I've had several opportunities to coach professional football teams, and I'm not going to fluff my feathers about that. But a lot of people have wanted to know why I didn't, or wouldn't, and I'd like to get the facts straight.
When I was at Kentucky in 1950 George Marshall, who got me my first job at Maryland and had been on my side a long time, wanted me to come coach the Washington Redskins. Actually it was the second time he'd asked me; the first time was so flattering because it came in October of 1948, right after we had lost three straight games. I told him then I wasn't old enough to talk back to some of his players, and I declined.
By 1950 he figured I was old enough. I met him in Cincinnati and then again in Washington, and I guarantee you what he laid on the line was tempting. He offered to sell me a percentage of the club and, since I couldn't afford it, he said he'd loan me the money. I was to be vice-president in charge of football at a salary a whole lot more than I was making.
Well, you never know. Maybe if he'd catered to Mary Harmon a little more, or maybe this or that. He offered her $20,000 to help buy a house if I signed, then he shooed her off to the department stores so we could talk. The two of us went and had dinner with Leo D'Orsay and Leo drew up the contract. I had him put in there that George couldn't have a telephone to the bench, couldn't come around there second-guessing and just about every other thing I could think of. But when it was done I backed out, and the two best reasons I can think of are these:
First, I have always been so highly motivated that a purely professional atmosphere, a straight-cash reason for playing or coaching football was foreign to me. I was used to coaching college boys, who I knew could be motivated, and I think sometimes I might have done better with high school boys for the same reason.
The second reason, the real clincher, was something George didn't say. I knew for sure I didn't want to be in a position to get fired, and pro coaches are not always the most permanent people in football. Consider what happened to Paul Brown. I said, "George, I want you to understand, I'm a big fan of Sammy Baugh's. I've known him for years and think he's wonderful. But suppose, just suppose, I didn't get along with Baugh, or someone of his stature, and I wanted to sell him. What then?" He said, "Aw, Paul, that won't ever happen." That's all he had to say. It might happen, and any team that has a coach who plays second fiddle to a player is not the team I want to work for.
One possible opening that kind of appealed to me at the time was at Green Bay before Mr. Emil Fischer died, before they got Vince Lombardi. I knew Mr. Fischer quite well through Don Hutson and used to see him down in Florida. He sent Babe Parilli to talk to me, but I wasn't really interested and it tailed off. During the last football season I had a friend of mine, John Plummer, call me from Atlanta. He said he was feeling me out for the people who had the Atlanta franchise and, when I realized what John was talking about, I said, "Listen, I appreciate your interest, but there isn't enough money in the U.S. Mint to get me into the same town with Furman Bisher." I said when I went to Atlanta I took my lunch bucket, because I didn't want to spend a dime there.
The real stingers, three of them in fact, have come in the last year from different groups, not offering me a job in pro football, you understand, but stock, long-term contracts, fringe benefits, a bunch of things. In the long run one offer would have amounted to around a million dollars. If something happened and I needed a lot of money in a hurry I might be tempted to go into pro ball, although I doubt I'd ever coach. I'd probably get one of my own to handle that, somebody like Parilli, or Blanda, or Walt Yaworsky, or Ermal Allen.
One of the groups wants to put a pro team in Birmingham and has applied for a franchise in the American Football League. They're all good friends of mine and friends of college football, but they think pro football in Birmingham is inevitable, and they're locals. If anybody gets it I hope it's them. Nevertheless, like I told this bunch, heck, I'm for the colleges, I'm on the other side.
I will say this. Pro football is a great thing for boys who are good enough and want to go on and play and make some money. I remember when I played at Alabama and got out of school, I was offered $115 a game to go with the Detroit Lions. Even that was more than I was worth. I knew it and turned the job down and took a coaching job for $1,250 a year, but that gives you an idea the difference between what they're getting now and what they weren't getting then. The point is, I like to see my boys make something, and professional football is a place to make it.