It’s not uncommon to see a pair of head coaches meet at center field as the clock ticks down before kickoff while their teams warm up behind them. They’ll often share a handshake or a friendly hug and chat for a few minutes about their season, making small talk about their families while wishing each other the best of luck going forward.
It’s something that you see every week of the college football season. This week, however, I think there might be more love and adoration felt during that mid-field exchange than we often see.
Oregon Ducks head coach Dan Lanning and Arizona State head coach Kenny Dillingham will greet each other as old friends on Saturday afternoon in Tempe. After meeting on the Sun Devils staff years ago, the two kept tabs on each other and eventually joined up in Memphis with the Tigers. Years later, Dillingham was among the first hires that Lanning made when building his staff in Eugene.
The respect between the two head coaches will certainly be there, but it’s outweighed by years of close friendship and memories of late nights while the two were coming up in the coaching world together. Even at different schools, Lanning and Dillingham have still kept regular contact throughout the season, continuing that brotherly bond.
“We have certainly been in contact throughout the season,” Lanning said on Monday. “This week we’ll probably talk a little bit less.”
With the Ducks preparing for the Sun Devils, the two have been roleplaying as foes. I’m sure that both will be happy to drop that facade for a brief moment on Saturday and let the love flow.
This upcoming game between Oregon and Arizona State is certainly unique. You have Dillingham taking on his old team a year after seeing a meteoric rise in the coaching world as the OC in Eugene. You also have a man with close relationships across the board. You could argue that none are closer than the bond between Dillingham and Oregon QB Bo Nix.
The two got together during Nix’s freshman year at Auburn and saw great success. After going separate ways, Nix saw a downturn in his career. That’s what made it a no-brainer to join Dillingham once again, this time up in Oregon. There, both saw a season that would completely change their lives.
It wasn’t just the development that Dillingham offered to Nix, but the trust that he showed in giving the QB leeway to operate the offense and let him take full control on the field.
“That was huge,” Nix said. “I think it just allowed me to play free and that’s how we’ve continued to operate this year. I think it’s helped us a lot this year of getting into the right plays. Our system right now is as good as I’ve been a part of.”
As a leading Heisman candidate, Nix is playing as well as anyone in the nation right now. There has been a lot of hard work that’s gone into that success, but the Oregon QB knows that part of the reason for his current status is the development that Dillingham aided in early in his career.
“I think his willingness to meet you where you are and coach you from there,” Nix said. “I think his story where he had to work for everything he’s gotten, I think has really helped to put him in position to see the perspective of every quarterback and see where they are.”
Don’t be surprised to see a warm embrace between QB and opposing coach on Saturday, either.
Though there will be a lot of emotion and a lot of reunion before this game, that doesn’t change a thing once the clock starts. There are still major ramifications on the line — Oregon can clinch a Pac-12 title spot with a win and some help — and a football game to be played.
“It’s another game, and he is the opponent,” Nix said. “He’s thinking the same thing about us. I think it is cool to play against him and against a coach you worked with for so long, but I just think it’s another opportunity for us to go out there and put together a complete game.”
It’s just another game, for sure. But it’s a game where the pre-game and post-game hugs might be a bit more genuine than we’re used to.