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6 August 2007
OVC Media Day has Blazer Feel to It

By Steve Irvine
The Birmingham News Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

NASHVILLE - Officially the event held Tuesday morning at Titans Stadium was known as the Ohio Valley Conference Football Media Day.

However, it sure had the feel of a UAB football outing.

Four of the OVC head coaches sharing the spotlight on Tuesday have ties to UAB. Three of them - Tennessee Tech's Watson Brown, Samford's Pat Sullivan and Austin Peay's Rick Christophel - are former UAB coaches while Jacksonville State's Jack Crowe is a UAB graduate.

Crowe has been the head coach at JSU since 2000 and the Gamecocks have been OVC members in football since 2003. The other three coaches with UAB ties are entering their first season in the OVC.

"Three guys from one staff and all in the same league," Brown said. "I don't know if that's ever happened. That's really weird."

Brown spent 12 seasons as UAB's head coach before returning to his hometown of Cookeville, Tenn., in December. Sullivan spent seven seasons coaching under Brown before taking over as the head coach at a school where his father played football. Christophel came to UAB in 1995 with Brown and remained there until he left in March to return to his alma mater.

"I think it's great to see for people that you've coached with, been friends with and worked with," said Sullivan. "Basically all of us are in our home towns or where we started. It's a unique situation. We all say this is a crazy business and I guess this is a good example."

The focus for all three coaches is clearly on their current job. Practice begins in early August and the season is not far away.

Even so, Christophel, recalled how things ended at UAB. The Blazers finished 5-6 and 3-9 in Brown's final two seasons after playing in a bowl game in 2004.

"I think it was unfortunate the way it ended up," Christophel said. "I think what we accomplished, people didn't understand what we had to do, what we had to fight. The last year was no indication of what we did. There were a lot of variables that people didn't know about - injuries being one of them. You don't want to use them as excuses, but there's a lot of things to consider."

Christophel has clearly moved on from his days as a Blazer.

"Whatever happened at the end, that's water under the bridge," Christophel said. "I wish them the best. I don't hold a grudge or hard feelings or anything like that. It's part of the business."

The business for all three now is trying to win games in their new job.

Brown takes over a team that won four games a year ago and is picked to finish sixth in the OVC this season. Sullivan inherits a Samford team that won three games a year ago and is picked to finish ninth in the conference.

Neither has as daunting a task as Christophel. Austin Peay returns to the OVC for the first time since 1996. The school played as a non-scholarship program from 1997 to 2006, finished 3-8 last year and has only one winning season in the past 22 years.

"The biggest adjustment is all the things you have to do outside football," Christophel said. "That's the biggest challenge, I think. As soon as (spring) practice was over I hit the ground running - seeing different places, meeting people and raising money. It will be like that until (practice starts) Aug. 3rd. I told them Aug. 3rd I can't do it anymore."

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