Bear Bryant is a legend at Kentucky. Stories about him abound. "If a man's going to quit," once said the Bear, "I want him to quit in practice, not in a game." The Bear was rough. If a player made a mistake in practice, the Bear was apt to knock him down, run right over him. He did it to Frank Fuller, a big tackle, and shook him up. (And he tried it on All-America Bob Gain, the old-timers giggle, but Gain saw him coming and it was the Bear who ended on the ground.) The Bear would set first-string guard against second-string guard in man-to-man scrimmage, the winner to be first-string in the next game. ("It teaches players desire.")
Charlie Bradshaw doesn't have the Bear's reputation for knocking players down, though when he demonstrates a play or a move to a man, he hits him as hard as though he were in a game. And he punishes players who aren't aggressive enough in practice by running them back and forth until they are exhausted. His assistant coaches are a bit more direct. The method of tackling taught by the Bryant-Bradshaw school requires the tackier, charging low, to hit the ballcarrier head on with his helmet and then with his shoulder and arm. When a player missed a tackle in practice, an assistant coach would run over shouting: "Butt him, damn you." Sometimes a critical assistant would bang his own head into a player's stomach, knock him down, pick him up by the jersey and shove him back in the direction of the huddle. Assistants would bang players in the head with a forearm to make a lesson clear.
There's hitting and hitting
"That's all right," a player who left the squad said. "Hitting is part of football, and I didn't mind that. But when coaches deny the hitting, how can you respect them?"
Several players said that Assistant Coach Bob Ford hit Quarterback Louis Owen in the mouth with his fist after Owen allowed a pass to be completed and then missed the tackle. Owen lost half of one tooth in this encounter.
"I know the stories," Ford said, "but I didn't hit him with my fist. It was an accident. I was demonstrating the proper execution and I guess my forearm must have caught him in the mouth. I was trying to help the boy, not hurt him, and that's the honest truth."
Louis Owen supported Ford. "I believe it was an accident," he said. "The tooth was crooked anyway."
"Some players don't realize that what we are doing is for their own good," Ford said. "They don't realize that football is a demanding game. It requires a bold spirit and a strong body. It's when a player is tired that he must play his best. You can't teach this. A boy learns it by the coach's example. Coaching is vigor and enthusiasm, and it's infectious. I believe in coaching. We teach the word of Christ. We try to give strength to the weak boy, strength in body and strength in character to resist temptations and to learn self-discipline. The poor boy we make rich, give him a chance to improve himself, to gain an education and become rich in useful experiences. This is his salvation."
There is an undeniable overtone of religion in big-time football today. Many, if not most, of the successful coaches lead their teams in prayer both before and after games. Charlie Bradshaw said to his players, "We are a family and we'll work together in harmony, as a family should. This means we want you to take pride in yourselves, to be good Christian men. Your studies will come first. The discipline we teach you on the football field will carry over into your studies and after you graduate." (But an assistant coach, coming across a player studying in the library one night, said, "Get to bed. We'll tell you when to study. Football comes first right now.")
Bradshaw also allayed the fears of those who were wary of the emphasis he placed on winning above everything else. "You can't win with dumb athletes," he explained. "We will recruit only intelligent boys, only those we know to be good students. We will be aggressive. We will play the game to the hilt with the kind of boys who are willing to pay the price for winning."