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William F. Reed
January 22, 1990
Bill Curry couldn't escape Bear Bryant's shadow at Alabama, so he left for Kentucky
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January 22, 1990

Unbearable Burden

Bill Curry couldn't escape Bear Bryant's shadow at Alabama, so he left for Kentucky

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"He was so focused on the Miami game that I left the room thinking I had made a mistake," Newton said. "I really didn't feel good about it, although I did feel he was interested. He told me that he and Carolyn [ Curry's wife] were not going to do anything at all until after the Sugar Bowl. They were going to drive back to Tuscaloosa from New Orleans and use that five hours to talk about their future. He promised me that he would not lead us on."

On the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 2, Curry called Newton to say that he wanted to come the next day for a visit. When that news broke in Alabama, many Tide supporters were upset, not to mention embarrassed by the idea that Curry would even think of leaving for a program that consistently finished in the SEC's second division.

Curry says that he and his wife returned to Tuscaloosa to spend a few days taking long walks in the woods and thinking. During this time, they were inundated with telegrams and flowers from supporters. Carolyn was even given a diamond-encrusted elephant—the Alabama mascot—by Bryant's granddaughter Mary Harmon Moman.

On Saturday, Jan. 6, Newton called Curry after the Kentucky-Vanderbilt basketball game to say that since he was already in Nashville, he thought he might as well go on to Tuscaloosa the next day. When Curry told Newton to come visit, Newton felt he had his man. The next day, over some homemade chicken salad, Curry and his wife told Newton and his wife, Evelyn, that they were coming to Kentucky. Later that day, Curry told his players that he was leaving; he then took a private plane to Lexington, where Kentucky's athletics board ratified his appointment.

Asked to name the major factors in his decision, Curry listed the chance to work with Newton, who previously had scored a major coup by luring basketball coach Rick Pitino from the New York Knicks; the fact that he and his wife felt needed and wanted in Lexington, so different from their reception in Tuscaloosa; and the knowledge that Curry would never be able to overcome the opposition he encountered in Alabama.

"The problems I had at Alabama didn't come from the average guy but from within the university," Curry says. "When it comes from within and it's constant, then I'm not serving the two groups that are the most important to me—my family and my players. I just figured that I would continue my mission somewhere else, and I was incredibly lucky to find a program that's tailor-made for me."

The only potential problem is that Dr. David Roselle, the Kentucky president who orchestrated the well-publicized and highly praised investigation of the school's powerful basketball program, is leaving, for some of the same reasons that Thomas stepped down at Alabama. The Kentucky faculty is worried that the new president will be more of a politician than an academician. However, Newton, 59, has assured Curry that he plans to stay in his job until retirement, and the new president, whoever he may be, wouldn't dare undermine Newton, who is widely acclaimed as the savior of Kentucky athletics.

At Alabama, meanwhile, Stallings won't have to deal with the same problems that doomed Curry. He has the stamp of Bryant and he doesn't have any connection with Georgia Tech. However, there are concerns about his losing records, both at Texas A&M (27-45-1) and with the Cardinals (23-34-1), and that he may have trouble holding his own in recruiting since Stallings has been in pro ball for the past 18 years.

It's probably good for all concerned that Alabama and Kentucky don't play in football again until Sept. 12, 1992. A lot of 'Bama fans will need at least that long, and probably longer, to get over Curry's decision. Until now, nobody had ever told Alabama to take this job and shove it, which is, in effect, what Curry did to all those who made his life in Tuscaloosa so miserable. It can only be hoped that all the good, decent fans in Alabama can someday prevail over the misguided minority that has embarrassed the state and the university.

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