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Usually, though, it is just a matter of seeing a boy and seeing him again, and you keep seeing him until you win him. When you get down to it it's wrong, because the boy ought to go where he likes, and he shouldn't have a bunch of slick-talking salesmen influencing his life or selling him on something he doesn't want. If a boy wants to go to Auburn he should go there. If he wants to go to Alabama, the same thing.
But you take him and you wine and dine him and make a big fuss over him, and it takes a pretty solid kid to stand it. Then he gets to college and finds out he's just another guy. Last spring I had a daddy at scrimmage, and I could see he wasn't very happy. We'd gotten his boy when everybody in the country was after him, and there he was on the fifth team in this scrimmage. I made it a point to go over and tell the daddy how proud we were to have his boy at Alabama and that he was going to make it, never doubt that, and not to let the boy get discouraged. He must have passed on what I said, because on Monday the boy really perked up. It used to be I wouldn't take the time. I'd say, well, dadgummit, if he doesn't want to play, then take him on home.
Anyway, recruiting was a challenge to me. It was something new, and I got a kick out of it. One boy I helped get that first year, Sandy Sanford, won two games with field goals for Alabama and put us in the Rose Bowl in 1938. He was over in Russellville, Ark., at a junior college, and I went with Coach Red Drew to try to change his mind about going to the University of Arkansas. We talked and talked, and it was no use. It got to be 10:30, and Coach Drew said he was going back to the hotel. I wasn't satisfied. I went back to the dorm and up to Sandy's room. He wasn't in, so I waited, and when he didn't show I curled up in his bunk. About 2 a.m. he finally came in, and by 3:30 we were trying to work some math problems so he could turn in a paper he needed to graduate. I already had him talked into coming to Alabama, but I still had to get him out of there before those Arkansas people showed up, and I didn't know a thing about math. Then I had to take him to tell his mama and daddy. It was during the 1937 flood, and going over there we hit a place in the road where it was Hooded, and the car went dead. We had to push it to get out, and it was cold as a moneylender's heart. We still made it back to the hotel at 8 o'clock, just about the time Coach Drew and another recruit, "Pig" Davis, were walking out of the dining room after breakfast. They didn't know I had Sanford. Drew stood there in the lobby and lit up a cigar and said, "No sense hanging around, better be on our way." I just nodded. I was dying to tell him. They went out to the car and there sat Sanford. Coach Drew almost swallowed his cigar.
I remember when they first started calling me a great recruiter. I had gone up to Vanderbilt in 1940 to coach under Red Sanders, and there was a boy over at Benton, Ark. named J.P. Moore. Great prospect. Six-footer, won the sprints. Red had the boy sold, but he was afraid J.P.'s parents wanted him to stay close to home. I went in there, and I practically lived at his house. His mother really took to me, a big old Arkansas country boy, and I'd be in the back room eating cake while coaches from other schools were visiting in the living room.
The day J.P. was going to graduate from high school I was standing back in the kitchen eating cake, his stuff packed in my car ready to go, when his mother looked up at J.P. and got that forlorn look on her face and said, "Oh, my baby boy." I just about threw up. I could see my whole deal ruined and Red firing me. But when J.P. came down that aisle he walked right out of the auditorium with me, past those other coaches, who stood there dying, and took off for Vanderbilt.
The point is, you learn mighty quick you have to have the chicken to make chicken salad. And you have to learn to recognize a winner. I was a long time getting to that point, but when I finally got my first head coaching job I made sure right away that I'd have some football players with me.
I had been in the Navy during the war and was coaching the team at the North Carolina Pre-Flight School. A real good bunch of boys. Men, actually. Late in 1945, when I was trying to speed up my discharge, I went to Chicago for the All-Star Game and was having dinner with Hutson, who was playing for the Packers against the All-Stars. George Marshall of the Redskins was there, and we went out on a mezzanine to talk. He wanted me to come to work for him. I told him I had already turned down assistant coaching jobs at Alabama and Georgia Tech. He said, "What the hell do you want, a head coaching job?" I said, "Well, yessir." He said, "Why didn't you say so?" Mr. Marshall left and came back in a few minutes and told me to get up to my room, because there'd be a call for me. I went on over to the Palmer House, and when I walked in my room the phone was ringing and a voice said, "This is Curly Byrd, president of the University of Maryland. Are you interested in being my football coach?" I said I sure was. This was Thursday night. The All-Star Game was the next night, so I said, "How would Saturday be?" He said, "Young man, if you want this job be in my office in the morning at 8." I was there at 8, and air travel wasn't what it is today.
Well, I didn't get my discharge until five days before Maryland's first game, but we took 17 players and two managers from our Pre-Flight team with us, and they were the heart of the squad. Gave each one of them a full scholarship, which actually meant a double scholarship because of the GI Bill, and that meant extra money for them. You can't do that today, of course. I took Carney Laslie and Frank Moseley and an All-Conference center from Rice named Ken Whitlow to be my assistants, along with Herman Ball, who was already there, and we moved into a place George Washington had slept in. It was 1945, and everything was jammed. Mary Harmon and the children stayed in Birmingham. I remember, right across the street was this hamburger stand, and we ate hamburgers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Maryland won only one game the year before, and our boys went out that year and won six and really lost only one. I threw another one away with my poor coaching, and I tied one with poorer coaching. We wound up real good, upsetting Virginia and then South Carolina. But two nights before the Virginia game the campus police told me one of my tackles, a real big guy, had been seen the night before in a beer joint. We only had three tackles on the squad, but I fired this one the next day.
Well, in the meantime I found us a house and went to Birmingham for Christmas, and when I got back to get things settled so the family could come to College Park two things happened that blew everything up. The president had fired Herman Ball. Straight out fired him without telling me a thing. And when I went over to the office I saw this big tackle I had fired going up the dormitory stairs, and I asked why he was still here. "Well, the boss just took him back," somebody told me. The boy's daddy, he said, was a politician.