Meridian Star

Sports

December 9, 2013

TSOUKALAS: Is Stephens the new Sullivan?

Positioned in front of Sullivan-Windham Field in Scooba, the stadium that proudly bares his last name, stands legendary East Mississippi Community College head coach Bob “Bull” “Cyclone” Sullivan.

    Of course, it is only a bronze statue that immortalizes the coach supposedly so tough he needed two nicknames. But, it might as well be Sullivan himself watching the Lions as they head into battle on Thursday nights during the fall.

    Sullivan’s shadow looms large in Scooba. Legends are told about his intense coaching antics that often sided on the verge of crazy. Sullivan was the coach known for having a guard with a rifle present during practices in order to scare away any opposing teams that might be spying on the Lions. It was Sullivan who tied mattresses to tree trunks and had his players crash into them as tackling dummies. Most famously, he is known as the creator of the black EMCC skull-and-crossbone helmets and five-star jerseys — an intimidation tactic against opponent.

    Sullivan’s passion is felt in every snap the Lions take. Fans talk about his stories as if he were still alive today, and anyone lucky enough to have played for him is granted with a legend status of their own.

    At times, it feels like Sullivan’s presence will never be matched again at EMCC. But times like Sunday night, it feels like they already have.

    Perhaps it’s fitting that current EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens is a large man — the 6-5, 285-pound Sullivan wasn’t a small fellow either.

    The comparisons don’t end there though. Both Stephens and Sullivan rescued the Lions from the depths of anonymity.

    It was Sullivan who took his team of Kemper farm boys up to Arkansas and whipped the defending Junior Rose Bowl champion Little Rock Junior College, 34-14, in his first game as head coach in 1950.

    All Stephens has done is guide a once laughed at Lions team to a 56-10 record over six seasons, including the school’s only two national titles.

    Just like Sullivan, Stephens isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. If you don’t like him, too bad. You can always take it up with him on the field at your own risk. His confidence, however, is generated more from the hard work he and the Lions put in during practice than from his own self hubris.

    Unlike Sullivan, you won’t find any trick packages designed for opposing teams.

    No, Stephen’s plan is simple — if you do what you do better than your opponent, there is no need for tricks.

    Stephens is a carefree guy, the kind of person you’d invite to watch the game if he wasn’t coaching in it. But, just like Sullivan, his passion and love for the game and for the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges is present.

    Sullivan had plenty of opportunities to leave Scooba but didn’t. He claimed to want the full control the job offered, but ultimately it was his love for the area and the program that kept him around.

    After winning his second national title in two years, Stephens too has heard the buzz of questions concerning what his next step might be.

    As for now, the former Pearl River Community College lineman is perfectly content coaching in the league where he not only played, but also where he met his wife Robyn. He enjoys influencing kids who perhaps need him more than an average college athlete. But, most of all, he enjoys winning — something that has become a way of life while at EMCC.

    Maybe some higher-profile program will come give Stephens an opportunity he can’t pass up. Maybe they wont. Maybe he stays around forever.

     Who knows, maybe one day there will be two bronze statues gazing into the East Mississippi night.

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