Probably the wackiest idea Golden Pat Ruel ever had while an assistant football coach at Kansas University was his Celebrity Campout.
During preseason drills one August, Ruel set up a tent on the practice fields and invited town and gown notables to spend some time with him there in the evening. One night, no less a personage than KU chancellor Gene Budig dropped by and kibitzed with the Jayhawks' assistant head coach and offensive line tutor.
When last we saw Golden Pat Ruel, he was on his way to Michigan State to coach the Spartans' offensive line. That was less than two years ago.
Today, I'm happy to report, Ruel is a leopard who hasn't changed his spots, a zebra who hasn't shifted his stripes. Ruel's mantra is motivation and he does it by total disregard for his body.
Last year, before the Spartans played Ohio State, Ruel told his offensive linemen he'd participate in one-on-one drills with them if they defeated the Buckeyes. Oops " Michigan State won.
"I got a broken finger and a bruised chest out of that," Ruel told me by phone the other day from East Lansing.
So what form of self-flaggelation has Ruel concocted this season?
Glad you asked.
"If we go 5-0 I have to shave my head," Ruel said. "I'll bet you've never heard anybody say this, but I hope I'm bald in a couple of weeks."
Michigan State is 3-0 after knocking off Notre Dame, 23-13, last Saturday in South Bend, Ind. Game Four is this Saturday at Illinois and Game Five is a week later at home against Iowa.
On paper, if the Spartans spill the Fighting Illini, also 3-0, Ruel seems doomed to a dome of chrome because woeful Iowa isn't likely to dazzle the Spartans in East Lansing.
"I've never been into wearing hats," Ruel said, "but I may have to be."
By the way, Ruel credits Kansas coach Terry Allen for helping the Spartans foil Notre Dame. Kansas and Notre Dame, you'll recall, met in the Eddie Robinson Classic in late August.
"I asked Terry if he could help us out on the Notre Dame game," Ruel said, "and he gave us some good thoughts and good ideas about attacking Notre Dame. It came in handy and I think it helped us."
There was a time in 1996 when Ruel hoped he would be given the job that eventually went to Allen. Ruel had been assistant head coach at Kansas for nine years and, when Glen Mason left for Minnesota, Ruel put his name on the ballot.
Kansas officials wanted someone with head coaching experience, however, so a disappointed Ruel spent 1997 out of coaching. Instead, he ran an internet recruiting service out of his home while his wife Marti continued to work as assistant to the vice chancellor of student affairs on Mount Oread.
"When I didn't get the KU job, I kind of thought it was the end of the line," Ruel said. "I'd been coaching for 19 years and I'd done everything I needed to do. So I decided to get into something else."
That something else, Ruel later realized, wasn't what he really wanted.
"After working at a computer and being locked up in a room all day," he said, "I concluded I loved coaching. I came to Michigan State without a title because I wanted to get back into coaching."
Today he has the same assistant head coach title he had during his Kansas days and he's working with a couple of former KU aides in secondary coach Mark Dantonio and wide receivers aide Reggie Mitchell.
"We all follow the Jayhawks week in and week out," Ruel said.
So does Marti Ruel who is working as a consultant to the MSU office of student affairs. Ruel's wife has applied for a new state government post that has been created to determine how to disburse the reparation money the state will receive from the tobacco industry.
After all those years of wearing crimson and blue, it seems incongruous to think of Golden Pat Ruel wearing green. Yet, he says, he looks good in Michigan State's primary color.
"I've got green eyes," he quipped, "so I'm OK."
-- Chuck Woodling's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.