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Plus, they can eat at the cafe they’ve dubbed “The Pig” once a week or so. Saban, meanwhile, seldom ventures into Tuscaloosa restaurants because he gets mobbed by fans.

“I’ve been able to get to know and maintain a relationship with the townspeople and the folks in the area,” Blakeney said. “I’ve been certainly part of the small-town environment. We both sort of grew up that way. We’ve really enjoyed living here.”

Troy defensive coordinator Jeremy Rowell played on Blakeney’s first Troy team. He calls him a “fabulous coach,” but talks mostly about his personality and folksy charm.

“I’m sure he’d be offended if anybody says he’s a celebrity in this town,” Rowell said. “Everybody throughout the public knows him. He talks to everybody he sees. He’ll go out and eat lunch and people say, ‘Hey coach.’ And he’ll say hey and know who they are. That’s just been from being here so long.”

And that longevity comes from winning. Last season, the Trojans were the first Sun Belt team to go 8-0 in the league before falling 44-41 to Central Michigan in the GMAC Bowl. They have pulled upsets of Missouri and Oklahoma State since moving up to FBS, the former Division I-A.

And Blakeney & Co. also have landed underrated recruiting gems like Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware, now in the NFL.

Former players don’t talk so much about his football acumen, though.

“He’s just such a people person,” said Mike Turk, a former Troy quarterback and assistant coach. “If you’re around him five minutes you want to be around him for 10 more. At a place like Troy where there’s a lot of good people, they recognize a good person, a genuine person.

“There have been a lot of people willing to help him with the program. It takes that. For a school like Troy in a small town to be as successful as it has on the ultimate level of football, you kind of have to have everybody on board. And he is that guy.”

Blakeney also has changed with the times, switching from a run-oriented option attack to a fast-paced spread offense.

“The way he termed it was he was going to put the cart before the horse,” said Turk, now head coach at Division III Huntingdon in Montgomery. “We were going to start running that style of offense before we had the players to run it. We took a lump or two along the way.

“You see the results now.”

Blakeney couldn’t have mapped out his career track, even minus the Ramsey situation.

After graduating from Auburn, he spent three months with a paper company in Atlanta. It was the last time he worked out of the state. He came back to sell insurance for a company partly owned by Bear Bryant.

Blakeney was sitting in a barbershop in his tiny hometown of Gordo, just outside Tuscaloosa, when a friend told him the Southern Academy coach had quit about a week before the season. Another friend recommended him for the job even though he had never coached.

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