Are SEC football coaches a bunch of bumpkins? No, but sounding like one can help | Whitley

When it came to top-25 matchups, the SEC looked more like the Missouri Valley Conference early this season. But that wasn’t the only troubling development for fans of Southern football.

A study in the journal Language Variation and Change showed that Southern accents are disappearing like peach cobbler at a church social.

Most of you probably don’t subscribe to Language Variation and Change, so you’re wondering how this report might impact Auburn’s chances of ever winning another national championship.

It’s because Southern accents offer a small but strategic advantage to teams. It always helps when opponents think you’re a doofus. And let’s face it, what do most people think when they hear a Southern accent?

The speaker is a bumpkin who’s probably married to a cousin. Whether you’ve married a cousin or not, the study should bother you.

First, it’s sad to contemplate the world without a Southern twang. There’s nothing like the melodic tones of a guy like Shelby Foote as he narrated “The Civil War.”

Plus, the Southern accent is the only one that is acceptable to imitate. Even a progressive like Bette Midler had to apologize after she mocked Melania Trump’s Slovenian accent.

If The Donald’s wife sounded like Bobby Bowden, Midler could have put on an FSU jersey and done a 10-minute routine on Bowden living in a double-wide and eating pork rinds for dinner.

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The thing is, Bowden would have said, “She’s a dadgum hoot.” He knew such prejudice would help him get the last laugh.

The rest of America just can’t help underestimating Southerners. Studies show 69% of Big Ten fans think SEC fans have at least three hound dogs living under their front porches.

Okay, I made that up. But a real study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (a favorite of Sam Pittman’s, I hear) found that most 10-year-olds thought Northern-accented people were smarter and more “in charge” than people with Southern accents.

The academic term is “linguistic discrimination.” It forms early and is reinforced by stereotypes that society promotes.

Jeff Foxworthy made a career out of “You know you’re a redneck if…

“Your dog and your wallet are both on a chain…

“Your wife’s hairdo has ever been ruined by a ceiling fan…

“Your dad walks you to school because you’re in the same grade.”

I’ll add one more….

“You’re a football coach in the South.”

At least that’s how it used to be. But the coaching profession isn’t immune to demographic shifts.

Millions of people have moved South the past few decades. Researchers at Georgia and Georgia Tech conducted the study, and said accents are getting more diluted with every passing generation.

“We noticed that older speakers had a thick Southern drawl, while current college students didn’t,” Margaret Renwick, one of study’s authors, said in a press release. “We were surprised to see how rapidly the Southern accent drops away starting with Gen X.”

The ultimate conclusion: Southern accents are likely to go over “a Gen X cliff.”


Forrest (Tom Hanks) shares his life story with a nurse (Rebecca Williams) in "Forrest Gump."
Forrest (Tom Hanks) shares his life story with a nurse (Rebecca Williams) in "Forrest Gump."

I can’t help reminiscing about coaches from the Greatest Generation. Imagine the SEC meetings in 1963, with Bear Bryant, Charlie McClendon, Bobby Dodd, Shug Jordan and Ray Graves. It must have sounded like a bunch of guys sitting around Floyd’s Barber Shop in Mayberry.

Contrast that to the Boomers and Gen-Xers coaching today. I listened to last week’s SEC coaches media teleconference, and rated each coach on a Southern slang scale.

1 would be Justin Trudeau. 10 would be Larry the Cable Guy.

Sam Pittman 8, Kirby Smart 7, Jimbo Fisher 6, Hugh Freeze 5, Billy Napier 3, Almost Everybody Else 2, Brian Kelly minus-1.

Kelly is eternally penalized for his introductory speech at LSU, when the Massachusetts native tried to sound like Forrest Gump. He was subliminally trying to project an image that would aid his cause.

Accents aren’t the only things that are changing. So is college football. The SEC has been the undisputed ruler, but the portal and NIL are spreading the wealth.

The league has gone 2-4 against top-25 teams in nonconference play this year. If Georgia stumbles, the SEC might not even get a team in the College Football Playoffs. That’s enough to make you choke on a Moon Pie.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey should do whatever it takes to preserve and promote linguistic discrimination. Maybe partner with to develop some Southern slang learning software.

Make it required listening for all graduate assistants. Have them watch “Hee-Haw” reruns 10 hours a week. Or heck, marry their cousins.

In the evolving world of college football, even the king needs every dadgum advantage he can get.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: SEC coaches need to sound like Southerners