SMITH COLUMN: Nall realized he couldn’t coach forever
Published 5:13 pm Friday, June 25, 2021
ALBANY – At the outset, if Hugh Nall could have sketched out his life’s plan, even in his precocious years with a foresight of how it has turned out, there is not much that he would change. Naturally, he would have enjoyed a bigtime head-coaching gig, but those are scarcer than hen’s teeth. Even if you land one, the timing may not be right.
Coaching, like betting on long shots at the horse track, is a risky business.
The stars do not always align when it comes to coaching. The worst that can happen is you invest all that time when you are young and you never reach the top. You wake up one day and realize that you are an ole timer at age 50 and that a dead end street likely awaits.
Assistant coaches today, however, can make millions, even when there is a short window. Nonetheless, for every coach entrenched with enviable responsibility and compensation, there are hundreds hoping to catch a break.
Hugh Nall grew up in Thomaston and was connected early on with the outdoor world. Hunting and fishing brought about memorable emotional fulfillment, but the ultimate appreciation came from his “Friday Night Light Nights” experience. His football reputation didn’t bring an abundance of college scouts his way. In fact, he remembers Sam Mitchell, who recruited him to Georgia, saying. “We have a scholarship for you, but we don’t care whether you come or not.” While that was spoken in jest, Mitchell was aware that Nall’s love of the game, eagerness for opportunity, heart for competition and his underscoring of the work ethic meant that Nall would likely earn playing time. Overachieving was Nall’s modus operandi. The scholarship was not wasted.
When the play clock expired in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 1981, Nall, who started that classic season as the starting center, was one who had given of himself doggedly for the team. He had earned his keep. He was part of the fabric that only championship teams possess.
It was only natural that he wanted to become a coach. Erk Russell took over at Georgia Southern in 1981 and offered Nall an opportunity. Who better than the breezy and lighthearted Erk under whom to apprentice? Nall was a rookie, but his training was not too shabby. He saw his defensive teammates at Georgia play their hearts out for the man who was now his boss.
Wayne McDuffie, the Bulldog offensive line coach was as demanding as they come. Nall appreciated the introspective influence of Vince Dooley, the head coach. Right off, Hugh had the makings of a coach. He was imbued with basic coaching tenets that would serve him well. Soon he began to advance in the profession. Jim Whacker hired him at TCU in 1989 to coach Horn Frogs’ offensive line. Tommy Tuberville recruited him to Ole Miss in 1995, and when Tuberville moved on to Auburn in 1999, Nall followed him, enjoying a successful run that included his serving as offensive coordinator in 2003.
All along, he maintained his lifelong bent for the outdoors, which led to a life changing introduction during his Auburn coaching years. He became friends with Henry Griffin, a Bulldog aficionado, who owned Southern Ag Carriers, a trucking company with offices in three states.
“Henry was a buddy of Cleve Wester who played on Auburn’s National Championship team of 1957. I was recruiting for Auburn then, but stayed at Henry’s cabin when I was in town,” Hugh said.
They began to hunt and fish together.
By the time Hugh turned 50, he reflected on his coaching future. He realized he had experienced some high times, but knew he couldn’t coach forever. When Griffin offered him a business opportunity, he joined the SOAG team and is now president of the company. Football demands on his time meant that the best season for him to hunt was in the spring, which meant that the best option was turkey hunting. He became expert, and has killed all five of the wild turkey subspecies in the United States: Eastern, Merriam, Rio Grande, Gould’s and Osceola. There are some wing shooting and deer hunts to savor.
With a national championship ring and a varied coaching career, which introduced him to people and landscapes that have brought about fishing and hunting opportunities, Hugh Nall is a happy former coach. The memories will always be there. Now he can fish and hunt year round.
And, of all things — he can make a stop in the nation’s capital and have dinner with Senator Tommy Tuberville.