Millsaps College football coach Mike DuBose, left, finds himself coaching and motivating whenever needed as he was during a Tuesday afternoon practice in Jackson, Miss., while the team prepares for an NCAA Division III playoff game.AP PHOTO
JACKSON, Miss. — Mike DuBose is on the cusp of that elusive national title — finally.
It was eight years ago when he walked off the field as Alabama’s head coach for the last time, a frigid rain pelting his crimson jacket and his national title hopes washed away in a season that left him angry and bitter.
As DuBose twirled his whistle earlier this week near the 50-yard line inside a tiny football stadium in Mississippi, he looked at peace. Nov. 18, 2000, the date of that rain-soaked Iron Bowl at Bryant-Denny Stadium, is now a distant memory.
It might not be Alabama or even Division I football, but on this cool, sunny day inside a stadium about 20 times smaller than the one top-ranked Alabama plays in, DuBose was in a great mood and preparing Division III Millsaps (11-0) for a run at its first national championship.
“You play to be the very best. You want to be the best team at whatever you do. Whether it be in football, basketball, baseball, tiddly winks, it doesn’t matter,” said Dubose, whose team plays Washington & Jefferson (10-1) at home Saturday in the second round of the playoffs.
The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, play another Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against Auburn, needing two more victories to reach the national title game.
“For the players here at Millsaps College, this game is just as important as the Alabama-Auburn game is to them” Dubose said. “The difference is there will be 100,000 people and billions and millions watching the Iron Bowl on television and you know we won’t have that type of exposure. But for the guys that play it, it is the same. There’s no difference.”
DuBose’s path to the private Methodist college in Jackson was strange to say the least.
He was 24-23 in four years at Alabama, named the Southeastern Conference coach of the year in 1999, when the Tide won the conference.
But after a sexual harassment complaint, which was later settled, an NCAA investigation, and plummeting from a No. 3 preseason ranking to a 3-8 finish in 2000, DuBose was fired.
“When I was fired in 2000, initially I was OK with it. I felt I would get another job. Something good would happen,” DuBose said. “Those things didn’t happen and I became angry. Angry at the world. Bitter at everybody except myself. When in reality, the only one I had a right to be angry with was myself because I was the one who messed it up.”
Dubose spent 2001 out of football, soul searching. Days after he coached his last game at Alabama, he was at church. He later decided to step away from football.
“There was a time that I didn’t know if I ever wanted to coach again in 2001. I moved to a little lake house down in Gantt, Alabama, my wife and I. And I just missed football so badly,” DuBose said. “So I promised the good Lord then if he would let me get back in, it didn’t matter if it was the head coach, assistant coach, high school or college or back in the NFL, that I would coach and I would coach with a passion.”
Months later, DuBose got a high school coaching job in Alabama. After moving to another high school job in 2003, he got a call in 2005 from then-Millsaps head coach David Saunders, who offered DuBose a job as his defensive coordinator.
“The timing was perfect. It worked out that David next year had a chance to go back to Ole Miss, which is his dream job, and I was fortunate enough to get this job here,” DuBose said who took over as head coach in 2006.
Millsaps quarterback Juan Joseph is glad DuBose’s journey landed him at the Division III school. Joseph, who has thrown for 3,130 yards and 31 touchdowns, is one of three seniors nominated for the Conerly Trophy, the award for the state of Mississippi’s top college football player.
“I am just grateful to the coaches and the players that have allowed me to be successful. It feels good, man, especially where we came from. My freshmen year we were like 2-7 (in 2005),” Joseph said. “It feels great to be in this position.”
DuBose says he has surrounded himself at Millsaps with good people and he’s happy.
“I am at peace. After getting back into coaching, I found that peace again,” DuBose said.
“I think coaching is like the ministry. There’s a calling on you. If you have a passion to do anything I think there’s a calling on your life to do that,” he said. “I didn’t coach at the University of Alabama as a head coach with passion. That’s what I promised the good Lord that if he let me get back in it at any capacity that I would coach with a passion.”