The Taylor Swift story will not tell itself.
Which is where Chip Lindsey comes in. On Thursday afternoon, Troy University’s head football coach returns your call while driving to pick up his 16-year-old daughter, Claire, from school. The former offensive coordinator at Auburn, Arizona State and Southern Miss, the 46-year-old Lindsey is understandably busy — juggling meetings and film work and recruiting calls before hustling home to spend time with his wife and four kids.
But he’ll talk to a stranger in Seattle, if they ask about Rip.
And he can’t talk about UW’s new defensive line coach without telling this story.
In 2008, Lindsey took the head coaching job at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga., where he met a junior middle linebacker from a football family. Elwyn “Rip” Rowan was named after his grandfather, who earned that nickname because of his ability to rip through the line of scrimmage as a hard charging running back at Central High School in Memphis. The original Rip played college ball at both LSU and Army, and became the color commentator for Ole Miss football after serving eight years as a second lieutenant. Unsurprisingly, Bob Rowan — the elder Rip’s son, and the younger Rip’s father — also played college football for the University of Texas.
So, it almost goes without saying that Rip Rowan loved football.
He also loved people. And people loved Rip.
“Rip, when he was in high school, (my daughter Claire) was young and she was around all the time,” Chip Lindsey explains. “He had her convinced that Taylor Swift was his girlfriend. That was in 2008 or 2009. My daughter, she’ll be 17 Friday. So she was five or six years old, and for years she was convinced that Rip dated (Taylor Swift). He just kept it on every time he saw her or talked to her or whatever. He had someone programmed in his phone with Taylor Swift’s name and would get her on the phone.
“That’s just the kind of person he is. He kept something going with her, and for a kid in high school to even connect with your daughter and give her any attention was pretty cool. It just shows you his personality. Rip’s a guy that gets along with everybody.”
As a junior in high school, Rip Rowan could connect — with teammates, teachers, coaches and (possibly?) pop stars. Lindsey says “it’s not always the best players that make the best coaches. It’s the guys that have the ability to relate to and affect other people. He had both. He was one of our better players and was also a guy that our team fed off of at times.”
A tough and intelligent linebacker and defensive lineman, Rowan lettered for four seasons at Austin Peay State. The men in his family were football players, and the women were teachers.
So when it came time to move on, he decided to do both. He accepted a job teaching history and coaching football at Northwest High School in Clarksville, Tenn., in 2014.
“My mom, my biggest influence in my life, she’s a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher,” Rowan said in a Florida Atlantic video feature four years later. “So I always had special relationships with my teachers, good or bad. I probably drove them crazy, but I loved them. I always knew I wanted to impact kids in some type of fashion.”
Soon enough, Rip was offered an opportunity to do just that at the University of Southern Mississippi — where Lindsey was stationed as the offensive coordinator. Rowan served as a graduate assistant at Southern Miss in 2014 and 2015, before accepting the same position at Florida Atlantic two years later.
And, despite the notoriously long hours and little pay, Rip proved himself to more than his high school head coach.
“I think he’s a stud,” says Tony Pecoraro, Rowan’s defensive coordinator at both Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic. “One thing that’s always impressed me about Rip is, whatever you told him to do, it was done. He was always thinking ahead. I remember coming in and before I’d even ask for the (film) cut-ups, the cut-ups were done. He was always going to be there. He was never going to leave before me, that’s for sure.”
Added Rowan in 2018: “As a GA, no job’s too small. So I don’t care what it is, if you’re asked to run a meeting or go get a No. 5 at McDonald’s, you do it. It doesn’t matter what it is. You’re a coach in training.”
Eventually, all that training caught the attention of UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who hired Rowan to be a defensive quality control coach in 2019. And last week, after Ikaika Malloe shifted his focus to the outside linebackers, Lake promoted the 29-year-old assistant to be the Huskies’ new defensive line coach.
Unsurprisingly, Rowan’s promotion inspired little hoopla from Husky football fans.
But inside the program, there was a much more resounding response.
“He was always giving us the best scouting reports he could of opposing teams. He was doing the work that went unnoticed,” says former UW outside linebacker Joe Tryon, who could be selected in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. “In a role like that, you don’t get any glory from it. He did it the best way he could. The way he prepared us before games was second to none. I’ve never seen anyone put that much effort into it.”
Effort, of course, has never been an issue.
And regardless of role, Elwyn “Rip” Rowan continues to connect.
“All the dudes gravitated towards him,” Tryon says. “He was just someone I wanted to be around. I was always up there watching film with him during the week before games, trying to get an extra film session. He was just one of those guys that I could depend on. It kind of upset me seeing fans talking down on him (after he was promoted) when they really don’t know what’s going on. I know Husky fans are really loyal, really devout.
“With someone like this, I know they don’t know who he is. But I just know that he’s going to do the best job he can and prepare everyone in the unit to go out and have the best game they can every week.”
In football circles, that’s the consensus. Pecoraro says that, “when he called me and told me that he got promoted, I was like, ‘Hey man, no one gave you nothin’. You earned every second of that.’” Tryon adds that “he earned every bit of this. He’s been bouncing around places, trying to find the spot. The University of Washington really clicked with him, and I think he’s the perfect guy for it.”
On Thursday afternoon, Lindsey says something similar, utilizing speaker phone while pulling into the parking lot. And, before launching into the Taylor Swift story, its subject — Claire Lindsey — arrives at the car.
“Who’s that?” she asks her dad.
“This is a guy that’s asking me about Rip,” Chip says.
“Oh, I love Rip,” Claire Lindsey responds.
Rip Rowan loves people. And people love Rip.