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A coach even the faculty likes
Morton Sharnik
November 18, 1963
Win or lose, John Bridgers of Baylor is an anomaly on campus. He really thinks the game is fun
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November 18, 1963

A Coach Even The Faculty Likes

Win or lose, John Bridgers of Baylor is an anomaly on campus. He really thinks the game is fun

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?Nobody raises a voice against a player in practice, nor criticizes him openly. Laughter is considered as much a part of practice as calisthenics.

?Bridgers believes that the name of the game does not necessarily have to be "knock." " Trull's one of the best players in the country," says Bridgers, "and he never hurt a soul. He couldn't if he wanted to. That's my kind of player—a thinker, not a hitter."

?Bridgers believes a rule is a rule, even if it costs him dearly. "Bridgers gives character-building meaning," says Dr. McCall. "A few years ago a lineman who meant a lot to the team got into a scrape. A dean asked John what he wanted to do about the boy. 'He violated the rules, didn't he?' John asked. 'Then pack him on home.' "

A more celebrated case involved Bobby Maples, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound All-Southwest Conference freshman quarterback who got married the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. Bridgers has a rule against marriages before the junior year, since he feels they interfere with school (not football). He will not encourage them by continuing scholarship aid and he refused to make an exception for Maples, even though a wealthy graduate offered to pay Maples' tuition. Alabama announced that Maples was transferring there, and the reaction from Waco practically broke the glass in Dr. McCall's office. Happily, Maples' parents relented when Bridgers would not. They agreed to pay for his school bills at Baylor.

?Even under severe pressure, Bridgers refuses to bench offenders when they make mistakes. "They're college boys," he says, "not paid professionals, and as long as I'm coach I'll make decisions and run this team."

?Bridgers insists on leaving the game to his players. " Coach Bridgers thinks initiative is part of playing football," says Trull. "He trains the quarterbacks to call their own game, then says they're on their own. I checked off more than 15 times in the Arkansas game [Baylor won 14-10 in what at the time was considered a huge upset] and from what he said later, I guess the coach was pleased."

?Finally, Bridgers gets along with the faculty. Dr. Ralph Lynn, professor of history, said: "I have been here since 1946 and Bridgers is the first coach we've ever had who came to graduation exercises. He's the first one to take part in the campus life in general. I remember when we'd get more than our share of thugs for football players. But John Bridgers changed all that. And he's changed my ideas about football not belonging on the college campus, too. He is my kind of coach."

The pros liked him, too

Surprisingly, these examples of Bridgersiana, which might strike some as naive, impressed professionals as much as they did the Baylor players. For two years, Bridgers was line coach with the Baltimore Colts. He had come from Johns Hopkins, the very much de-emphasized school (SI, Dec. 3, 1956), a fact that was a source of vast heavy-handed humor for the tough Colt linemen.

"I've played ball for an awful lot of coaches," jibed all-Pro tackle Art Donovan when Bridgers first appeared, "but never did I think I'd end up playing for a refugee from Johns Hopkins." Some players called Bridgers "Hopkins," but, like Donovan, they eventually respected him and regarded him with special affection. "Coaching is understanding," says Colt Tackle Jim Parker, "and John has lots of that. He's excellent. He always told you if you did a good job or a poor one, and you didn't have to wait around dying a slow death to get the word. If he asked me to come to Baylor to help him, I'd go, even if I had to pay my own way. He's that kind of guy."

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