It is the mark of John Ray that he makes his strongest contact at those points where the current flows direct—to his players and coaches. Ara Parseghian always said players "got sentimental" over John Ray. With them his technique is unbridled affection, huge hugs and loud cuffs on the helmet, and massive throaty exhortations, sometimes to praise, sometimes to embarrass, sometimes to threaten.
To his knowledge, Ray says, he has never had a boy who disliked him. He has tried hard to convince a few. He used to tell Alan Page of Notre Dame, "I'm going to make you a good one or a dead one," trying to shake the lazies out of him. Page said he was convinced he would be dead first, but he lived, and is gratefully residing today with the Minnesota Vikings.
Kentucky has had a history of discontented football players, players who ran from or were run off by the regimen. It's not necessarily a reflection on coaches; it is a matter of style. The style of some coaches is to decimate, to pare down, to strive for an elite group. Ray's style is to consolidate.
He has had a few players quit him but none at Kentucky. He has, in fact, regained a couple—one a starting halfback—who had quit his predecessor, Charlie Bradshaw, last year. His discipline for those who defy his rules has been swift enough to cause others to pause. Dick Palmer, the team's most valuable player last year, was suspended for three games for his involvement in a fight at an off-limits nightspot. Chastened, he hangdogs around the practice field waiting for the suspension to be lifted and praising Ray for the firmness and fairness of his action.
Phil Thompson, a senior end, gives the change in style an almost mystical quality.
"It seemed to rain an awful lot my first three years here," he says. "It seemed colder than it was. I remember how I hated spring practice. Now everything has changed. I wish I had it all to go through again."
It will happen that there will be breakdowns in communication before the season, John Ray's first at Kentucky, is over. There were more than a few in that first game with Indiana, and some auxiliary sloppiness along the way, but at least communication is established and a bond developing. Heroic stories are told around Lexington these days of the day John Ray came to work with a 104� temperature and stayed to the end. And how Assistant Coach Jim Poynter became so exercised in practice he dove for a loose ball and was almost buried by the defense.
And when they talk of that 58-30 game that opened the season, they may well remember it was also the day a Kentucky team lost by 28 points and did not draw a boo. That alone was enough to keep John Ray talking.