The manner in which Tatum went about assembling this representative group of young student athletes, as he will tell you himself, is exactly the same as would have Bear Bryant or Bud Wilkinson, his old assistant at Oklahoma, or Woody Hayes or the late Red Sanders or any one of a dozen other topflight professionals: by devoting every single waking hour—and quite a few when he should have been sleeping—to doing what had to be done. A man of gargantuan size and appetite to match (he has kept the black-eyed-pea growers of the South solvent for years and hasn't hurt the distillers, either), Jim Tatum is also a man of prodigious energy. He has been called an organizational genius and perhaps he is; certainly his vast concern with what others might consider the less important elements of his operation have contributed to his success.
He finds his players through a far-flung scouting system which includes having members of his staff assiduously read, clip and file Pennsylvania papers ("There are 800 high schools playing football in Pennsylvania while about half the schools in this state—I think there are about 400—don't even have a football team. Where would you look for football players?"). He attracts them by surprisingly low-pressure methods and by offering exactly the best deal the NCAA will allow and not a penny more. North Carolina takes justifiable pride in the fact that the school has been under no suspicion of illegal recruiting despite Tatum's past reputation (to which Tatum replies: "If I thought I could get away with it, I would").
As for coaching technique and strategy, Tatum refuses to consider himself a genius—although he will admit that he is pretty good—nor does he even believe that such a thing as a coaching genius exists.
"Look," he croaked last week, "we all know the same things and use the same plays. All this talk about one offense or one system being so superior to another is nonsense. The thing that wins football games is defense. It stops the other team and gives your offense a chance to move the ball. All the top coaches know that now. Look at how Bryant works or Shug Jordan down at Auburn or Woody Hayes. Look at Bud. Here is perhaps the man with the greatest flair for offensive tactics I've ever known. But you watch Oklahoma these days. The thing that kills you is their defense."
YOU CAN'T OUTSMART THEM NOW
"That's what enabled coaches like Wallace Wade and Bob Neyland and Bernie Bierman and Jock Sutherland to dominate the game 25 years ago. They discovered this before anyone else. Remember the kind of football they played? Of course in those days most coaches were in the business because they weren't smart enough to do anything else, and a really outstanding man could get a big jump on the rest. Now just about every coach is a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a professor, and you can't outsmart them any more.
"All you can do is outwork them—or at least that's all a big old dumb country boy like me can do. That's what makes the difference. Dedication to the job. You eat and sleep and live football 12 months a year, every minute of the day, and you come up with a winner. You have to sacrifice everything to that. And if you feel that it's too much of a sacrifice, you ought to get out of the business. I don't feel like I'm making any sacrifice at all. I love it. I wouldn't want it any other way.
"I'm going to give them good teams here at Carolina. That's what they hired me for and that's what they have every right to expect. We'll have some 7-3 years and maybe some 8-2 years. Maybe we'll get to some bowls. But we'll never have a national champion. The school is too tough academically. You can't get every boy in that you might like to have and you can't always count on keeping those you do.
"But I'll tell you, everyone down here is pretty reasonable. At Maryland if you lost one game, they were after your job. At Carolina they don't do that. I suppose that's because they haven't been spoiled. Last time they had an undefeated team here was in 1898.
"Even the alumni," grins Tatum, "are pretty reasonable. I guess if a coach can say that, there isn't much more that he can ask."