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The Dawning Of A New Day
John Underwood
September 19, 1983
Bear Bryant's successor as Alabama coach, Ray Perkins, gets off to a good early start in the demanding business of following a legend
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September 19, 1983

The Dawning Of A New Day

Bear Bryant's successor as Alabama coach, Ray Perkins, gets off to a good early start in the demanding business of following a legend

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THURSDAY

The woman at the campus bookstore is pouty-pretty, brunette and pregnant. She's the buyer for the section of the store where you can purchase memories for a discount. Bryant's image seems to be on everything there. The big numbers are framed prints of paintings of Bryant, one selling for $200. There are no pictures of Perkins, only two bumper stickers: IT TAKES A GIANT COACH TO FILL BEAR'S SHOES and THE TIDE JUST KEEPS PERKIN' ALONG. The pregnant woman says she can't offer any Perkins memorabilia because "he hasn't allowed it."

Perkins seems to have a golden touch. Sometimes the touch has been a rub the wrong way. Alabama has switched from Adidas shoes to Pony's for the new season. Perkins made the deal. Pony had provided shoes for the Giants when he coached them. The Wall Street Journal says Pony will give the shoes to Alabama and that coaches of the stature of Perkins might be paid more than $50,000 for the privilege.

When Perkins' agent, Robert Fraley, tells the sponsors of Bryant's television show, Coca-Cola and Golden Flakes Potato Chips, that the price to sponsor Perkins will be higher, almost triple Bryant's fee, Golden Flakes balks. The company president is an old Bryant crony, Sloan Bashinsky. When he balks too long, Perkins' agent signs on with a rival company, Frito-Lay. Bashinsky is angry. He has sponsored the Bryant show for 25 years. He openly criticizes Perkins. "The way he's doing business, he'd better win," Bashinsky says.

In his office after the morning coaches' meeting, Perkins watches a tape of his first television show. He will have two a week during the season, on Thursdays and Sundays, each 30 minutes long. The producer, a massive, sweating man with a black beard, is awaiting Perkins' approval. He suggests Perkins might like one of those fancy monitors to use himself. Perkins smiles and says yes, that it would make a nice "present."

In the Frito-Lay commercial break, Perkins appears to announce that the Alabama athletic fund will be given $50 for every point the Tide scores this season, a gift from the sponsor. One of the men he has invited in to see the show suggests Perkins had better check that out with the NCAA because there might be a rule against it. "If nothing else," the guest says, "it's sure to offend other coaches. The first time you win a game 45-0, they'll say you ran up the score for the money."

Perkins is immediately concerned. He asks Sam Bailey, his associate athletic director, to call the NCAA right away. "We probably ought to change that, regardless," Perkins says. "People who know me know I don't run up the score on anybody. But I can see where somebody might think so."

The producer asks Perkins if he'll need a van for the show on Saturday. "That's for you to decide," Perkins says. "I can't worry about vans. I don't want to think about vans. I've got Tech to think about."

When he leaves the office at lunchtime, he takes a drive into the country to "get away for a while." When he signed with the Colts in 1967, he used the bonus to buy 330 acres of Alabama farmland, at $87 an acre, and felt wed to the area for life. He's now on the board of directors of the First Alabama Bank (Bryant was on First National's), he belongs to the three Tuscaloosa country clubs, and McCollough is putting together an investment group for him. All that is secondary, Perkins says, to winning this first game. "It's the most important game I've ever played or coached in, including the Super Bowl. I've never wanted anything so badly in my life."

Namath is at the afternoon practice. He's in for the weekend at Perkins' invitation. He calls Perkins "Raymond" and tells the local press he is "perfect" for the job. Namath says he likes the fact that Alabama is switching back to a more diversified attack, with the quarterback passing more. "There are no wishbone quarterbacks playing in the NFL," he says.

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