It is said that behind every great man is a strong woman. What is not said is that behind every great coach is an independent woman. For coaches Jay Hopson, Buster Faulkner and Tim Billings that is exactly who is behind them.
At age 16, head coach Jay Hopson asked his now wife, Michelle, to the homecoming dance. She says the rest was history. The couple dated through high school and college (minus Jay’s spring trainings and football seasons) until they tied the knot when Jay landed his first full-time coaching job.
For each season of life come new challenges for coaches and their families. Michelle, explained how, as newlyweds, it was important for her to learn how to manage the emotions of football season to not rise and fall with her husband’s emotions.
After having children, the issue arose of explaining why their father wasn’t home to trick or treat or to do things other children had both parents for in addition to moving every few years. Over the course of 22 years of marriage, Michelle has moved with her husband eight times.
“Being a coach’s kid, you move around and you don’t really have roots anywhere, so you move to a town and you’re just a face,” Michelle said.
Now that her children are older and independent themselves, Michelle is learning how to reprioritize in order to focus on her role as the head coach’s wife rather than her nearly empty nest.
“I want to be a good ambassador for him and for the school,” Michelle said. “I want to be a good mom. I want to be all of these things, so just managing all of my different roles in life [is difficult].”
Michelle’s biggest role with the team is hosting recruitment weekends at her home and getting to know potential players as well as their parents.
“They need to know before they send their son off to be a part of a team. You want to know who you are sending them off to be with,” Michelle said. “I enjoy getting to know the parents and then later if they sign with us we are already friends and there is already a family atmosphere.”
Offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner married his childhood sweetheart in a small destination wedding 13 years ago. Since then, Buster and his wife Tia have had three kids and moved seven times.
“[Moving] is something that is hard for us because our kids are growing up so differently than how we did,” Tia said. “Our parents still live two miles apart, and all of our family is [in Georgia,] so we are the only ones who have moved off.”
In the midst of juggling a full football schedule, Buster often misses school and sporting events for his children; however, his wife films anything he might miss in order to make sure he is included.
“Buster is a very hands-on dad. He likes to be at all the kids’ activities and stuff like that, but obviously he can’t be,” Tia said. “With our son, we laugh about how our 12-year-old has better highlight film than most college kids because we have everything videoed.”
As far as the Faulkner family’s interaction with the team, Tia and her daughters spend Thursday nights making goodie bags for Buster’s offensive players. Tia explained how with her kids being so active it is difficult to be as involved; however, they try to support in any way they can.
When defensive coordinator Tim Billings accepted a position at Southeastern Missouri in 2000, he didn’t expect to meet his wife. The two met in her hometown 19 years ago, and since then Lisa has moved seven times because of football.
“Being a coach’s wife, you do have to be tough,” Lisa Billings, wife of defensive coordinator Tim Billings, said “There is a lot you are going to have to deal with without your husband.”
With both children living on their own, Lisa has adopted Tim’s defense as her own. Each week Lisa bakes for his players and attaches a Bible verse or note of encouragement to it.
“I bake for them every week. They get something yellow and chocolate. Their favorite thing is the pound cake, so they get that and either chocolate chip cookies or brownies,” Lisa said. “I go to all their games. I feel like as a coach’s wife I want them to know I am there for them.”
As the oldest of the group, Lisa appreciates her opportunity to share wisdom with the younger wives.
“My advice is to be very flexible, very positive and supportive and to have thick skin,” Lisa said. “To try to touch as many hearts along this journey. It’s a journey to enjoy every moment. You don’t see it when you first have to move but there are so many blessings in every move.”
Outside of being a wife and mother, each woman is involved in recruiting and game day activities. Recruiting weekends also provide a time for the wives to spend time together and catch up on what is happening outside of football.
“We don’t see each other on a regular day to day basis. We have a group text where we keep in touch with life events or anything we need to tell each other,” Michelle said. “Managing schedules is hard, but we see each other game day after Eagle Walk. They all tailgate in our suite before we go to sit down and watch the game and some stay up in there the whole game and watch it with us.”
Between hectic schedules and managing the little family time they do have it is difficult for the women to get together often. Every year the wives have a season kickoff dinner and a Christmas party where they are able to spend time together and catch up.
Despite the ups and downs that accompany the lifestyle of coaching, there is one thing all three women can agree on: the focus and purpose of their husbands’ jobs is the players.
“Sometimes you refocus your purpose; you get your eyes off the real reason you’re in football and coaching,” Michelle said. “[The purpose] is for these young men. They are the most important in this whole thing. It’s so rewarding to know these young men and who they are and how much they love what they are doing, and they love each other. It’s infectious.”