When football people talk about Don Lindsey, USC's 49-year-old defensive coordinator, one question is sure to be asked:
"How come this guy has never been a head coach?"
If having worked for high-profile coaches is considered a plus in an assistant's dossier, then Lindsey is a decade or so overdue to be tapped for a head coaching job.
Look at the men he has worked for:
--Bear Bryant at Alabama, 1965-66.
--Jim Sweeney at Montana State and Washington State, 1967-69.
--Frank Broyles at Arkansas, 1970.
--John McKay at USC, 1971-75.
--John Robinson at USC, 1976-80.
--Lou Holtz at Arkansas, 1981-83.
--Bill Curry at Georgia Tech and Alabama, 1984-90.
--Bob Stull at Missouri, 1990.
Now that's a resume.
Lindsey has always been a high-profile assistant. At Arkansas, as defensive coordinator under Holtz, he had his own TV show.
But he has never been a head coach. Why?
"Part of it's not being in the right place at the right time," he said.
"When I started coaching, athletic directors were hiring the best assistants they could find. Then, starting in the mid-70s, they started hiring away head coaches from other schools. "But the truth is, I've never in my career applied for a head job. People have contacted me and I've had offers, but none of them were the right job at the right time. And I've never been interested in coaching at the small-schools level.
"And I'm not unhappy about anything. Believe me, I've had a great career in coaching. I wouldn't change a thing. A lot of guys want to be a head coach so they can have complete control. Well, for every coach I've been a coordinator for, I've been in complete charge."
Robinson, after being hired as USC's coach for the second time last Jan. 3, made his first football phone call to Lindsey. He found him in Camden, Ark., where Lindsey had taken a year off to care for his ailing father.
"He told me he'd just been hired at SC, that he wanted me on his staff," Lindsey said. "He said he wasn't sure if he wanted me to coach the offense or the defense, but after I said I wanted to join him, he said he'd call me back."
Lindsey eventually was hired as the offensive coordinator. Robinson hired Mike Nolan, formerly of the Denver Broncos' staff, as defensive coordinator. But Nolan--after one week at USC--left to join Dan Reeves, his old Denver boss, with the New York Giants.
"Robinson switched me back to defense," Lindsey said. "I hadn't even drawn a single play."
Said Robinson: "Don Lindsey is one of the outstanding football coaches in America and anyone in this business will tell you that. We're lucky to have him."
Recently, Lindsey was asked for a narration of his career, with comments about each coach:
BEAR BRYANT--"That was my first coaching job, so, of course, Bryant made a huge impact on me. One time I asked him how one became a great coach, and he told me: 'Don, if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. But I do know this--there's more'n one way to skin a cat.'
"He was always saying that: 'There's more'n one way to skin a cat.' Bryant was a great coach because he commanded attention and respect from every single person around him. He had that manner.
"He was a lot like McKay, in that he never had much to say. But when he did say something, everyone listened.
"At practice, he spent 80% of his time on top of a tower. When he came down from the tower, it was because he was upset about something. A chain would rattle on the tower when he came down, and the entire practice would stop."
JIM SWEENEY--"An absolutely awesome coach. You could put him at almost any school having problems and he could turn it around faster than anyone I've ever been associated with.
"His strong point was a great love of playing the game, and how he could communicate that to his coaches and players."
FRANK BROYLES--"Broyles was a chairman of the board-type of coach. Very senatorial. A Bud Wilkinson type. A very pristine man who did everything by the rules. Arkansas was never on probation when he coached and never even had anything close to a problem when he was there.
"When there was a staff opening, he believed in going after the best. If he needed a defensive coordinator, he'd say, 'OK, who had a great defense last year? Ohio State? OK, find out who that guy is and let's get him.' "
JOHN McKAY--"Very much like Bryant, in that he had an aloof way of motivating players. He was never around the players much, and, in fact, most of them never knew him well at all.
"I learned a lot from McKay, but I could never coach like he and Bryant did. I'm a hands-on type of coach. Bryant would talk to the team maybe five minutes before practice, then for five minutes at the end of practice. McKay did very little of that.
"Funny thing about McKay--if you walked in his office, chances are you'd see him reading the comics in the newspaper and laughing. When we weren't talking about football, he'd say, 'Hey, you guys see B.C. today?' "