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Then what in the world was he doing at a university?
Why, playing football, of course, and learning Dye's way, learning to be a man. And when he left school, you can bet he was making more money than some boy who made straight A's in arithmetic.
No, all things considered, Dye has few regrets, except for last season. Last season's team was supposed to be one of his best; it turned out to be one of his worst. Not because it lost a lot of games—the Tigers were 8-3-1—but rather because of the way it lost, and the fact that the players weren't as good as they could have been, and Dye can't abide underachievers. Dye let some little things go, and soon enough the whole team got away from him. He should have suspended a few players, he says now, he should have been more consistent in meting out discipline. Shoot, even when the team was undefeated, he tried to warn everyone, the press, the alumni and the players themselves, that the Tigers were headed for a fall. Then they lost 48-7 to Florida, and the Auburn faithful marked the first time that a Pat Dye team had just up and quit. The next week, they lost at home to Southern Mississippi, and then the Tigers lost to Alabama for the first time since 1985.
It was after the game against Tennessee that Dye began to bleed. He went home and threw up blood. At first everyone thought he had an ulcer, but after the Alabama game he went to the hospital and the doctors traced his problem to the blood itself—too much steel, so to speak, too much iron, a condition called hemochromatosis. His spleen was damaged—"as big as a football," he says—and so was his liver. Last May, after the end of spring practice, surgeons at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta cut him from hip to hip and rerouted the way a vein carries blood to his liver.
Dye was still bedridden, on his back, when one of his players, one of those seniors, turned against him. Ramsey always wondered what it took to please his coach. He had worked hard for the man, five years of blood, sweat and tears. So what if he showed up late for meetings? So did a lot of other guys. So what if he got married and Dye thought his wife came between Ramsey and the team? Ramsey wanted some recognition, but he never got it. When he watched Dye's highlight show, he never heard the coach mention his name. When he stopped by the office where they figured the statistics, he came away certain that they were crediting his tackles to someone else. At the end of his senior year he asked Dye if the coach thought he had a shot at the pros. Dye said no, that Ramsey should find a way to make a living outside of football. "What's it going to hurt him to say something positive on my behalf, whether he thinks I did good or not?" says Ramsey.
Ramsey's hurt turned into a desire for retribution when he failed an English course and did not graduate. He fell back on a weapon he had kept in reserve. Ramsey, who is black, had submitted a two-page paper about racism in the Auburn football program to a sociology professor; now he allowed the professor to release the paper to a reporter. The press picked up on it and ran stories detailing Ramsey's charges about a segregated team and a coaching staff more intent on discouraging black players from dating white women than encouraging them in their studies. Ramsey had struck a blow at the unyielding father figure lying on his back.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Ramsey in the 10th round, but he failed to make the final cut. He was done with football, and he had nothing, while the coaches still lived in their big houses. He saw white players coming back to Auburn, wearing suits and ties, working as stockbrokers and selling real estate, while a lot of black players he knew wound up working on the assembly line at Diversified Products. Last week, a month after being cut by the Chiefs, Ramsey went public with the aforementioned tapes.
From the first of Ramsey's charges, Dye did not strike back—at least not on the record—not because he couldn't but, rather, because he was sure that "they don't have a damn thing on me" and that once reporters checked Ramsey's motives, the story would fade away. Pat Dye a racist? After all that he had said, all that he had done for his black players? How could he be a racist? He personally recruited the first black players at the University of Alabama when, he says, "you can bet a lot of other coaches didn't want that responsibility."
He would never understand—no, he would be hurt—if he were to learn that there are players on this year's team who believe that although Ramsey may have gone about things the wrong way, there was, in his cry of disappointment and frustration, a vein of truth. It's not that Dye is a racist, but that he is a southern white man at a southern white school, and black players at Auburn learn very quickly what they can and cannot do. It's that Dye cannot escape who he is and where he came from. Indeed, one senior on the Tigers—a team leader who has followed Dye's regimen to the letter—believes that his coach likes a certain kind of black man, one who is "humble and obedient," who only speaks when spoken to. Can Dye disagree? No, he cannot. He can only say that he asks the same things of his white boys and that where he grew up, humility and obedience were considered virtues. He cannot even disagree when some of his black players quietly complain that he wants them to fit the mold of Clarence Thomas, the by-the-bootstraps Supreme Court nominee; in fact, one day early this season, Dye went over to the dorm to see if his boys were watching the Thomas confirmation hearings, and the next morning, when someone asked why he doesn't let his players wear earrings, he answered, "Well, you don't see Clarence Thomas wearing no damned earring, do you?"
He walks in silence, under the lights, on grass that seems to glow. As he walks among his players, these big kids steaming and snorting in the night, they speak to him only when they are spoken to. The rest of the time they regard him with a wary quiet. Pat Dye is a football coach, as he has said all along, and on the practice field he looks like one, his eyes gleaming with a look of cold, frank appraisal. In his office, in a restaurant, he can look like a southern gentleman, but at practice he is a predator, with his arms flexed at his sides and his neck at a belligerent tilt, and he looks pretty damned happy looking pretty damned mean.