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When Charlie Bradshaw became head coach at Kentucky last January he called his 88-man football squad together and said, "Men, you are in for a tremendous experience—you will be part of a winner. But the price of victory will come high—hard work, perhaps the hardest you have ever known, self-sacrifice, dedication and, most of all, discipline."
By mid-September, before Kentucky played its first game, 53 players had quit the squad. Bradshaw, a student and disciple of Paul (Bear) Bryant, head coach at Alabama, last year's national champions, had adopted Bryant's football philosophy. The Bryant idea is harsh and simple: get tough, aggressive players; impress upon them that the only thing that matters is victory, no matter what it costs; train them and train them and train them to an absolute peak of condition; teach them to hit—hit the opponent hard and keep on hitting him until inevitably he falters and makes a mistake; capitalize on that mistake.
This system worked for Bryant when he took over a mediocre team at Kentucky 16 years ago, and it worked again when he took over a declining team at Texas A&M in 1954; it worked again when he took over one of the worst teams in Alabama's history in 1958 (in 1961 Alabama was the No. 1 team in the country). Bryant football is rapidly becoming the principal style of play in the Southeastern Conference, and coaches who have played or worked under Bear Bryant are becoming as sought after as Bud Wilkinson's disciples were in the 1950s. They teach the game that Ralph Jordan, coach at Auburn, described recently as "the new hell-for-leather, helmet-busting, gang-tackling game they're playing here in the Southeastern Conference. Since Bear Bryant came back to Alabama, it's the only game that can win."
Charlie Bradshaw's introduction of this new order in football at Kentucky brought grudging praise from Johnny Vaught of Mississippi, whose perennially powerful team (an 18-point favorite) beat Kentucky 14-0 last Saturday night. Kentucky's hard-hitting tactics even in defeat bore out something Vaught had said weeks before: "This will be our toughest game with Kentucky in seven years. What used to hurt them was lack of physical conditioning. They had class, but they couldn't hold up in the second half. This year Bradshaw may not have many players in uniform, but—believe me—those he has will be fit."
Bradshaw's conditioning program began way last winter in a series of "informal" preseason workouts. The players expected them to be something like the loosely disciplined winter conditioning drills imposed by former Coach Blanton Collier. Instead they found a jam-packed schedule conducted at a high-speed, nonstop pace. They lifted weights in one room, had blocking drills in a second and wrestled and had agility drills in a third. They went outside the gym for more agility drills and to throw a football around. NCAA rules do not permit supervised preseason out-of-doors practice, but, as one player said, "The coaches never left the gym. They did happen to be watching through the window, though."
The exercises were rather more intensive than they sound. Quarterback Jerry Woolum, one of Kentucky's best players, said, "That preseason crash conditioning program was the hardest thing I've ever been through." Another player said, "The wrestling was more like brawling. Two of us fought until one of us dropped. Then the loser had to brawl with the next fellow. If he dropped again he stayed right there. Fifteen minutes of that was something to remember. I had to be helped to my feet after one session."
"I didn't mind the rough-and-tumble," said a player who quit three weeks after the sessions began, "but I sure objected to the rushing and the constant goading. The assistant coaches would yell and scream. They'd push us to get us hopping along to the next room. Some of the guys began to vomit. A couple of guys in my group began to look real weak while we were in roll drills one day, as if they might keel over. The coaches noticed, so they were excused—from roll drills—but they had to move right on to the next exercise line."
By the end of the first week four players had quit, and by the time the conditioning program was over, the total had risen to 15. But the players who stuck it out became excited over their improved fitness. "We thought we had begun to understand Coach Bradshaw's program," said one who quit the squad after spring practice. "He was a real leader, and that's what the team needed."
In April, as spring practice began, Bradshaw said, "We will be looking for the boys who love the game and are willing to pay the price for success. The work test we give them is going to be rough and tough. We want wild, aggressive, eager players who play the game up to the hilt in an effort to win."
The spring-practice drills were, indeed, rough and tough and demanding. The hangers-on who always gather along the sidelines to watch football practice were delighted. A retired postman said, grinning, "The name of the game is knock." His companion agreed: "Old Charlie reminds me of the Bear."