When I try to put my finger on it I can't say exactly why I left Kentucky, but one thing I want to make clear. I never tried to get Bernie Shively's job as athletic director, and the athletic directorship had nothing to do with what you could call a clash of objectives between me and Adolph Rupp. I guess, to be perfectly honest about it, that was the crux of the matter, me and Coach Rupp. If Rupp had retired as basketball coach when they said he was going to I'd probably still be at Kentucky. The trouble was we were too much alike, and he wanted basketball No. 1 and I wanted football No. 1. In an environment like that one or the other has to go.
I got this picture in my den of Bud Wilkinson laughing at a banquet over a story I told about that time we won the SEC championship at Kentucky, the only time a Kentucky football team ever has. Rupp had won it in basketball for the umpteenth time, and they gave him a great big blue Cadillac with whitewall tires, and I said at this banquet, "And here's what I got." And I held up this little old cigarette lighter. Well, when the thing came to a head I remembered that cigarette lighter, and I knew I was too far behind to ever catch up.
Adolph and I are real close now, and I honestly think a lot of him. I still like to listen to him, all that talk of his, and down inside he's just like I am. He's just going to win, see, and although we never had any words or anything, I suppose it was a clash of objectives. I know we respected each other as coaches. I think he's the best there is in basketball. I know he did something I'll never forget. I'd gone to A&M and lost nine games that first year, the only losing season I ever had, and we were doing a clinic together in Utah. There were newspapermen there, and Adolph got up and with that Kansas twang of his said, "I want to tell you gentlemen something. Paul Bryant over there was at Kentucky, and he left us for a lot of money. You think he's down a little bit now, but I'll tell you, he will win. He will win. And you gentlemen in Texas who are playing him, he will run you right out of the business. Five, 10 years from now he will be the top man, make no mistake about it, and don't forget Uncle Adolph told you." He sure didn't have to say that, but, boy, I appreciated it. Practically every paper in Texas picked it up, and a whole lot of eyebrows were raised.
Well, I tried to resign in '52, after Kentucky had that basketball scandal, and go to Arkansas, but they flat out wouldn't release me. I was afraid the scandal would hurt our football program. Some people in Arkansas thought I was just using them to get a better deal, but that's not true. A year later Bernie Shively and I were going down to the conference meeting at Birmingham, and when we changed planes in Louisville I picked up a paper, and there it was. Rupp was not retiring at all and Dr. Donovan was saying how pleased he was. That did it. I made up my mind to go. I'd been led to believe Adolph was going to retire, and I'm glad now he didn't, he's meant so much to basketball. Well, the only offer I had open then was from Texas A&M, and I took it.
I went off and left Kentucky with the second best squad I ever had. Blanton Collier came in there the next year and had a winner. We had the new home and all those goodies, and it broke Mary Harmon's heart. Worse than that, when she got off the plane at College Station, Texas she turned white.
Texas A&M is a great educational institution with rich traditions, but at that time it was the toughest place in the world to bring players to because nobody wanted to go there. Don Meredith told me before he went to SMU, "Coach, I'd love to play for you if you were only someplace else."
At first glance A&M looked like a penitentiary. No girls. No glamour. And those darn Aggies make the worst enemies there are. You get two of them together and you get big talking. They are proud of that school, you better believe it. I nearly died when I saw what I was getting into. I remember what Dr. Tom Harrington, the chancellor, told me. He said, "Paul, this place will grow on you," and he was right.
Well, I want to get into tough football and hard work—what some coaches call "brutality"—in more detail later, but I tell you that first year was brutal. We could hardly get anybody to come to A&M, and I think some of our alumni went out and paid a couple of boys. We did get hundreds of high school coaches in there to watch our practices and to sell prospects on our program. That was important, because a good high school coach does more real coaching and recruiting than anybody.
Now they've got an athletic dormitory with a swimming pool and everything, but then life was really Spartan. If you got a boy into A&M, and you kept him there, you could get more out of him, because there was nothing to do except study and play football and maybe go to some little old Mexican joint across the street for a bowl of chili.
The players who were with us at A&M took pride in how tough it was. They sit around now, laughing and lying and telling big stories. We took two busloads of boys down to our training camp at Junction in September—that's when it's toughest because it's so hot—and there wasn't more than half a load that came back. The food was good, but the facilities were so sorry, those old Quonset huts. Just looking at the place would discourage you. And, oh, it was so hot. We used to practice at 5 o'clock in the morning just to beat the heat.