Top College Coaches' Mad Men Counterparts

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2013

Top College Coaches' Mad Men Counterparts

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    If you’ve ever tuned in to watch the super-smash hit television show Mad Men then you know that it has tons in common with the super-smash hit sport, College Football.

    Both are packed with sexy personalities, sultry, twisting story lines, multi-faceted characters, greed, deception and the desperate quest to come out ahead in the final score.

    Basically, it’s the same show either with or without a ball, some dresses and some minor adjustments in terms of hairstyles.

    To take this provocative comparison between show and well, the show to another level entirely, the following presentation selects 14 college football coaches and assigns each with a counterpart from the cast of Mad Men.

    And though this experiment in crossing sport with serialized-period drama is cutting edge and highly entertaining, it’s also a tribute to the narrowness of the gaps that separate reality from fantasy.

Lane Kiffin and Pete Campbell

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    To kick off the direct links between blockbuster show and runaway hit sport is the on-air character of sneaky Pete Campbell (an up-and-coming partner at the agency) and USC’s head coach Lane Kiffin.

    Though perhaps you could feel a measured dose of compassion for one of the two— more so perhaps for Campbell only because we’ve been treated to a more personal view of him than we have of Kiffin—it’s difficult to find anyone who will admit to totally liking either of these two characters.

    Both Campbell and Kiffin seem a bit spoiled, are thought to operate underhandedly, come across as uncomfortable in their own skin and are advertised as having tons of highly touted potential but as far as results…well, in both cases the jury is still out.

    You could really make a case that these guys would look almost identical if Pete were to don a white visor and Lane, in turn, were to turn up on campus with a vintage 1962 suit from Brooks Brothers.

    Either way, they are both guys we love to hate.

    By the way, did you know that Pete Campbell’s father used to be the defensive coordinator (or creative director) at Michigan (or Ogilvy and Mather)?


Steve Spurrier and Roger Sterling

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    Though we may not really want to like either of these guys, at the end of the day it’s difficult not to at least warmly chuckle or flat out show some love for Roger Sterling and Steve Spurrier.

    Both the edgy, aging partner Sterling and the edgy, aging South Carolina head coach Spurrier are entertaining, successful and have a tendency to make their own rules.

    They don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about them, but they do care about the people around them and the job they’re doing.

    And they do it well, regardless of what the new fangled ways of doing things supposedly are.

    At the end of the day Spurrier is decidedly the more straight-laced of the two, but still the heart of the T.V. character and the Ole Ball coach have loads in common.


Bret Bielema and Henry Crane

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    Other than the very obvious connection of Henry Crane graduating from Wisconsin and Bret Bielema serving as head coach there from 2006 to 2012, both these guys share the common bonds of upward self-made mobility.

    Yes, both Crane, who basically created his own position as the head of the new Media Department, and Bielema, a sworn Big Ten devotee who made a shocking move to Arkansas after the 2012 regular season, are aggressively, if not awkwardly, on their way up the ladder.

Mike Leach and Michael Ginsberg

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    Talented but erratic, geniuses with questionable social skills, Washington State’s Mike Leach and new copywriter Michael Ginsberg share that odd personality combination that could spell disaster just as easily as shocking success.

    You never know what either of these guys might say, or wear, but after you hire them you’re just hoping against hope that you’re the guy that really has managed to catch lightning in a bottle.

Art Briles and Peggy Olson

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    In the case of Cuter, Gleason and Chaough’s Copy Chief Peggy Olson and Baylor’s Head Coach Art Briles, we have two very talented outsiders who deserve a far better place in the game than they’ve been afforded thus far.

    Olson is every bit as talented as the Don Draper’s of the world but her irreversible status as a female holds her back while what Art Briles has managed at Baylor is every bit as impressive as what Brian Kelly did at Cincinnati only his folksy good nature seems to limit his accolades.

    In both cases you have to wonder where Olson and Briles will be in ten years.

P.J. Fleck and Sally Draper

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    The youngest central member of the cast and the youngest head coach in the FBS ranks, Sally Draper and P.J. Fleck are natural counterparts.

    Just as Draper—the eldest child of Don and Betty Draper—has slowly risen to become a bigger part of the Mad Men series through its first five full seasons, Fleck has slowly risen through the coaching ranks since 2006 until finally landing his first head job at Western Michigan this past December.

    In both cases, you have to wonder where these young prodigies’ career paths will take them and if, from a truly dramatic approach, their characters will one day reach the bigger stage as they mature into their roles.

    Yes, will Draper grow into adulthood and become a “Mad Woman” in her own right? And will Fleck, the former WR, become the next coaching “flavor of the month” that manages to revive a MAC team and then  earn a big time job in the Big Ten?



Tom Osborne and Henry Francis

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    Legendary Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne not only went 255-49-3 from 1973 to 1997, including capturing 13 conference titles and three national championships, he also served the Cornhusker State in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 through 2007.

    For Osborne’s Mad Men counterpart we look to Henry Francis, who doesn’t have any coaching experience that we know about but does serve as New York governor Nelson Rockefeller’s Director of Public Relations and Research, therefore sharing a political bond.

    What comes next, if we’re going to keep this true to the script, is some sort of hook-up between Osborne—who just recently resigned as Nebraska’s AD—and Les Miles.

    Yes, you heard it here first: Osborne (Francis) will pull some strings so that the Huskers will hire Miles (Betty Draper) so that the two, as per the show, will be together.

    Which brings us to another key commonality between Mad Men and college football: Nobody stays together very long and contracts (i.e. marriages) were meant to be broken-up.


Nick Saban and Don Draper

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    The one element absolutely shared between the program Mad Men and the current situation in college football is that, in both cases, there is one central character that everyone else aspires to be.

    In the television series that guy is Creative Director and Partner Don Draper and in college football that guy is Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

    Putting all marital philandering to one side, Draper and Saban are soul mates on a dizzying number of levels.

    Both don’t seem to care a lick about the hype that surrounds them on a daily basis; they simply don’t buy into it.

    Naturally gifted, driven and self-assured, neither is afraid of anything and both seem almost amused at the rest of the world’s apparently trivial approach to life.

    Introspective, excellent, unapproachable, brilliant and brooding, both of these guys share a wanderlust that makes you absolutely sure, in a scary way, that they could walk away from all they’ve achieved at the drop of a hat.

Kliff Kingsbury and Joan Harris

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    Both Joan Harris and Kliff Kingsbury are tagged as potential eye-candy in their respective work places and as ultra-successful as they’ve managed to be in the short term at their previous posts, everyone has to wonder what the hell is going to happen next.

    Seriously, how is the former QB and five-year assistant (total) going to do as a head coach at a BCS program (Texas Tech) and how is the former secretary and then typing pool administrator going to fare as a full-fledged partner (at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce)?

    I mean these two look amazing, and should hook up for a hot steamy liaison, but how will they do in the big leagues?

    Well, my guess is, they’ll both do amazingly well, because in the case of both Harris and Kingsbury, there is more than meets the eye, which is saying quite a lot for these two hot tickets.

Mack Brown and Bertram Cooper

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    While you might be wondering what the eccentric founding partner of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the straight-laced head coach from the University of Texas have in common, think perceptions.

    Yes, Bertram Cooper’s odd fascination with Asian items and his weird standards, which include requiring the removal of shoes before entering his office, hide a more crafty side.

    And this is a cleverly hidden flank which enabled him to both shut down Pete Campbell’s quest to blackmail Don Draper about his past and merge Sterling Cooper with a British firm to save his own job.              

    In the case of Mack Brown, his good ole’ boy persona and his glossy politician ways hide the fact that he’s no mere sheep in sheep’s clothing.  No sir, this is a crafty character who has managed to compete, and win big time, in the modern recruiting arena.

    I’m not saying that either of these guys is crooked, I’m just saying that they’ve been managed palpable success in a highly competitive environment while looking like the almost harmless “good guys.”

    Beyond that, both Cooper and Brown are figureheads in businesses where in reality they’re lauded as being more successful than they’ve actually been.

    For example, yes, Brown has one national championship ring and gads of double-digit win seasons, but he also is the guy with only two conference titles in 15 seasons.


    For Bertram Cooper and Mack Brown it’s the big corner office and all the hype but in the eternal words of Janet Jackson, “What have you done for me lately?”




Chris Petersen and Ken Cosgrove

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    Both Accounts Executive Ken Cosgrove and Boise State head coach Chris Peterson are ultra-talented and highly intelligent and each has what it takes to be very successful. 

    But, that said, both are also mild-mannered, good-guy types who don’t, at least on the surface, seem like they could be capable of using Lane Kiffin/Pete Campbell tactics to take their respective careers to the next level.

    Indeed, will Cosgrove ever be a partner and will Petersen ever coach in the SEC; and could either stomach what the roles would entail?

    Regardless of their titles and where their offices are, Cosgrove and Petersen might just be the most well-balanced and talented guys in their fields.

Jim Tressel and Lane Pryce

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    The only real comparison to draw between former Sterling Cooper Draper & Pryce junior partner Lane Pryce and former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is all about their shared exiled status.

    Pryce and Tressel were both successful, well thought of (especially ethically) men who also both shared secrets that would eventually cost them their respective jobs.

    In Pryce’s case it was forgery and embezzlement and in Tressel’s it was lying about what he knew about the scandal that was enveloping his football program.

    In both instances the high-powered men were ultimately and rather shockingly ousted from their places of power and exiled from very professions that had defined them.

    Though this point is oh so true, it would be absolutely ridiculous to draw the comparison a bridge further to the extent of Pryce’s awful and tragic television-only demise.

    Tressel, the real man, can and will be back on the air while Pryce, the fictional character, will not.

Les Miles and Betty Francis

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    The somewhat quirky, grass-eating coach from LSU and the sometimes unstable housewife who shot birds in her backyard are both also highly intelligent and effective in their roles.

    You never quite know what either one will do or say next but both are easy on the eye, entertaining as hell and neither is ever afraid to serve up a cold, hard look at reality.

    If Betty Francis held a press conference you’ve got to figure that it would be every bit as emotional, random, confusing, inspiring and ultimately revealing as some of Les Miles’ work at LSU.

Derek Dooley and Megan Draper

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    Whether the new Mrs. Donald Draper ever really had the stuff great advertising or acting careers are made of and regardless of whether or not Derek Dooley will ever be a successful head football coach, both looked darn good trying.

    Yes, Megan Draper is drop dead gorgeous and I’m not going to lie to you, Derek Dooley is as good as it gets stalking the sidelines in those orange pants.

    Holy Mad Men!