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My name is Clay Travis and growing up I went to Civil War sleepaway camp.
As a scholarship student, no less. I wrote essays to win this scholarship.
Back in the summer of 1996 when I was 17 years old I went to Gettysburg College and spent a week living in the dorms there. (Yes, this really happened). I loved it. When my wife found out about this, she ridiculed me to no end. “A scholarship to attend Civil War camp, I mean, that’s useless. I’m surprised they don’t have to pay people to go,” she said.
But I loved it.
And I learned that Civil War buffs talk about generals like college football fans do about coaches. Ask any Civil War buff who he thinks should have been given command of the Army of Tennessee, for instance, and he’ll have a ready answer for you. I realized this during my Civil War sleepaway camp, when old Civil War buffs would sit up late at night tossing out hypothetical general match-ups just like sports fans do.
“Give me Patrick Cleburne in charge of the army and Nathan Bedford Forrest in charge of all the cavalry, and I like my chances to win the west,” an old man might say.
Just like a current SEC fan might say, “Boy, I’d love to see what Bobby Petrino could do at Florida.”
Back in my “ClayNation” column days at CBS Sports I promised to do a SEC head coaches as Civil War generals column, but then I left before it was written. Since then I’ll get an email every six months or so from one of the other twelve SEC diehards who also doubles as a huge Civil War buff asking for me to do it again.
It’s a niche audience, but, I promise the dozen of you who would have also been interested in Civil War sleepaway camp are going to absolutely love these comparisons.
Nick Saban — Robert E. Lee
The subtitle on this Saban-esque Robert E. Lee photo should be: “Bitch, don’t step to me.”
If ever there was a general who understood the concept of “process” it was Robert E. Lee. The greatest general in the Civil War meets the best living coach in college football. (By the way, was I sorely tempted to make Nick Saban General Sherman instead? Yes, yes, I was.)
The primary distinction between Lee and Saban is that everyone liked Lee and no one likes Saban.
Also, Saban would have taken the Union Army job when offered.
Les Miles — Stonewall Jackson
During battles Stonewall Jackson would suck on lemons. Frequently Jackson rode with one arm raised above the other because he believed this helped to keep his organs straight. Jackson didn’t eat pepper because he believed it weakened his left leg.
Perhaps the easiest fit on this list.
Quirky, eccentric, yet brilliant? That’s Stonewall.
Would it surprise anyone if Les Miles started eating lemons on the sideline? Isn’t eating grass already the Civil War equivalent?
Let’s just hope Ryan Perrilloux doesn’t show back up in Baton Rouge and shoot him.
Bobby Petrino — Patrick Cleburne
Both men are offensive geniuses who ended up in Arkansas from wayward locales — Ireland for Cleburne, Montana for Petrino.
Both men toiled just beneath the limelight — Cleburne never advanced beyond division commander — and Petrino has never coached a truly top-notch program.
The number one wish of neo-Confederates? That Patrick Cleburne had been given command of the western theater.
This one was really easy too.
Gene Chizik — Braxton Bragg
Here Bragg is rocking the leather jacket circa 1863.
Chizik is a tough call, but then I thought, if there had been airplanes back in the day and Southerners could have welcomed new generals like they do head coaches, which general would have been taunted when he landed?
And the answer was easy — Braxton Bragg.
Then I decided that Chizik’s all the stars aligning national title victory was a lot like Braxton Bragg finding a way to win the Battle of Chickamauga.
Even when Bragg won that battle lots of Confederate citizens had to think, but what’s going to happen next? And the answer was, Missionary Ridge.
Chizik’s own Missionary Ridge is coming.
Dan Mullen — James Longstreet
Much less celebrated than Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet, Lee’s “Old War Horse,” served ably throughout the war as a corps commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. But Longstreet never really attained celebrity status. Mullen is definitely the least celebrated of the successful SEC West coaches. (I know this is defining success broadly. Please stop with the emails).
But there was a deeply burning ambition in Longstreet that seems to also be there with Mullen. Longstreet wanted to be at the forefront of the public adulation, he just wasn’t.
Mullen has the same personality; he wants to be publicly acclaimed and constantly praised. That’s why he chases every job out there.
Hugh Freeze — P.G.T. Beauregard
Instead of a picture of either man, here is a picture of Alicia Sacramone naked on the balance beam.
Thanks for reading this far if even if you hate the Civil War.
I could make Hugh Freeze and PGT Beauregard seem similar, but, let’s face it, nobody knows anything about Hugh Freeze either.
Kevin Sumlin – – John Bell Hood
Two non-Texans who made themselves famous after arriving in the Lonestar State and bringing an aggressive, offensive style to their teams; will Sumlin follow Hood’s meteoric trajectory straight to disaster, i.e. destruction of his army at the Battle of Franklin and Nashville or will he adjust to SEC defenses and find a way to balance his potent offense with a successful defense?
I have a feeling Texas A&M fans are going to get this analogy at a higher percentage than any other fan base.
(And hopefully you don’t lose an arm and a leg now that you’ve joined the conference).
Derek Dooley — George Pickett
General Pickett/Dooley surveys the Union lines.
Rather than even make the comparison just watch this clip from the movie Gettysburg.
Scene: the immediate aftermath of Pickett’s Charge.
This is exactly what I picture Derek Dooley’s conversation with Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart went like after the Kentucky game.
Or what the Dooley-Saban conversations sound like at the Saban lake house. (How much funnier would this clip be with Dooley’s face on Pickett and Saban’s on Lee?)
The final thirty seconds of this movie clip?
Yeah, that’s why you don’t chase the guy in the pick-up truck with “The South Will Rise Again,” bumper stickers. These neo-Confederates are weird dudes.
Joker Phillips — Albert Sidney Johnston
Albert Sidney Johnston took over command of the Army of Tennessee with great fanfare. Rumored to be the greatest general in the Confederate Army, Johnston pulled off a successful surprise attack on the first day of the battle of Shiloh only to be struck in the ankle by a minie ball.
With his staff unable to assist him, he bled to death from a relatively minor wound.
Yep, that’s Kentucky football.
Mark Richt — Joseph E. Johnston
Renowned for his ability to win battles while still retreating, Johnston holds the distinction of retreating all the way to the outskirts of Atlanta before being replaced by a general, John Bell Hood, who immediately got trounced.
I feel like this is going to happen to Georgia football too.
Also, Johnston’s wife served as a water girl for the army and Johnston publicly made out with her after winning the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.*
(*May not be historically accurate).
James Franklin — Nathan Bedford Forrest
Forrest won battle after battle despite having less resources than his opponents. He had to outsmart them with guile — marching the same cannon over a hill again and again before obtaining a surrender — arriving the “firstest with the mostest.”
So too with James Franklin whose offense worked an awful lot of trick plays to keep games against more talented opponents close.
Plus, Franklin’s players love him, and he seems to have the same bellicose personlity as Forrest.
Indeed, Forrest once told John Bell Hood, “If you were a whole man, I’d kill you.”
Which, come to think of it, would have been the perfect thing for Franklin to have told Todd Grantham.
Hopefully he doesn’t help found a hate group in his post-coaching career.
Steve Spurrier — J.E.B. Stuart
An SEC coach posing with his shirt off is definitely the modern-day equivalent of a Confederate general having his picture taken so that you can see his new boots. Spurrier, meet J.E.B.
Stuart loved to get his name in the papers and he loved the fawning attention of the media. So does Spurrier.
Remember that one reason the South lost the Battle of Gettysburg was because Stuart’s cavalry had left the Army of Northern Virginia blind in an effort to garner headlines.
If we’d made this list a decade ago, Spurrier would have occupied the Stonewall Jackson role. But now Spurrier’s star has faded. The once offensive genius is a shadow of his former self.
Spurrier’s football Battle of Yellow Tavern hasn’t arrived yet, but it isn’t far away either.
Will Muschamp — Richard “Dick” Ewell
Raise your hand if you can remember the guy who took over Stonewall Jackson’s corps after Jackson was killed?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Well, that’s Muschamp.
Ewell was a fine leader, but he was no Jackson.
Muschamp’s not bad…yet.
But he definitely hasn’t shown us that he would take Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg.
“We must take that hill.”
Guess what, Muschamp ain’t taking that hill if it requires forward movement. His offenses are much better at going backwards.
Gary Pinkel — Jubal Early
Getting a DUI after a couple of glasses of wine is the Civil War equivalent of getting a plate broken over your head as a West Point cadet.
Pinkel meet Jubal Early.
Plus, Pinkel’s 2007 Missouri team is a dead ringer for Early’s 1864 raid on Washington, improbable and ultimately a failure, yet amazing nonetheless.
Merry Christmas from OKTC.