I had a mad on for the other coaches in the conference because they were out to get me. I thought there was a lot of hypocritical stuff going on. I made up my mind early I was going to beat them or kill myself trying. I hated all of them. They tried to get me thrown out of the conference, and I felt that they were making a whipping boy out of me. Looking back and knowing how much we shook that conference up—it took a lot to swallow the idea of losing to A&M—I have to admit I'd probably have done the same thing in their position.
I know now we should have been put on probation. I know, too, I was not just trying to justify it in my mind when I said that if we were paying players, then other schools were doing it twice as bad, which some were. I'm not going to go soft on that point. I'm not sure how many of our boys got something. I guess about four or five did. I didn't know what they got, and I didn't want to know, but they got something because they had other offers and I told my alumni to meet the competition. Well, Bob Manning and Tom Sestak, who is still playing in the pros, signed affidavits that they got $200 to sign and $50 a month over tuition. Coaches from Baylor and Texas helped them file.
I have never thought you could have a bunch of hired football players. Maybe you can have two or three or four getting something extra. I've had them, but you can usually tell one of them a block away, the way he goes about things, the way he puts out. If an alumnus working such-and-such a place finds he's losing a boy he might give him something, but he'll usually tell you, too, because he wants you to know what he thinks he's doing for you. It's mighty hard to turn something down if you've never had anything, I can understand that, and it's hard for the parents, too. At A&M I don't know whether we'd have won or not without paying players, but I'll say this, most of the kids didn't play like they got something.
After we got put on probation I told our people—our alumni, everybody—if there was any doubt in my mind about a boy getting something, we weren't going to play him. I'll never forget a boy we signed right after that. There was a question in my mind about him, because my wife got close to the family and the mother confided in her what another school had offered. I called the alumnus in that area and told him, "Don't lie to me, don't put me on the spot. If that boy's getting something I want to know it." He swore he wasn't. Well, the day I left A&M he was riding me out to the airport. He said, "Bear, remember the time you questioned me about that boy, and I told you I didn't give him anything?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, I told you a damned lie."
When I came to Alabama in 1958 I told the people here we wouldn't cheat, that we wouldn't violate the rules or let anybody else do it, and we'd adhere to the spirit of the rules, which we have, and our kids know it. When we played certain teams and they had boys who had wanted to come to Alabama, I'd tell my kids that the only reason they weren't with us was that they were getting something, but I believed the game meant more to our boys than it did to them. I always try to point out to the good ones who get offers that the money, or the automobile or whatever it is that jeopardizes their chances, won't be anything later on to compare with an education. Since coming to Alabama I've had some of my people beg to buy players who they thought were being offered something somewhere else, and if I were a young coach starting out I might give in, but I'm not going to do it now. I don't have to, and if I had to I wouldn't.
Anyway, we were at Houston in May of 1955 for the league meeting when the affidavits came to my desk. Jim Owens, who coaches Washington now, was with me, and the night before the story broke we had our meeting of athletic directors. I wanted to talk about this thing, but all those guys wanted to do was play cards. Howard Grubbs of the SWC, who's a good fellow and does a good job but then was just on the wrong side, said, "We can't discuss any business here tonight." I said, "Well, I want to," and he said, "We can't, period."
So we played cards all night long—D.X. Bible, Matty Bell, Dutch Meyer, Jess Neely and John Barnhill. George Sauer played awhile, but he was scared the Baptists would catch him and he quit. At 8 a.m. we broke up, and John Barnhill of Arkansas and I went down to breakfast to have some cereal. Barney leaned over and said, "Bear, they got you. They're going to cut your guts out. Now you know what's been going on for years, but they got you now and they're going to stick it to you and you just gotta face it."
So I went up to my room with Owens, and it was already on the radio and TV and everything: A&M is going on a two-year probation for recruiting violations. The league had already had its meeting and decided it, and the athletic directors knew it even before we sat down to play cards. Our athletic committeeman hadn't told me, he'd just gone on home. Well, Jim drove, and I cried all the way back to A&M. At 6 o'clock I had to make a speech, and I got up and said something about when the going is tough the tough get going, and I was tough and a going son of a gun, and I started crying again, and the Aggies went wild.
We never got to the Cotton Bowl during my four years at A&M because of that probation thing, but we went undefeated and won the conference championship in 1956 and we beat Texas for the first time at Memorial Stadium in Austin. And I tell you, there were a lot of wonderful people who stuck with us all the way, people they call "Aggie Exes." Mr. Zachry and Herman Heep let me use their private planes, and Mr. Heep cut me in on an oil deal that I'll be getting checks from for years to come—not very much money but a thoughtful gesture. I still have investments with Johnny Mitchell, who was a great help to our program. The fact is, I never made the money people thought I did in Texas. I lost on the two apartment houses I built, and I made some poor investments. After we won the championship they wanted to give me a bonus. I said, no, just buy my house, which they did for about a $10,000 profit, which let me pay long-term, capital-gains tax. Another thing, too, they put in my contract that I would get a percentage of the gate for our 1957 home games. I don't think any coach ever got that kind of deal before or since.
W.T. (Doc) Doherty was probably more upset than anybody when I left. He was a fine man and was probably most responsible for my being there. He had me on his company payroll, and we were really close. When I told him I was leaving he couldn't understand it. "What do you want? What do you want?" I said it wasn't the money. I heard he got real bitter after that and made statements that the way I left was absurd, that I didn't treat them right. I wrote him a letter thanking him for all he had done and trying to explain how I felt, but I never received an answer.