Peaches and cream. Halloween and candy corn. Baseball and sunflower seeds.
Stump Mitchell and Melvin Spears.
Mitchell is an intense, straight-ahead coach with a deep NFL background and little time for nonsense.
Spears is a gregarious, dynamic personality who’s spent almost his entire career in black college football, an ace recruiter with the gift of gab.
How do these guys go together well?
At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Jaguars (2-5, 2-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) host the Braves (2-4, 1-4) at A.W. Mumford Stadium, Mitchell and Spears will match wits from opposing sidelines.
But they used to work on the same sideline. In fact, Mitchell gave Spears his first coaching job, as a high-school assistant, way out in Arizona. No kidding.
“We were pretty much brothers, to be perfectly honest. ... Wherever I was, I wanted to make sure he knew where I was, so I always had a friend out there, someone who knew where we were at all times,” Mitchell said. “So we go a long ways back.”
Where did it all start?
Well, Mitchell was a cousin to the late Tyrone Jones, who played linebacker at Southern in the early 1980s before he had a long career in the CFL. Jones, who died in 2008 of brain center, will go into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame posthumously next year.
Jones got to know Spears and sometimes stayed with Spears’ family in Clinton, Mitchell said.
A few years later, after Spears graduated from Alcorn State, he worked as a software engineer in Arizona, where Mitchell played for the then-Phoenix Cardinals.
They’d gotten to know each other through Jones. Out in Phoenix, Spears and Mitchell worked out together.
A few years after Mitchell retired from pro ball, he became the head coach at Casa Grande (Ariz.) High School. In search of assistants, he called Spears.
“The first year, I think we went 7-4. The following year, we came back and went 13-1 and lost in the quarterfinals of the state championship,” Spears recalled. “It was just hard work.”
After that, Mitchell got a call from his old position coach at The Citadel — a man named Ricky Diggs, who had taken over as the head coach at Morgan State (Diggs is now Mitchell’s offensive coordinator at SU).
Diggs hired Mitchell as offensive coordinator, and before long, Spears tagged along as linebackers coach.
“I eventually became the (defensive) coordinator,” Spears said. “We had really started to turn that thing around.”
Mitchell eventually became head coach, and though his 8-24 record wasn’t much to speak of, he was proud of it; at the time, he said, Morgan had only four full-time assistants and 45 scholarship players.
Mitchell went off to the NFL for 11 years, serving as running backs coach with the Seahawks and Redskins, while Spears joined his cousin, Doug Williams, at Grambling.
Spears succeeded Williams at Grambling, going 20-14 before he was fired after the 2006 season. After stops at Texas Southern and Alabama State, he’s back at Alcorn. And Mitchell is now at Southern.
“There are a lot of common threads,” Mitchell said. “(But) both of us want to win this football game. I can assure you of that.”