THE LAST COACH: A LIFE OF PAUL (BEAR) BRYANT
by Allen Barra, W.W. Norton & Co. 546 pages, $26.95
A FIRE TO WIN
by John Lombardo Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin's Press, 304 pages, $24.95
A FOOTBALL coach has been described as a man willing to lay down your life for his team. At the same time, the best coaches inspire a love and loyalty that are--like the coaches themselves--fierce and surprisingly profound. That was certainly true of Alabama's Bear Bryant and Ohio State's Woody Hayes, obsessed geniuses who dispensed love and brutality with equal passion. Part of Bryant's genius was evidently an ability to conceal his true personality beneath his houndstooth-check hat. Crimson Tide fans will appreciate Barra's dogged devotion to the details of Bryant's career and his deconstruction of the myths that surround the man. ( Bryant did indeed get his nickname by wrestling a bear at the Lyric Theater in Fordyce, most likely when he was 14.) But at book's end Bryant's emotional life remains a mystery.
There was nothing mysterious about Woody Hayes's emotions. His tragic flaw was an inability to keep them in check. Though profusely generous (according to Lombardo, Hayes almost always donated his speaker's fees to charity), he will be forever remembered for his temper tantrums. In 1977 he was placed on probation for socking a cameraman in the stomach, and the following year he was fired for punching an opposing player. Lombardo's book, though fun to read and scrupulously fair, contains few surprises. Indeed, the great mystery of both Hayes and Bryant remains unexplored. At Hayes's funeral in 1987 Richard Nixon, an old pal, opined that the "real" Woody Hayes was not the "cold, ruthless tyrant on the football field" but "a warm-hearted softie." In truth, many great American coaches seem to have been schizoid mixes of tyrant and softie. It would be refreshing to read a biography explaining why this is so.