Stutz, enthusiastic and obliging, looked up at Bryant. "No, sir," he said. "I can do better."
"Russell," Bryant said, "I want you to get your butt off this field and be out of the dorm by five o'clock."
Of all the factors that made Bryant what he was, longevity was among the most important. Bryant lasted long enough to coach the sons of those who played for him. Today the youngest head coach in Division I-A, freshly appointed Jeff Horton of the University of Nevada, is 36; even if he were to coach to the normal retirement age of 65 and average 10 wins a season, he would still fall short of Bryant's 323 victories.
Not that schools nowadays have the patience to stick with one coach, even if they ought to. A coach may receive a five-year contract, but he knows the booster club will buy him out if he hasn't done some serious winning by his third season. "History will tell you that when a school gives a guy only three or four years, the next guy will go through another three or four without success," says Bill McCartney, whom Colorado administrators stood by through three losing seasons, including a 1-10 nadir in 1984, before the Buffaloes broke through.
Of course, of their own accord, more and more college coaches are leaving for the pros. Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Green, Bobby Ross and Dick MacPherson each had the potential to become a Mr. Chips on his campus. Stanford's Bill Walsh and Southern Cal's John Robinson might be college icons right now if they hadn't taken sabbaticals in the play-for-pays. The NFL has ample appeal: You don't have to placate the divergent interests of faculty and fans. Paul Tagliabue won't put you on probation. And whereas in Bryant's day a college coach received more money and glory than he could in the pros, today a coach can't make out better than in the NFL, short of signing on with NBC.
"The only way to become a legend is by winning big," says Baylor athletic director Dick Ellis. "You don't become one by graduating all your seniors or winning the sportsmanship award. And it's tougher to win big with the spreading around of talent." It's said that during the 1960s and '70s, Bryant could have split his squad in two and finished first and second in the Southeastern Conference. Many 'Bama lettermen never played a down, but as long as they sat on Bryant's bench, they weren't out on the field beating him. Today even if a talented high-schooler wanted to ride the bench for an elite program, he probably couldn't because of the current Division I-A limit of 88 scholarships. He would wind up going to Mississippi or Vanderbilt and playing. The result is parity—a competitiveness that's good for the game but bad for the business of legend-building.
In fact, the old-school masters never let squad limits keep them from winning big. A coach today screams that he's not allowed to suit up a fourths-tring free safety because his athletic director has to hire a women's squash coach. Yet McKay won national championships with fewer than 50 players. "We'll have an offensive team and a defensive team," he liked to say. "And the other team will be in charge of carrying me off the field."
The coaches and players of the '50s had lived through the Depression and/or the shortages of the war years. "I was so poor," Royal liked to say, "I had a tumbleweed as a pet." Scholarships could be canceled on the spot, and players were as afraid as Bryant was of going "back to the wagon."
"Most of us were country boys," says Charley Pell, who was a member of Bryant's second recruiting class at Alabama. "If we didn't have that scholarship, it was back to laying blocks or digging ditches or working at the supermarket. Yeah, I was afraid of doing that."
Just as today's kids grow up differently, so too did their parents. Bryant loved to talk about the importance of his players having "good mamas and papas." Moms and dads nowadays aren't necessarily bad; they simply come from an era in which an authority figure didn't get a free pass. Thus they have modern relationships with their sons, who in turn expect relationships with their coaches to be more nuanced than "My way or the highway." Bemoan the passing of the despotic head coach if you must, but more and more schools are concluding that well-intentioned abuse is a contradiction in terms. When it was revealed last season that Colorado State coach Earle Bruce had cuffed around a few of his players, the school couldn't show him the door fast enough. And Purdue may have a hard time accepting the behavior of coach Jim Colletto, at least as alleged by Ryan Harmon, the former lineman who claims to have suffered such humiliation during two seasons in West Lafayette that he was driven to wanting to kill himself. Alleging both mental and physical abuse by Colletto, Harmon sued Purdue on Aug. 3. He claims that Colletto regularly "hit, punched, kicked and shoved" him.