LAFAYETTE — Akron offensive coordinator A.J. Milwee might try to take a few minutes to say hello to Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth before Saturday’s game, like he did when the Cajuns visited Akron a couple years ago, but he’s not sure there’s going to be time.
After the game is over, he’ll probably have a conversation with Hudspeth over the phone to catch up and maybe share a couple points from the game plan to help the Cajuns understand how opponents prepare for them. Hudspeth will probably return the favor.
It’s the least the former pupil and teacher can do for each other.
“I owe him so much,” Milwee said. “He gave me an opportunity to pursue my college football dream. He didn’t have to take a chance on me, but he did.”
Milwee and Hudspeth were together for four years at North Alabama. Milwee was the ultra-productive quarterback, Hudspeth the up-and-coming coach that always found a way to put him in position to succeed.
After one year spent as a preferred walk on at the University of Alabama, Milwee transferred to North Alabama and immediately developed a relationship with his new coach, Hudspeth.
Milwee was undersized, but he understood how to make the most of his physical tools.
“He was a coach on the field for me,” Hudspeth said. “We were always on the same wavelength. He’s a guy you could count on to make the right decisions. He didn’t make a lot of foolish mistakes, he would throw the ball away when needed.
“But boy, when he had to, he could pull a rabbit out of the hat to make a great play to extend a drive or to get a touchdown, to put you back in the game or to win the game. We won a lot of games late with him because he was sort of our field general.”
Forty-four games, to be precise, the second-most over a four year span in school history. With Milwee operating Hudspeth’s scheme, North Alabama went 44-8 from 2005-2008, resulting in four straight playoff appearances.
Milwee practically re-wrote the Lions’ school passing records, and he still holds career records for passing yards (8,436), completions (677), interception ratio (21 interceptions in 1,030 career attempts) and touchdown passes (73).
“He had the it factor,” Hudspeth said. “He could make plays that a lot of quarterbacks couldn’t make.”
But it’s not necessarily the on-field success that continues to bind the pair today.
Milwee received a book as a graduation present from Hudspeth shortly after Hudspeth left North Alabama to serve as an assistant at Mississippi State.
“It was The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” Milwee said. “Those types of things are the things that I use in life. For me personally, not only with our players, but I use them for myself.”
This is what Milwee has taken with him from his years with Hudspeth. The schemes he implements in his offense don’t necessarily look the same as the ones he executed at such a high level with North Alabama.
But the leadership? The discipline and the energy and the striving to be a good person every day? Milwee ripped those pages from Hudspeth’s playbook and incorporated them into his own.
“There’s so many things that coach Hud held us to such a standard for,” Milwee said. “Whether it was reminding us to open the door for somebody or to make somebody’s day, his big deal was you never know what action you take that could impact that person’s day or make that person’s day.
“Those are the kind of things I try to push onto my players, just to be good people and make somebody’s day every day, try to have a good upbeat personality and energy. Those are the things I’ll carry with me forever.”
Their schedules might not allow them time for a proper reunion Saturday — not for two competitors who will be focused first on beating the other. But Milwee hasn’t lost sight of the impact the guy on the opposing sideline has had.
“With us both being coaches, we don’t talk near as much as both of us would like, but he means so much to me in my life, my family, everything,” Milwee said. “Playing for him was, no question, an absolute blessing for me.”