So you never really felt you had to sacrifice authority?
"Hell, no. My kids—listen. Maybe they don't pay as close attention, but if I had to start forfeiting authority they'd lose respect for me in a minute. That will never happen. Kids haven't changed that much. I'll tell you another thing that happened to us that was good. After the USC game two years ago, when they beat us so unmercifully, one of our players—and I'll never tell anybody who it was—came to me and said some of the seniors had lost confidence in me. He said it matter-of-factly; they'd had a meeting at the dorm and talked about it. Remember, this was the opening game of a new year and, as it turned out, a terrible year for us.
"I didn't fly off the handle. I just called them together to talk. I told them I'd heard about their meeting, and that I was disappointed because they hadn't come to me. If they had, maybe we could have accomplished something. There were about 12 seniors there, and I pointed to each one. 'Now,' I said, 'I'm going to tell you something. You're not dry behind the ears yet, and we've had teams here that won national championships and bowl games and everything else, and I want to make this plain. I'm going to give you one week. You can't do that with me, but I can with you. I'm going to give you one week, and if you aren't laying it on the line by then I'm going to fire you. Maybe I am old-fashioned. Maybe I'm past the ropes. But you better come talk to me first about it next time.'
"I got their attention that day, I'll tell you. I was so mad I was trembling. I don't remember who we played the next week, but we played a whole lot better, and it was a good thing. I'd have fired every one of them."
Are athletes just generally more rebellious and less responsive? Or what?
"Well, I may be wrong, but I think the American young person is getting over this rebellion thing. I think it's lost its glamour. I never had what you would call a 'rebellion.' We had those two bad years, when they wouldn't have bet their lives that what the old man was saying was right, but the only issue I had was that hair thing, and I didn't even know it. The big difference today is that kids are a lot more knowledgeable, and that's no revelation."
More knowledgeable about what?
"Everything—politics, money, life. Just knowledgeable. And the other thing is, and I don't mean this to be critical, but football doesn't mean as much to 'em. All I had was football, and I hung on because I didn't want to go back to Moro Bottom, Ark. picking cotton. That's the way it was for me, and up until seven, eight years ago that's the way it was for most of our players. But now. Their mamas and papas can make more on relief than we could working. All of them come from something, or 90% of them.
"The ones who will consistently suck their guts up and stick by you now are the blacks, because they don't have anything to go back to. And I'm just realizing that because I've only had them a couple years. Bo Schembechler [of Michigan] and I were talking about it. He said, 'A black won't ever quit you,' and I got to thinking the way it had been for me, and he's right, because I didn't have anyplace to go, and they don't now."
Do you have to have black players to win today?