But football has never been just a game to me. Never. I knew it from the time it got me out of Moro Bottom, Ark.—and that's one of the things that motivated me, that fear of going back to plowing and driving those mules and chopping cotton for 50� a day. I remember that first year I was coaching at Kentucky and we were trying to determine which boys the game meant a lot to. It was difficult, because so many were just coming out of the service. That first year we played and beat Cincinnati, which had beaten Indiana—the Big Ten champion the year before—and I didn't know how a team was supposed to act before a game. But I knew this bunch was really fired up, really motivated. I looked around the room, and I had a kid in there who had been a prisoner of war for about three years and another who had fought on Iwo Jima, and I got to thinking about it, looking around, and I said to myself, hell, here are all these guys and me who never fought anybody, and I know if they can get so emotionally worked up over a game of football after what they've been through, then football must be something pretty good.
I believe that football can teach you to sacrifice, to discipline yourself. Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech has been quoted as saying some supertough coaches have found they can take a group of lesser boys, an inferior team, and beat a superior team by supertough conditioning. He's right about that, and I'm flattered if I fall in that category. Some teams get all those big, fine, wonderful athletes, and the boys play about 75%, and teams that live tough and play tough and are dedicated beat their fannies seven out of nine times, which our boys have done with Georgia Tech. Has anybody thought to ask the boys if it was worth it?
I've tried to teach sacrifice and discipline to my coaches and my boys, and there were times I went too far and asked too much and took out my mistakes on them. I've made mistakes, a lot of stupid mistakes. I know that. I lost games by overworking my teams, and I lost some good boys by pushing them too far, or being pigheaded.
I'm older now, and not as dumb, I hope, and some things I would do differently because I know better, but that doesn't change my mind about the value of hard work.
Listen, does your boy know how to work? Try to teach him to work, to sacrifice, to fight. He better learn now, because he's going to have to do it some day. Lloyd Hale was a sophomore on that first team we took to Junction, and he asked me one time what I meant by "fight." Well, I don't mean fistfight, like we used to do back in Arkansas, I told him. I mean, some morning when you've been out of school 20 years and you wake up and your house has burned down and your mother is in the hospital and the kids are all sick and you're overdrawn at the bank and your wife has run off with the drummer what are you going to do? Throw in?
Well, like I say, I've done some stupid things and made some stupid decisions. I quit Kentucky because I got a mad on and made up my mind it just wasn't big enough for me and Adolph Rupp, and that was sure stupid.
I can tell you a lot about quitters. I used to have a sign at Kentucky: BE GOOD OR BE GONE. Jerry Claiborne used to say he had a different roommate every day. I don't have that sign anymore. Don't believe it's necessary now, because I don't believe you can categorize every boy who quits football as a quitter. For some it's just a matter of finding other interests, just like switching courses. But, from the time I played at Alabama until a few years ago, I believed that if you weren't a winner, if the game didn't mean enough to you, you'd probably wind up quitting. So I've laid it on the line to a lot of boys. I've shook 'em, hugged 'em, kicked 'em, and embarrassed them in front of the squad. I've got down in the dirt with them, and if they didn't give as well as they took I'd tell them they were insults to their upbringing, and I've cleaned out their lockers for them and piled their clothes out in the hall, thinking I'd make them prove what they had in their veins, blood or spit, one way or the other, and praying they would come through.
Well, you never know. When I was at Alabama I quit one time, and Coach Hank Crisp went to where I was staying and brought me back.
After a while I got to sulking around again, threatening to quit. Coach Hank was Frank Thomas' assistant, and he was more what I am, a field coach. I'm not much on the blackboard, but I can coach on that field. Or could. My assistants do all the coaching now.
Anyway, I was big-dogging around, talking about quitting and going to LSU, and Coach Hank sent for me. He was down there where we had our equipment, and he had my trunk out. I had this big old country trunk. Don't know why, because I didn't have enough clothes to fill one-fourth of it. But he had the plowline out and said, "I hear you want to leave. Well, dammit, I want you to leave, and I'm here to help you and see that you do. Come on, let's get that plowline out and tie this trunk up and get your tail out of here."