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When Paul Bryant, whose rigid image (above) is enough to cause cholera among southern coaches, was at Texas A&M, his first out-of-state trip was to Athens, Ga., where he took a team of only 27 men. The Georgia writer who met him was incredulous. Was this mere handful all the players Bear Bryant had? "No," said The Bear casually. "This is all who want to play." In the 17 years of coaching that have taken him from Maryland to Kentucky to Texas A&M and, ultimately, to Alabama, his alma mater, there have been scores of hotshot athletes who defected from Bryant squads. "A boy's got to want to play awful bad to play here," says Bryant, and takes the uniforms from those who don't. "You work your silly head off," one ex-player put it. If it meant scrimmaging at half time to beat Auburn, Bear Bryant would scrimmage at half time.
The rewards for this unrelenting tedium are plain: great success at all points before Alabama, a national championship last year at Alabama (and, for Bryant, recognition as Coach of the Year). His critics excoriate him as an unscrupulous recruiter and ruthless opponent. His players (those who last) revere him—and, what's more, win for him. His rival coaches imitate him, not always liking it. "It's a hell-for-leather, helmet-bursting, gang-tackling game we play now in the Southeastern Conference," says Auburn's Shug Jordan. "Since Bear Bryant came back to Alabama it's the only game that can win." To all this, The Bear exudes a monumental disdain. Those few Alabama alumni who still dare to demand his time, for instance, are given two hours a day—from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. After that, he says, "I'll be busy."
Bryant has been very busy this spring and summer exercising one of his favorite ploys: touting the press off his Alabama team. " Georgia Tech," he said, "will be the No. 1 team in the nation," to which the redoubtable Bobby Dodd, head coach at Georgia Tech, replied: "That remark was typical of Bryant."
The fact is that when Alabama plays Georgia Tech on Nov. 17, the national title may well be at stake, for in the SEC, where spectators have become connoisseurs of defensive football by watching the expert stylings of such as Bryant, they say there is none better than these two. Unless it is Ole Miss. Or LSU. Or Tennessee. There is even talk of a grand sweep to approximate the golden season of 1942, when Georgia went to the Rose Bowl, Georgia Tech to the Cotton Bowl and Alabama to the Orange Bowl. Challenging the sovereignty of the SEC in the South for 1962 will be at least two teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference—Maryland and Duke—and the section's prime independent, Miami.
Because of Bryant, there will be more than the usual preoccupation with defense in the South, but not necessarily to the exclusion of change. There will, for example, be expanded use of the three-team system, with inspirational nomenclature—Tom Nugent of Maryland calls his three units the M Squad (first team), the Gangbusters (defensive specialists) and the Hustlers (offense). Bryant and Mississippi's Johnny Vaught are using their halfbacks interchangeably, as the situation demands, rather than designating some as right half, others as left. Some teams in the ACC are abandoning the Oklahoma 5-4 defense in favor of the pros' four-man front and combining zone with man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Duke has a double lonely end. Wake Forest will use wingbacks in motion. Nugent of Maryland will try anything. Andy Gustafson's stylings at Miami, keyed to more sophisticated Orange Bowl crowds, are strictly pro type.
Though their theories are often similar, the successful coaches of the South are remarkably different. There have been more character types in this section than there are in the Woodworth & Marquis college psychology text. Bryant is aloof and impenetrable. Dodd is a southern aristocrat ("In Dodd We Trust!" cry the citizens—or at least the publicists—of Atlanta). Paul Dietzel, who won his spurs at LSU before taking up with Army, woos and wins with an on-stage personality and sophomoric zeal, though his defensive tactics are as drab as the next. Tom Nugent is an engaging, perpetual-motion pitch man, and a nonconformist (he plays offense). Vaught of Ole Miss and well-dressed Ray Graves of Florida are organization men of a Madison Avenue cut. Frank Howard of Clemson is an unreconstructed hillbilly whose mark is a disheveled appearance and a corn-pone philosophy.
As Bryant suggests, Dodd of Georgia Tech has the best of the best material this year. "We've never had more good backs since I've been at Tech [32 years]," says Dodd himself. These include the admired sophomore with the undeniable name, Jefferson Davis. Davis, says one Tech coach, "has a fascination for the goal line." Much to Bryant's discomfort, Alabama was voted No. 1 by the SEC coaches, but this was before it lost Fullback Mike Fracchia by injury. 'Bama and Ole Miss can't quite equal Tech's manpower, but neither do they have to play Tech's rugged schedule. Alabama doesn't play much of anybody until it gets to Tennessee on Oct. 20. By then Bryant will be rolling. LSU's new coach, Charlie McClendon, was left scads of fine players by Dietzel (as Dietzel often reminds people), including a great halfback, Jerry Stovall. Ole Miss faces a modest rebuilding job with such monoliths as 260-pound tackle Jim Dunaway to cushion a possible fall. Tennessee, Auburn and Florida will be dangerous for anybody.
In the Atlantic Coast, a league of fine quarterbacks, it is Coach Bill Murray's remodeled Duke T with two quarterbacks (Walt Rappold and Gil Garner) over Maryland and its one (Dick Shiner). Resurgent West Virginia easily outstrips the Southern Conference. Independent Miami has the best quarterback in the South, perhaps in the country, in George Mira, but also has an impossible schedule. The top five: 1) Georgia Tech, 2) Alabama, 3) LSU, 4) Duke, 5) Miami and Ole Miss (tie).
Bear Bryant, a dour man, drawled recently, "I must be one of the worst recruiters in America, I'm so bad, I've about given up." The other Southeastern coaches should have it so bad. Bryant will start at quarterback with Joe Namath, the country's leading schoolboy passer two years ago. He will also have Ray Ogden, a 6-foot-5, 218-pound halfback, and brilliant Center-Linebacker Gaylon McCollough, sophomores, too. These three, along with a large contingent of other first-year men, red-shirts and junior college transfers, fill out a squad already thick with game-winners. If there is one weakness, it is at fullback, where Mike Fracchia, the SEC's leading rusher last year, was expected to pick up where he left off in 1961. Fracchia injured his knee in practice and probably will miss the season. Defense, never a problem with Bryant-coached teams, could be better than it was last year when the Crimson Tide was the NCAA leader, allowing only 22 points.