Bazemore was death
on complacency. "Everybody had good players," he says. "It was the
teams that worked the hardest and paid attention and didn't let up that
won." On Thursdays the Wildcats always ran a no-contact scrimmage, but the
players were required to wear full pads. One year Bazemore noticed that some
players began coming out on Thursdays without shoulder pads or even helmets. He
let it ride for two or three weeks. "Then I put them through a full contact
scrimmage," he says. "Everybody wore what they had on when they got to
the field. Those who didn't wear their helmets to practice finished with their
No team, no matter
how good, ever slipped the leash for very long. Once when the 1961 team won
indifferently against an inferior opponent, Bazemore started the next Monday's
scrimmage with the second string and told the starters to go over to the
bleachers and practice reading their press clippings and signing
"We thought it
was pretty cute at first," says Bill Myddleton, an undersized,
overachieving middle guard who went on to Georgia Tech. "We figured it
would last an hour, and then he would let us practice. But he kept us there all
afternoon. And started the same way the next afternoon. By the end of the
second day, there were boys with tears in their eyes. We didn't think he was
ever going to let us back."
When he did, those
first-stringers practiced—and played—the way Bazemore wanted them to.
There had been
winning coaches in Valdosta before Bazemore. (Fact is, there has never been a
losing coach at Valdosta.) But then, there were winning coaches at Alabama
before Bear Bryant. Like Bryant, Bazemore stayed and stayed, and the legend
grew geometrically until, finally, his shadow fell over everyone who came
Bazemore's era was
what can be thought of simply, in the South, as before. Before the new money,
the new prosperity, the new ideas, the new South of today. In Bazemore's time,
the South was more southern, and there were few rivals for the affections and
passions that a football coach in a small town could claim.
And, of course, it
was before integration. That's the greatest before of all. During most of his
reign. Bazemore's players were white. But, as his disciples will quickly—and
emphatically—point out, he won after integration too. His greatest team ever,
by his own account, may have been his last team, an integrated team, the 1971
state and national champions.
Bazemore was only
55 when he retired. He said then that his health made him quit, but he says now
that he was just tired of it. He spends his time these days bird hunting and
bass fishing. He still runs three miles every other day and works out with
weights. He goes to many practices and rarely misses a game, and he is known to
everyone around town. He drives a black and yellow pickup, with pawprints on
the side, given to him by former players, and he is still "the coach"
to two generations of people in Valdosta.
"I cried when
he quit, because it meant my son would never play for him," says David
Waller, former president and permanent treasurer of the Touchdown Club. "I
played for him in the late 1940s, and I still consider it one of the greatest
experiences of my life."
certainly not the only one in Valdosta who cried when Bazemore quit. Most
people in town considered him irreplaceable. The first man to try had a 17-3
record in his first two years but could not advance to the regionals and
resigned under pressure. The next candidate, whom Bazemore helped recruit, went
3-7 in his first year after he threw 12 letter men off the team for
disciplinary reasons. But that was Nick Hyder's last losing season. Since
taking over the Wildcats in 1974, his record is 162-25-1. His winning
percentage is actually better than Bazemore's.