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From SPORT ILLUSTRATED, August 29, 1966
THE TEAM I inherited when I went to Alabama in 1958 was a fat, raggedy bunch. The best players, the ones with the most ability, quit us, and recruiting was actually over, so we weren't going to get much for the following year except the boys Hank Crisp and assistant coach Jerry Claiborne had signed up earlier. But from that first day on you could tell this was a bunch of kids who were there with a purpose. I never had a group like that in my life.
I talked to each one of them individually, sat down and asked how they were doing and talked about their brothers and sisters, and visited. Other places I coached, Kentucky and Texas A&M, I just went in there and laid it on the line—we're going to do this and this, and either you're with me or you're gone. Well, I never had to do that at Alabama, and I don't know which is the best way, because we've won both ways. But I'll never forget that first meeting at Alabama.
I could just sense they were something special. I told them what I thought football should mean to them. I told them how I wanted them to conduct themselves, how to look, how I wanted them to act. Little things, like writing home to their mamas and papas, and smiling, and recognizing the contributions of others on the campus.
I told them that very first day about winning the national championship. Alabama had won four games in the last 36, and most of these kids were only 12 or 14 years old when Alabama was anything in football. But it was a school with a great tradition, and they were proud of it, which made winning a whole lot easier than it had been for me before. Our boys won three national championships and three SEC championships in the next eight seasons, went undefeated twice and played in seven bowl games.
As long as you know within yourself, and the guys with you know it, that you have confidence in the plan, you just know you are not going to fail. I never had a doubt about that. The idea of molding men means a lot to me. I'll tell you, it makes you feel like you've done right when a guy like Pat Trammell, who's a doctor now, stands up and says that you had more to do with influencing his life than anybody except his father.
I'm afraid I've hurt some of the others, but I've never asked anything of my players I wouldn't do myself. The truth is that if you really taught brutality and treated people as badly as people say I did, you'd never be able to get a good football player on your team. If you did, you wouldn't get anything out of him and you sure wouldn't win.
People ask me if I ever kicked a guy, and I say yes, I have. And if a boy lets me kick him and slam him around and he doesn't kick back, I've said I didn't want him. I'd demonstrate on a boy, show him how to block or do this or that and really let him have it, and then say, "Now you show me," and lots of times they'd belly up and really dehorn me. One boy did it and realized what he'd done and started running off, and I had to call him, "Hey, come back. You're my kind of player."
I think the boys respect you more when you show them you're willing to sacrifice as much as you want them to. I remember back when Pat James was playing for us at Kentucky and we were practicing down there at the Millersburg Military Academy. That was the first of our boot camps. The boys called it Hell Hollow. Anyway, I had a rule about being late for practice. You can't bend the rules for anybody, and one day Pat showed up late. When practice was over, I said, "Wait a minute, Pat. While you were dillydallying getting to work today, we had a kangaroo court and decided your punishment would be to go around and cover up all that mess out there."
We were in a cow pasture, and it was a formidable mess, too. He did. Well, the next day the trainer forgot to wake me or something, because I got there 20 minutes late, and when we headed in after practice, Pat says, "Uh, just a minute please, Coach Bryant. We had another kangaroo court while you were sleeping this morning. We decided your punishment would be to dig up all that mess, load it up and cart it off." I was out there two hours getting it done.