I heard a story at the AFCA Convention that, while not doubting the trustworthiness of the teller of this tale, sounded like it had to be embellished. During the Graduate Assistant forum, Memphis head coach Mike Norvell talked of a Missouri high school coach who decided he wanted to coach at the FBS level, so he packed up drove through the night to the one staff he knew, waited around for more than a day, worked for free for six months and is now on the cusp of being a coordinator in the SEC.
Except Norvell’s story wasn’t legend, it’s true. He was talking about Dan Lanning.
Chip Towers wrote about Lanning’s self-made rise for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when he left his job as as an assistant coach at Park Hills South High School in Missouri to essentially force Todd Graham’s new Pittsburgh staff to hire him.
Lanning left on a Thursday, drove through the night, showered and changed into a suit at a nearby truck stop and entered the Pittsburgh football facility on a Friday morning — only to learn the staff was gone at a coaching clinic. They returned the next day, and by Wednesday Lanning was employed as a quality control assistant at Pittsburgh.
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“I’ll never forget it. He calls me on a Thursday afternoon and he was like, ‘Dude, I’m going to make a move,’” then-roomate Trent Figg told the paper. “I said, ‘what are talking about? He said, ‘I’m driving to Pitt and I’m not coming back until I get a job.’”
Lanning spent the 2011 campaign as a graduate assistant, then followed the staff to Arizona State, where he was a graduate assistant and on-campus recruiting coordinator. From there, he took a full-time job at Sam Houston State, joined Nick Saban’s staff as a graduate assistant at Alabama, re-united with Norvell at Memphis as his inside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator and, finally, joined Kirby Smart’s Georgia staff as outside linebackers coach in 2018.
A promotion to some sort of defensive coordinator role seems all but certain for 2019, possibly as soon as this week.
And none of it would’ve happened had Lanning not gone out and essentially forced it to happen.