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.
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."
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.
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.
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."