Bryant sat up, pulling a broad-brimmed straw hat down over his eyes.
"First of all," he said, "with two-platoon football you have too many. In the days players went both ways you could take two assistants and coach nine teams. I actively coached myself. When Lee Roy was playing I'd be out there sweating and grunting and butting with 'em, and they believed what we were doing would win. I don't do that anymore and I miss it and consequently I don't do as good a job. I'm up on that tower most of the time. If things go bad I come down and make something happen, but you can't throw a fit once a month, go down and shake somebody, and impress 'em very much. They think, who the hell is this? You're like a shower coming down. Just wait and it goes away. If you're in the trenches with 'em every day, they'll do anything you want. Ten, 15 years ago, nobody had any doubts. Now if I say, 'Do this and we will win,' I'm not sure they believe it. Communication. You got to have it to win, and when you lose, too, so you can hold 'em in your hand."
Your players don't talk to you anymore?
"They only come see me now when they've got a real big problem. It used to be they'd come with any kind of problem, big or small. John David Crow, Lee Roy Jordan, Charlie Krueger—they'd come by just to visit. A couple years ago we had a group of freshmen that hadn't done a thing, just wallowed around. I went around to lay the law down and I gave 'em an ultimatum: 'You got 10 minutes, either get right or be gone.' They decided to stay. I said all right, if you have any more problems come see me. And this one freshman said, 'Coach, the only reason I came to Alabama was you, and this is only the second time I've ever seen you.' Well, don't you know how low that made me feel? He's still around, and he sees more of me now, too, and I know who he is, you can bet on that. I'm not going to be so far removed.
"I'll tell you another story. Last year we played Florida, one of the greatest games any team ever played. We won 38-0. When we got out to the airport afterward, the doggone plane wasn't there. Our kids could have been home and out enjoying themselves, but there we were standing around in that heat, and I was so mad. Well, I don't know why—it was Mary Harmon's idea, really—but I went around and said, 'When we get back, if you don't have anything better to do, bring your wives or your dates and come over to our house. We got a new pool with AstroTurf all around, and Mary Harmon will cook up something.' I expected a handful but a bunch of 'em came. I was inside having a drink and listening to a game and they were around the pool, and one by one they started coming in until they were all in there, laying around like little pigs, listening to the game with me. I think it was one of the best times I ever had."
So college players really haven't changed so much after all?
"They've changed, and I've changed. Never doubt that. For example. I let them wear their hair long. Used to be, I'd have personally jerked it out by the roots if a kid wore long hair. But I'd seen ex-President Johnson with long hair, and Darrell Royal, and when I had that meeting with the freshmen a couple years ago I told 'em, 'Go 'head, let your hair grow, just keep it neat.' And the very next day this one big old boy came to visit, like I'd asked 'em to, and he said, 'Coach, that thing you did yesterday about the hair was the greatest thing that's ever happened.' I said, 'What?' I couldn't believe it. It never dawned on me that a kid's hair could be that important. If I'd known. It made an impression on him, but it made a bigger impression on me. If hair means that much to these kids, I wasn't going to raise too much hell about hair.
"I don't think I ever lost my guts during that period but I gave in a lot, and I'm glad I did because anything that important to the kids is important. We were 6-4, 6-5, and then last year 11-0, and if I had to have a problem now I'd probably say, 'Go on home, we can win without you.' If you're 11-0 they believe you a little more. But it was good for me to learn how important things were to them, things I thought were small.
"The hair's gotten to be a joke now. They kid me about it over at the dorm. 'Coach, your hair's getting awfully long.' "