BUDDY'S SON JIM: If you could see how high he kicked his legs to Hava Nagila in our wedding video....
Late Fifties. Gainesville, Texas. Waking up next to a Phi Beta Kappa in a rented house with a rotted floor. Waking up a couple of dozen miles of red clay south of the little Oklahoma town where he grew up in a house without indoor plumbing.
She has saved him, really. People back in Frederick figured he would end up working in a gas station. When he married Doris Ward midway through his junior year at Oklahoma A&M, he had only one credit toward his major. Presto! Buddy Ryan, Academic All-America football team!
As a kid he was the kind who made you feel easy if you were his friend heading with him into the night and jittery if you were a third baseman and he was dancing off second. Once, he threw a cross-body block at Altus High's star, busting both a double play and the guy's collarbone, and responded to the crowd's grumbles with a digit and a streak of obscenities that nearly set off a riot.
Now he's 28, about to be introduced at Gainesville High's assembly as the new football coach and athletic director after two years there as an assistant. He knows exactly where he's going. During the off-season at Oklahoma A&M, before reporting for the all-night shift in the oil fields wearing a rubber suit to cut weight, he has sat at basketball practices studying the legendary coach Hank Iba. "Learning how to tear down a player with one sentence," he'll say years later. "That's what coaching's all about. Embarrass 'em. Beat 'em down. Then bring 'em back."
He gazes across the assembly. "I don't know who's running this place," he tells the school, "but in two years I will be."
LARRY SULLIVANT: Buddy saved me. My father had just had a stroke, was incapacitated in a wheelchair, and I was a 16-year-old kid at Gainesville High with no money for college, no self-confidence, no idea who I was.
JIM CAMPBELL: I was principal there. Halfway through the year we realized Buddy had spent the entire athletic budget on football. Left nothing for baseball. Nothing for a track team that won the state meet in 4A that year. I called him to my office.
EX-WIFE DORIS: He was always such fun. A war vet, a football player, always so sure of himself.
FRIEND CURLY RIDDLE: She was a brain. Every third word he wrote was misspelled. We couldn't figure out what they had in common.