Even when Bryant bent, however, players knew there was something steely at his core. In 1963 he suspended Joe Namath for two crucial games at the end of the season after Namath broke training. Bryant cried when he did it, but he did it. Of course, Alabama went on to win the Sugar Bowl and a national title without Namath. Glory and honor—in those days a coach-king could have both even when he stood by his principles.
Coaches make concessions today because flexibility is likely to yield the right results: the victories without which they're goners. Last season Woods and South Carolina won five of their last six games after the players' revolt. Archer's successor at LSU, Curley Hallman, at first forbade his players to wear earrings but then relented when they objected. There's only one problem with copping a flexible attitude: The very act of saying, directly or by implication, "Well, yeah, go ahead, wear your earrings," tends to cut a coach down to size. And that may be why today's icon wannabes can barely budge a blocking sled staturewise.
Florida State's Bobby Bowden has the fire, the folksiness and the Q-rating—is there anyone more likable in the game?—but until he starts beating Miami, he'll forever be doomed by the sine qua non of icondom: The coach must at least rule his own state.
James did. Before he left Washington last week, his coaching acumen was the talk of every Puget Sound espresso bar, but to show for his 18 seasons in Seattle he had only a share in one national title, which is sort of like kissing your sister's Tupperware.
Notre Dame, the school of Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian, sets the bar awfully high. But whether you're based in South Bend or in Corvallis, you've got to win at least 200 games to run with the big dogs, and until he does, Lou Holtz will have to stay on the porch. His humor has also become a little unreliable; Holtz's jokes come in inverse proportion to the stress he's under. (That's the difference between Holtz and Royal, who repeated his most enduring aphorism—"You dance with who brung you"—during the pressure-filled run-up to the Longhorns' victorious 1969 showdown with Arkansas.)
Dennis Erickson has won two titles in four seasons at Miami without disturbing so much as a strand of his anchorman's hair. But because of the talent he lands and the pro-style offense he deploys, Erickson is likely to be picked off by the NFL before he can be vested with icon status. Plus it's hard to revere a man who can't keep his players from breaking into those derisive post-touchdown mazurkas. "If you got in the end zone and danced and pointed to the crowd and taunted when McKay was coach, you'd find yourself at the end of the bench," says former Trojan Heisman Trophy winner and current AD Mike Garrett.
The institutional giant today is Eddie Robinson, who has lorded over Grambling football for a half century. But he operates at a Division I-AA school, and, sad to say, many whites are reluctant to accept as their icon a man who's black and has devoted his life to coaching blacks.
McCartney's dabbling in divisive social issues will prevent him from ruling a state as diverse as Colorado—and it reminds us that, over a quarter century, Bryant may have been the only public man in Alabama to transcend the issue of race.
La Veil Edwards of BYU has a winning program, but he has had to spend so much time getting the pollsters to take his teams seriously that no one has gotten around to appraising him. When people finally do, it may be from courtroom footage. Former BYU defensive lineman Budd Orr is suing the school, alleging that a "win at any cost" attitude fostered in Edwards's program resulted in a back injury that snuffed out Orr's chance of a pro career and disables him still. Defendants don't make good icons.
Tom Osborne has Nebraska all to himself, but until he can consistently win big games, no one much cares. "Besides," says one of the game's cognoscenti, "can you name your eighth-grade math teacher?"