- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Well, you get older, and you're bound to do some things differently. Back then I probably beat our teams more than the opposition did. The thing is, if I had some of those teams I overworked now I might be able to get more out of them, or do it with a lot less punishment. Certainly after 21 years of coaching you should know a little more about pace. But you're never sure. Some of those boys we've got now don't know what it's like to be behind, to have to win in the fourth quarter when it's tough. And if you let them graduate without learning that, you've done them an injustice, because they're sure going to run into it in life. Coming from behind is a great lesson. I remember we were behind Georgia Tech 15-0 at the half in 1960, and our team came back and beat them 16-15. At Texas A&M in 1955 Rice had us 12-0 with three minutes and 27 seconds to play. And they had the ball. With a minute and seven seconds to play, we had them 20-12, and we had the ball on their four-yard line. That's what I call sucking up your guts.
It's been a long time since I called a team out of the showers and back onto the field, like I did that time at A&M with John David Crow when I said, "O.K., let's do it right." I take that back. We did have a little of the old style last year after we lost to Georgia in the first game. In the following week we weren't getting anything done, so I called a scrimmage. It was still no good, so I said, "That's all, gentlemen," and when they started to leave added, "but be on the field at six o'clock tomorrow morning, because we're going to get this thing done." I said, "You're here to go to school, to get an education, but you're also here to play football. It works both ways. You promised to give your best. Now, if you don't like this, go on home. Tomorrow morning you're going to give your best or you're going to quit."
Well, I didn't even tell the coaches whether there would be a meeting or not, but I knew I must have shook them up, too, because Dude Hennessey slept the whole night in the coaches' office. We came out there in the morning at six o'clock and, boy, I was praying we'd do well and nobody would get hurt. I flipped that ball out there, and they liked to knock the ends out of the stadium. Weren't out there more than 15 minutes. And I said, "Well, wasn't that fun?" and they all said yes. "Wasn't it ridiculous yesterday? You got to know how stupid it was to come out here and wallow around when you can do it like this and have people compliment you. You can have some fun, and then we can win." If we'd gotten somebody hurt I'd have died, but we didn't. And of course we didn't lose another game all year and beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl 39-28 for the national championship.
Well, that's the situation with a team. Individually it's a whole lot different, and you have to learn what makes this or that Sammy run. For one it's a pat on the back, for another it's eating him out, for still another it's a fatherly talk, or something else. I know I've sure missed on a lot of them.
I know one boy at A&M came and told me he didn't like the way I handled things, flat out didn't like my approach to the game and, I guarantee you, that opened my eyes. I don't say I would have done different, but I sure didn't feel very good about it. We lost some good boys when we first started at Alabama, too, and if football didn't mean enough to them, I was glad I found out, but the prospect of losing a boy now never enters my mind. We hardly get a loser anymore. I know so many in the past, if they'd known what I was thinking, what I had in mind—if I'd had the sense to tell them—they'd never have quit. And I know now, too, that some who quit didn't mean to. Like Richard Williamson, who is on my coaching staff right now. He missed practice one day and thought he would quit, but he was back the next day with his daddy. If I'd stuck to that thing about once a quitter always a quitter, I'd have lost a good one there.
Well, I've said how proud I've been of some of the boys who stuck with me, and I'm sentimental about them, I guess, because I've been the proudest when a boy had to take the most discipline and then came back and proved himself. But I guarantee you I never had a gut check over a boy like I had with Joe Namath. Joe was the best athlete I've ever seen. He's blessed with that rare quickness—hands, feet, everything—and he's quick and tough mentally, too. Anybody who ever watched him warm up could tell that football comes easy for Joe. If you know his background, though, you know life hasn't been so easy, and you know, too, why he wears those dark glasses and flashy clothes and sometimes acts a little brash.
Well, we were coming down to the end of the 1963 season. We had a game with Miami, then Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl, both on national television, and we had taken some time off. This woman came to a couple of my coaches and told them Joe and some of his friends were over in her store drinking. When I heard it I was sick. Nauseated. I checked with my people who were supposed to know, because I'd been hearing things all year, and they still hadn't heard it. I went to the dorm looking for Joe. I couldn't find him there and went into the dining room to have a cup of coffee. He came in and sat down with me and started talking about game plans. I said, "Joe, let's go back to my room. I want to talk with you."
I told him what I'd heard, and I said, "Joe, you know I'm going to get the truth, and I don't think you'd lie to me." He admitted it. I didn't know it for months, but there were others involved and they let him take the rap alone. Anyway, I told him to go see coach Sam Bailey, who would give him a place to stay, because I was suspending him from the team. He said, "How many days?" I said for the year, or forever, or until he proved something to me. I said, "I'll help you go somewhere else if you want to, or get in the Canadian league, or if you have enough in you to stay in school and prove to me this was just a bad mistake I'll let you back on the team next spring."
I went back and called the coaches together and told them my decision and asked if they had an opinion. Every darn one of them said let's do something to save him. Except one. Bebes Stallings just sat there and shook his head and said uh-uh. He said, "If it'd been me, you'da fired me, wouldn't you?" I said yeah. He said, "Well, let him go." I thanked the coaches and asked them to wait outside and told Sam to have Joe wait. I sat in there two hours. Oh, my, I cried, I did everything. Finally I called them back in, and called Joe in, and I said, "Joe, everybody in this room except one pleaded for you. But black is black and white's white. I'd give my right arm if I didn't have to do it, but if I didn't, I'd ruin you and ruin the team, too, eventually." I said, "You're suspended, and I don't give a damn what anybody in here says. You're not going to play. The university could change this decision if they wanted to, or I could. But if they change it, or I change it, I'll resign."
And I'll never forget, he said, "Aw, no, coach, I don't want you to do that."