"That's not a fair question because football is my life. No in-between, no compromise. It's my life. Football is different things to different people. For everybody I know it's something to tie to. Everybody can't tie to an English class. Everybody can tie to a football team. The results are right there to see, and a lifetime of work comes down to that. Every football game you see represents a whole lot of preparation, all the way back to the parents, when a player's a boy, and on into high school and beyond, and a lot of people have something to do with it. The equipment man, the man who mows the grass, the fans, everybody. It touches so many people. I don't know why—whether it's because it's a contact sport or what—but it gets hold of people. In this state you better be for it or you might as well leave.
"The beautiful thing about it, for me, is this. Three years ago I was ready to leave, to accept that offer with the Miami Dolphins. Thank heavens I didn't, but I was ready. I tried to resign. Dr. Mathews [Alabama's president] wouldn't have any part of it. He said, 'Paul, I'm a young guy'—he's only about 36—'and I've got all these young administrators. You're the last guy I got to hang my hat on.' You know, the old man. The significance of it didn't hit me then, but when it did I realized a few things. If the Good Lord gives me these next couple years of free breath, I'm going to have an interest in anything that happens at the University of Alabama, in any area, and you can put that in your book."
But there are many exceptions to administrations like your own. There are those who are, to say the least, unenthusiastic about football and its exalted position on the college scene, and others who have even done away with the program, or reduced it to insignificance.
"I don't know those kinds. You're talking about administrators I don't run into. But you can put this in the book, too: at Alabama they are never going to mark football down, whether I'm there or not. They're sure as hell not as long as I'm living or have something to do with it. The only president who's ever been fired at Alabama was against football. Any new president cuts his teeth on it, and he better be for it because if he's not they won't win, and if they don't win he'll get fired.
"I don't know how other administrators feel. I do know what a sorry position some of them would be in without a football program. At Alabama we've made a ton. This year alone we've sold over $2 million worth of tickets. The program is self-sustaining. We don't get any of the taxpayers' money. Football supports all the other sports. The Coliseum cost about $4.8 million and that is being paid for entirely by athletic funds. We gave the university $500,000 to raise faculty salaries. We gave 'em another $200,000 for something else, I forget what, and a pledge of $100,000 a year, just gave 'em that. Oh, and we advanced the money [about $700,000] for two airplanes that all the departments use. Outside of that, I can't think of a thing football has done for Alabama."
How close did you come to taking the Miami Dolphin job?
"I'd already taken it, with the provision that I could get out of my Alabama contract. I had my lawyer rewrite the Dolphin contract, and we put everything in there I could think of [total value: about $1.7 million]. Most important thing was $10,000 for Mary Harmon to go back and forth home during the season. I don't know how many times I talked with [Dolphin Owner] Joe Robbie. Twenty maybe. I went down and looked at the Jockey Club where I'd be living, and I had Namath go over the personnel with me, man for man. We were talking casually and I said, 'Joe, who's the best young quarterback in the league?' 'Griese.' 'Who's the best running back?' 'Csonka.' I said, 'C'mon, boy, I want to talk to you.' We went to my apartment, closed the door, and I took Joe into my confidence. He said, 'Shoot, Coach, you could win there left-handed.' I called Howard Schnellenberger—he was with the Rams then, but he's with the Dolphins now and he played for me at Kentucky and coached for me at Alabama—and he gave me the same answers. I thought, 'Boy, if I can't win with this I oughta be in jail.'
"But then it came down to the final decision, and I couldn't do it. I went before President Mathews and the Alabama board of trustees—I went to school with all of them except one—and we talked. Someone, I believe Red Blount, said, 'Well, if that's what you want to do, go on, if you can get us a good 'un.' I said, 'What are you talking about, good 'un?' He said, 'Well, he has to be under 46...'and he started naming off the qualifications, and I could only think of four. One was Darrell Royal and another was John McKay. I knew Darrell wasn't going to leave Texas, so I called McKay at USC; he was coming to be with us the next day in Mobile, anyway. I thought he was interested. He said we could talk about it then, and I said, 'This can't wait, John, this has to be settled in the next hour.' And, of course, it was.
"The next morning about six, I called President Mathews. I said, 'Is it too early for you to have a cup of coffee?' He was laughing. He said, 'I been up an hour myself.' I went to his office and I said, 'You know, you're the smartest young fellow I ever saw. Darned if you're not right,' and I started laughing. 'I can't get anybody good as me.'
"That night Mary Harmon and John and Corky McKay and I met in Mobile for the Senior Bowl game, and we went out to the airport to meet someone, and who gets off the plane but Joe Robbie. He's slipping around, looking like a gangster, and he says, 'You want to listen to a new deal?' I said, 'Aw, c'mon, Joe, I'm sorry and I apologize, but I'm not interested in more money. I just can't do it. So just c'mon and be one of us and have a good time.' And he joined us and stayed there a day with those Alabama people, having a time.