No one knows for sure when Paul (Bear) Bryant will step down as football coach at Alabama. This will be his 25th season there, his 38th as a college head coach. Technically a state employee who under Alabama law must retire at 70, Bryant can legally continue as coach this year and next, since he won't be 70 until after the 1983 season begins. Efforts were made in the state legislature to create a special law that would exempt him from mandatory retirement, but last spring a circuit court judge poured cold water on that by saying such action would be a violation of the Alabama state constitution. Bryant carefully steered clear of the issue, saying, "I want to be treated like any other citizen." Still, he has discussed the possibility of continuing as head coach without salary, while at the same time modestly denigrating his own ability.
"The next coach at Alabama will be better than me," he told Southeastern Conference football writers last week, and he spoke of the problems of coaching football at his advanced age. "We are surrounded by young coaches," he said, employing the regal plural. "They are hardworking people who are continually snapping at our heels. A lot of them started here [he was referring to such SEC coaches as Steve Sloan of Mississippi, Charley Pell of Florida and Jerry Claiborne of Kentucky, all of whom played football under the Bear, and Pat Dye of Auburn, who was one of his assistants] and all of them are doing great jobs. I'm not capable of competing against those guys. I'm too old. I'm not strong enough. I wonder how much longer I can fight them off."
Poignant words from the stag (or bear) at bay, but one can't help feeling it's part of the old Bryant malarkey, buttering up the opposition. Not strong enough? Bear has a 38-5 won-lost record against former players and associates of his who have become head coaches, with 28 of those wins coming in succession. Indeed, he seems to get better and better with age. In his 30s, Bryant's coaching record was 59 wins, 23 losses, five ties. In his 40s it improved to 73-24-8. In his 50s it went up to 88-22-3. And in his 60s it's been 95-12-1.
Too old? As the Bear looks forward to his 70s, he must be muttering, "Come on, you whippersnappers. Let's see you just try to dump the old man."
STRICTLY FOR THE BIRDS
Those of us who are a bit daunted by the space age—computers, biogenetics, interplanetary probes, digital diagnoses and other utterly complex things—can find some cheer in the way the Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. solved a nagging problem. Lockheed has a research facility in the Santa Cruz Mountains, some distance from the main plant. The people in the mountain laboratory are hooked up by microwave to a computer in the plant and each day transmit data on what they've designed to Sunnyvale. Microfilms of the designs are prepared at Sunnyvale to be sent back to the lab by messenger the next morning. But while lab and plant are only a bit more than 20 miles apart, they're about 50 miles from each other by road, and drivers making the trip got caught in traffic and were slowed by twisting mountain roads. Transporting the microfilm by auto took about 90 minutes, much too long for people used to missile speeds.
What to do? Well, some genius came up with a marvelous idea, and now each morning a carrier pigeon—you remember carrier pigeons, don't you?—takes off from Sunnyvale, toting the tiny strip of film. He flaps his way in a straight line over hill, dale and highway, and about 30 minutes later delivers the film to the lab, where it's developed into blueprints for the research people.
That's the kind of progress we stick-in-the-muds admire.
FAT AND SKINNY