fare from the Head Ball Coach? Mostly "good game" or a ho-hum "good luck."
"If you really mean it," Spurrier was quick to add. "If you hope they lose another one or two, you don't say that, of course."
(Kyle Veazey writes for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn. Email veazey(at)commercialappeal.com.)
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