Back deeper out of respect for Joe?
What about Namath? Everybody has heard the stories: how close you two are, how he still calls you "Coach" out of respect, never "Bear" or "Paul." Also that you kicked him off the Alabama team in 1963, then took him back. What about all that?
"To begin with, we lucked into him. Howard Schnellenberger knew his brother, and we lucked into Joe on the last day. And of course when he came here from Beaver Falls, Pa. it was all new to him, our program, the South. His background was a lot different from anything he saw here. It took him awhile to adjust. He was a loner at first. But one thing about him to this day, he's always been a very loyal person. When he got into trouble with us, there were other players involved, but we didn't know it then, and I remember walking across the campus with Joe one night, telling him it wasn't much good having friends who let you take the punishment alone, and he said he couldn't say anything about it because they were his friends.
"I hadn't seen him play until he came to Alabama, but when he went onto the field anybody could tell he had class. The best athlete I've ever seen. He could run, he could play defense. He could play baseball, basketball, anything. He was just blessed. And one thing that helped him here was that he came at a time when we had tremendous leadership, the best I've ever seen—Pat Trammell was our senior quarterback when Joe was a freshman, and that year we won our first national championship. There were great carry-over leaders: Jordan and Sharpe and Bill Battle and Richard Williamson and others. So many. I think that helped Joe.
"In those days I ate lunch every day with my quarterbacks. I got to know 'em. But if I'd done a better job I don't think I'd ever have had to discipline Joe. As it turned out, being dismissed from the team before the last game of the season probably helped him, because he was a better man after that, and I think this: he doesn't feel I was wrong what I did or we wouldn't be warm friends now. He could have gone to Canada; I told him I'd recommend him. But he stayed and paid the price. I don't know how close he came to doing something else, but after we played in the Sugar Bowl that year he was the first one outside the dressing room when we came out. The next season he was voted co-captain, and got every vote but one, which had to be his own. That must have meant something to him."
Has the Joe Namath that played for you, and the Namath that makes the headlines and gossip columns now, been good for football?
"The Namath I know has. To me he's still the same. When he comes to Alabama, the first person he goes to see is Jim Goostree, the trainer, and then the equipment man, and the other people who meant something to him. He never misses. Mary Harmon is crazy about him. The Namath I know isn't the Namath I read about in the papers these days. And, of course, some knowledgeable people say he saved the American Football League."
From a college coach's viewpoint, was it worth saving? Competition for fan support being as cutthroat as it is?
"There has to be a place for both, because you can't destroy one without destroying the other. Certainly, in some areas where there are just so many entertainment dollars it's a bad situation—like the San Francisco area, where there's so many teams, and the Athletics with a heckuva record and they can't draw flies. Just so many entertainment dollars. But I'll tell you this. Winning is always popular. USC has drawn extremely well in Los Angeles despite the competition because they win.