BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Pat Sullivan doesn’t have a seven-figure salary or lead a major college program, aspirations that little more than a decade ago hardly seemed far-fetched.
The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Auburn is thankful for what he does have: A head coaching job in his hometown, where he lives a few miles from his children and grandkids — not to mention his health.
Sullivan is preparing for his first season as head coach at Division I-AA Samford, a decade after his once-promising tenure at TCU ended badly.
“Back then, during that one period when we were doing well, I was getting called for a lot of jobs, high-profile jobs,” said Sullivan, who won the Heisman in 1971. “You never know what’s going to happen, but I am personally content and happy.
“And I know what is real, and what’s real is right here.”
That’s the kind of perspective that comes with having survived a battle with cancer in 2003, while working across town as UAB’s offensive coordinator.
The 57-year-old got a clean bill of health in his latest checkup in March and looks tan and fit these days.
If he were so inclined, it would be easy for Sullivan to ponder what-ifs given not only his health but his up-and-down career.
—What if he had been promoted to UAB’s head coach when Watson Brown left after last season? Sullivan interviewed but wasn’t offered the job.
“I’m very, very happy to be at Samford,” said Sullivan, noting that his current office is a few miles closer to home. “I know this is what was meant to be. I’m not going to sit here and deny that I talked to the people there. I did, and I’ll let them answer where that went.
“I think this is where I’m supposed to be, so I don’t have any hard feelings toward any of them. In fact, a lot of the kids that were down there still call today.”
—What if he had been able to accept — and keep — the LSU job in 1994. LSU had called a news conference to introduce him, but wound up hiring Gerry DiNardo after problems with Sullivan’s TCU buyout.
He also interviewed for Georgia’s top job while at TCU, where he was named Southwest Athletic Conference coach of the year in ‘94.
“Things were rolling pretty good, he was getting some good recruits in and everybody was buzzing,” said Chris Brasfield, who played for Sullivan at TCU and is now a Samford assistant.
But things unraveled in 1997, when the Horned Frogs went 1-10 and Sullivan resigned after the season with a 22-42-1 record.
He points out that Dennis Franchione led TCU to three straight bowl games largely with talent he recruited. Franchione parlayed that success into jobs at Alabama and Texas A&M.
“The last year there were 17 kids that ended up being draft choices,” Sullivan said. “Out of 62 that we dressed out, 38 of them were freshmen or redshirt freshmen, and that included (tailback) LaDainian Tomlinson.
“I know we were the ones that put that program on solid ground.”