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Still, no bigger school would touch Bull Cyclone. The word that traveled before him was that he was a thug, the meanest football coach that ever walked the land. Buckner remembers getting an offer to play quarterback at a major school "up north in Virginia." The backfield-coaching job was vacant, and he said he'd come if Bull Cyclone was hired. Buckner tried to explain what a genius the man was. The head coach told him to save his breath. "Hey, I'm afraid of that man," he said.
Clois Cheatham, who is now the president of Scooba, shakes his head. "Off the field, no one was more compassionate," says Cheatham. "But the name was right. He was bullheaded, and he couldn't always make the right transition to others after dealing with players."
At Perkinston J.C., they used to fire a cannon right behind the visitors' bench to stir up the crowd. Bull Cyclone, who could still get nervous when he heard loud noises—"You didn't sneak up on Dad," Bobbie says—protested to the president of Perkinston, but the reply came back that the cannon was "tradition." Bull Cyclone then wrote that "my managers and I will bring double-barreled shotguns to Perkinston, and if there is one tradition I learned in the military it was to retaliate." The president agreed to silence the guns of Perkinston. And so the tales of rough, tough Bull Cyclone spread, and Stumpy Harbour simmered.
By now, too, Bull Cyclone had been pretty much his own football boss for a long time. Maybe he never could work well under someone else. Virginia recalls sitting in the press box with Bull when he was a lowly assistant at Oregon. Over the phone he kept imploring Whistlin' Jim Aiken to employ a certain strategy. After a while, when the head coach didn't. Bull Cyclone just sat back, folded his arms and watched the game, refusing to answer the phone for the balance of the half.
Without question he would have delighted in a larger stage, for even his family agrees that he loved recognition. But he had to learn to take refuge in his pride. "He knew he was a great coach," Bobbie says, and that had to be enough for him. Besides, he had come to believe that Scooba was his destiny, that that little stretch of nothing on the one hand and pu'pwood on the other was his realm. That was where he would teach football players to be men, and everybody else he could to be patriots and Christians. If the world was changing, at least the gridiron was a rectangular verity.
Around campus he came to be an amalgam of Mr. Chips and Mister Roberts. This image was heightened by his disputes with Stumpy. "If I agreed with Harbour on anything it was unintentional," Bull Cyclone later wrote. Once during a cold snap, many of the school's pipes burst. The campus had no water and the toilets didn't work, but Harbour wouldn't cancel school. Eventually Bull Cyclone persuaded him otherwise. Sullivan became even more of a hero. Some came to think that the roughest, toughest football coach in creation might make a terrific college president. Insecure little Stumpy, literally in the big man's shadow, envious of his esteem, now imagined a rival to his throne.
In 1967, The Lion, the Scooba yearbook, was dedicated to Bull Cyclone, with this inscription: "We respect your strong will, strength and spirit. We admire your nature, loyalty and competence. You are just, you are fair, you are great." The coach who had spent a lifetime hewing grown-ups out of pu'pwood had shaped himself into a whole man, too. This may be the best thing about the best coaches—not what they make of others in a couple of years but what, in the long run, they make of themselves.
Bull Cyclone was comfortable now. His family was growing up; two of the girls were already in college. He had his house by the end zone. He had completed his studies, and he was at peace with his God. The rest of the football world was even beginning to catch up to his wide-open style. All that eluded him was a championship, the one that had been wrenched from his grasp when Buckner ran with the damn ball. And the '69 squad was going to give him that. Already, by that spring, Virginia says, he had so many index cards that he had "a whole new box of offense." It was a lock. It was, as we know, "going to be like taking candy from a baby."
School was out, so the players and students who loved Bull Cyclone were away from Scooba when Stumpy Harbour convened the Board of Trustees to fire him on June 29, 1969. Three of the coach's strongest supporters weren't on hand. Still, word of the meeting and what the president had in mind leaked out. Joe Bradshaw, one of Bull Cyclone's former players, distributed petitions in his support that were signed by every high school coach in the Scooba district. Stumpy refused to admit the petitions. Neither did he admit friends of Bull Cyclone's who gathered outside the meeting room.
Bull Cyclone couldn't speak in his own behalf, but he wrote a letter to the board. His desperation was obvious, his supplicant's tone almost pitiful: "I have heard through the grapevine that you have been called together to take up my contract as coach at East Mississippi Junior College. I beg you not to do this. This school is part of my life and I am a part of it; as a matter of fact, this school is my life."