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Paul Bryant
August 15, 1966
He fought a bear—and a lot more—in his youth. Still fearless, America's No. 1 college coach begins here the remarkably candid story of his turbulent rise to fame
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August 15, 1966

Part I: I'll Tell You About Football

He fought a bear—and a lot more—in his youth. Still fearless, America's No. 1 college coach begins here the remarkably candid story of his turbulent rise to fame

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Bear Bryant (see cover) is the most successful and controversial college football coach in the nation. His Alabama teams—aggressive on offense, ferocious on defense and conditioned in the boot camp that Bryant calls a practice field—have been national champions three of the last five years, have appeared in a bowl game in each of the last seven and, since Bryant arrived eight years ago, have won 69 games, lost 12 and tied six. Over a span of 21 years Bryant-coached teams at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama have won 160, lost 51 and tied 14. Born Sept. 11, 1913 in Kingsland, Ark., Bryant was an All-State football player at Fordyce High School and a three-year starter at Alabama, where he graduated in January of 1939. After naval service, he was named head coach at Maryland in 1945 and took the Terrapins to six wins in nine games that fall before moving on to Kentucky. In eight years under Bryant, Kentucky won 60, lost 23 and tied five, won three of four bowl games and a Southeastern Conference championship. Bryant went to Texas A&M in 1954 and coached the Aggies to a Southwest Conference title and, despite a disastrous first season, a 25-14-2 record in four years. He returned to Alabama in 1958—and in the last few years frequently has been urged to run for governor.

A lot of coaches want to know how you motivate a football team, how you make winners out of chronic losers. In one way or another everything I've done most of my life has been wrapped up in that question, but if I knew I wouldn't tell coaches that. I would tell them about my first season at Texas A&M. I never had a season like it. We lost nine games, and everybody was on us, and it was a matter of picking up the paper today and reading something a little bit nastier than what had been in there the day before. Talk about gut checks. We'd taken the team down to Junction to find out right off who the players were and who the quitters were, and the quitters had outnumbered the players three to one. I remember Mickey Herskowitz had come down to Junction for his paper, The Houston Post. Said his boss heard there was dissension on the squad, and he came to find out about it. I said, "Now, son, are you going to quote me on this?" He said, "Yessir." I said, "Well, you call your boss, and tell him I said if there isn't any dissension now there's damn sure going to be in a hurry, and I'm going to cause it." And he wrote it that way.

Anyway, eventually we got down to the end of the season and were getting ready to play SMU. The kids we had left then had been playing their hearts out every week, and every week I was afraid they were going to throw in. But they were hanging in there all the time, losing games by a point or two or a touchdown, and all the time winning the people and certainly winning me. Well, they'd been dead all week in practice before the SMU game, and I wondered, what could we do? What could we do? I'd run out of ways to motivate them. Elmer Smith, one of my assistants, said he remembered one time when he was playing for Ivan Grove at Hendrix College. Grove woke him up at midnight and read him something about how a mustard seed could move a mountain if you believed in it, something Norman Vincent Peale, or somebody, had written in a little pamphlet. It impressed me.

I didn't tell a soul. At 12 o'clock on Thursday night I called everyone on my staff and told them to meet me at the dormitory at 1 o'clock. When they got there, I said, O.K., go get the boys real quick, and they went around shaking them, and the boys came stumbling in there, rubbing their eyes, thinking I'd finally lost my mind. And I read 'em that little thing about the mustard seed—just three sentences—turned around and walked out. Well, you never know if you are doing right or wrong, but we went out and played the best game we'd played all year. SMU should have beaten us by 40 points, but they were lucky to win 6-3.

Several years after that, Darrell Royal called me from Texas. He was undefeated, going to play Rice and worried to death. Said he'd never been in that position before, undefeated and all, and his boys were lazy and fatheaded, and he wanted to know what to do about it. I said, "Well, Darrell, there's no set way to motivate a team, and the way I do it may be opposite to your way, but I can tell you a story." And I gave him that thing about the mustard seed. He said, by golly, he'd try it.

Well, I don't know whether he did or not, but I remember the first thing I wanted to do Sunday morning was get that paper and see how Texas made out. Rice beat them 34-7.

So if you ask me what motivates a team, what makes them suck up their guts when the going is tough, I'll tell you I don't have the answer, but I know for myself I've been motivated all my life. When we were losing at A&M—and I never doubted we would win with the boys we had left, never doubted that—the losing just made me get up a little earlier to get started the next day.

I still get up at 5 o'clock. At Alabama one morning at 7, I placed a call from my office to Shug Jordan or somebody at Auburn, and the girl said nobody was in yet. I said, "What's the matter, honey, don't your people take football seriously?" Everybody thought that was a nice joke, but I meant it.

At Kentucky I was always so keyed up I didn't know what it was to get to work in the morning without having to stop and vomit along the way. I've had some terrible gut checks, too, I'll tell you, and I've cried, literally cried like a baby, over some things. I cried from Houston all the way to College Station the night they put us on probation at A&M. I had to fire the best athlete I ever saw, Joe Namath, with two games to play at Alabama in 1963, both games on national television, and I cried over that. I cried like a big fat baby when I got up there in front of those Aggie players to tell them I was leaving to go to Alabama. And in private I've cried out of plain madness over the dirtiest journalism I've ever seen, when I had to defend myself and my program and my boys against the worst kind of lies.

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