David Housel shows he’s more than the ‘Auburn guy’ with new book

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David Housel pictured at a booth at Chappy’s Deli in Auburn (Courtesy AU Photographic Services)

AUBURN, Ala. (WIAT) – Few people have the relationship with Auburn University that David Housel does.

It’s a relationship that’s been joined at the hip for over 50 years, starting when Housel was a boy growing up in Gordo, dreaming of going to Auburn one day. After arriving on the Plains in 1965, he spent decades in the athletics department, rising to become athletics director in 1994. Housel has also written several books about Auburn sports and 15 years after retiring, he’ll still talk about the Tigers with anyone who will listen.

“He’s really a part of Auburn in ways that he couldn’t have dreamed of,” longtime Auburn sportswriter Phillip Marshall said.

Auburn University Athletic Director David Housel talks with reporters at the campus in Auburn, Ala., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2003. AP Photo/Dave Martin)

For several years, Housel and others have made a weekly tradition of holding court at the local Chappy’s Deli, where conversations could go from Auburn football to politics, all before breakfast was served.

“There’s always new faces that are coming in to talk to him,” general manager Michael Callaham said. “That’s helped to drive his celebrity status.”

Growing up, Housel had always abided by the age-old practice of never talking about football, politics or religion in mixed company. However, after years of talking to different people about all kinds of things at Chappy’s, he knew that wasn’t true.

“I just got to the point where I realized that you can talk about those things and you can be respectful talking about those things,” Housel said. “I thought it would be fun to put those things down in print.”

Housel’s many conversations at the deli formed the basis of his new book, “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s: Stories of the South: Football, Politics, Religion, and More,” a collection of essays he originally published on Facebook.

David Housel speaking to a group about Auburn athletics (Courtesy AU Photographic Services)

“At 75, I can do what I want and say what I want,” he said. “That’s a gratifying place to be.”

Housel knows he’s been pigeonholed by some as the “Auburn guy”, and he’s fine with it. After all, it gave him a long career that took him far beyond the Plains. However, he wanted the book to show that he was more than that.

“This book gave me a chance to spread my wings,” he said. “I don’t know if I flew, but it gave me a chance to spread my wings.”

In the book, Housel does retread on some Auburn history, from reflections on the school’s long-running feud with the Georgia Bulldogs as well as paying tribute to former Auburn coach Pat Dye. However, the essays also cover everything from his childhood, questioning one’s own beliefs, the toxicity of politics as well as his love of New York City.

The cover of David Housel’s new book “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

In one essay, Housel reflects on how celebrated local sportswriters such as Benny Marshall, Zipp Newman and Charles Land could effortlessly pull readers into a story with the first sentence.

“We don’t get that kind of writing anymore, and I, for one, miss it,” he wrote.

In another, Housel laments the way politics has divided people.

“Simply put, we the people have lost our way when we allow our leaders, and those who want to be our leaders, to pander to our anger, fears, frustration, and rage rather than to our hopes and dreams,” he wrote. “Their campaigns encourage us to be our lesser selves rather than our better selves.”

Despite the wide range of the essays, Housel said one theme ties many of them together.

“We’re all imperfect people in an imperfect world doing the best we can, and that’s what the book is all about,” he said.

Housel hopes his book can challenge people to think, just as he was forced to think outside of himself while at Chappy’s.

“If you don’t get outside your comfort zone with your thinking, it’s not worth it,” he said.

Housel will be at Davenport’s Pizza in Mountain Brook between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to sign books and talk with people.

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