I’m trying to find the time to write an essay about Bear, but until I finish, I thought people might enjoy these quotes from his autobiography, which is a great read.
“Matty Bell and Dutch Meyer and Rusty Russell started spread formations out in Texas, throwing the ball on every down, and that changed some thinking. Don Faurot and Bud [Wilkinson] and Jim Tatum came out with the split-T, which changed football, and changed me. That’s what the wishbone is today, a glamorized split-T. After that there was nothing significant until the so-called pro offense, drop back passing, and reading defenses. The pros use a two-back offense, the so-called pro set, with a quarterback who passes, period. And one back who is really just a third receiver. The only thing about the pro game that is more complex is that, within their basic four-three they play more varied defenses. They do more things with zones and coverages and keying.”
“John McKay says he’d love to spend his retirement years coaching defense in the NFL, because he would never have to defend against an option play. The option is the toughest play we have to defend. The pros never see it.”
“I don’t get to see much pro football, except occasionally on TV. I don’t see anything new in it, but if you ask me if I learn from the pros, I would say I learn from everybody. Pros, colleges, high schools. I have been watching some of these Canadian games on television lately and I’m beginning to think I like that 12-man offense. It would be interesting to see a 12-man offense against an 11-man defense.”
“The weaker you are, the more conservatively you play. You try to make fewer mistakes, and maybe then you’ll luck into a win. You try to make your team do something they’re not capable of and you get murdered.”
~ This is interesting in that (maybe due to rule changes) it’s clear that the weaker teams should be more aggressive, as that gives them a better chance to defeat a stronger opponent.
“All else being equal, the same things still win. You’ve just got different excuses nowadays. You’re still going to win with preparation and dedication and plain old desire. If you don’t have genuine desire, you won’t be dedicated enough to prepare properly. It’s a coach’s job to get those things across. It doesn’t take a genius for that.”
“Defense starts with the kicking game. Wade, Thomas, Neyland. They all won on their kicking games. I’m talking about all of it – kicks, kick coverage, returns, field position.”
“Now..there’s more talent, and that makes it tougher to excuse yourself when you lose. I know even lately there were games I hurt us, games we won in spite of me or lost because of me. Win or lose, if you don’t recognize the mistakes – mistakes in preparation, mistakes during a game – you’re hurting yourself. I’ve been out-coached, too, and I sure don’t forget those times. Do they live as long as the big victories? No. They live longer.”
On his time at Vanderbilt:
“In Nashville you could brew a pot of coffee and bake a cake and entertain anybody. You didn’t have to put on the dog.”
On his time at Kentucky:
“We took the Kentucky team down to Mobile to practice, and they darn near killed one another. I’ve never seen a team so fired up. I had over-prepared for the Orange Bowl the year before, so I packed them up and took them home. We gave them a couple days off, then headed for Baton Rouge . . . Three days before the game we hald our last scrimmage. It was so rough we had to stop it. They were going to kill one another for sure.”
1953 Kentucky vs LSU
“Dick Shafto made a fourth and six play that got us a 6-6 tie, and I didn’t realize what down it was. If I had known, I’d have punted. After the game I chewed the team out good for losing. I was back at the hotel making a tape with our radio announcer when he mentioned “the tie.” I jumped about four feet. I called Gaynell Tinsley, the LSU coach, and asked him what the score was. He said, “You drunk this quick?”
“Everybody was having a helluva time and it got late. Finally they filed out. And when I looked on my bed somebody had left his hat. A good brown one, with a soft brim, the kind of hat a big executive would wear. I wore it for 10 years after that.”
The offenses and defenses of Bear Bryant
Ran the Notre Dame Box until ‘48, switched to the T formation
“We switched from the Box to the T formation that year, with Blanda as my first T quarterback. Bobby Dodd came up from Georgia Tech to show it to us that spring. He and Alice stayed at our house and visited for about a week, and when he left he gave me his playbook.”
1950 with Babe Parilli at QB versus LSU, Parilli injured his groin and couldn’t run much:
“I got the coaches together and we put in a spread formation, similar to what they called the shotgun later on. We set him 10 yards on a direct snap from center so he wouldn’t have to run back, and that allowed him to go back 5 yards more before he threw. The first time we had the ball we ran 17 plays – every one a pass. By the time the drive was over LSU’s big old burly linemen were worn out trying to reach him. It was 15 yards just to get in his vicinity, and they had our blockers to contend with.”
1950 season Kentucky beat Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma team in the Sugar Bowl.
The next year, with Bud Wilkinson’s help, I put in the split-T.
1953 Kentucky vs Tennessee:
“I had five simple plays that were sound and proven. This time I threw everything else out. Just three running plays – an option, a fullback off-tackle, and a counter – and two passes.
1971 learned the Wishbone from Darrell Royal
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the wishbone, but it’s the best formation I have ever seen. In the first place, the FB is always in the same spot and it’s easy for the quarterback to get the ball to him. In the old split-T with the irregular line splits, the QB was reaching a lot of the time. Some of the best plays in the split-T were missed handoffs, when the QB had to keep it and confused everybody. Also, in the old split-T when the QB moved out to option on the defensive end he had to pitch the ball blind, or blind behind him, to the trailing HB. WIth the wishbone the HBs line up a little deeper and closer in to the FB, and their weight is back in the stance and not forward like it was in the split-T. As a result it measures out that the HB winds up about four yards wider when the QB makes his pitch and the QB can see him. It’s so much easier. And the big plus is that the whole thing is that much ahead of the pursuit.”
“The thing about the wishbone that I’ve worked hardest on is passing. The advantage there is unbelievable. You make them take five men to defend against the fullback. It takes five to keep the fullback contained, with all the routes he can run. That leaves three defensive players on each side – one to take the pitch, one to take the QB, and one to cover the pass. You get one on one coverage every time.”
“I better watch what I say. We were having our meetings in Dallas one time, and playing golf, and I said, “Show me a football coach who shoots good golf and I’ll show you a horseshit coach.” About that time somebody came running into the little lounge there, hollering, “Hey, Bud Wilkinson just shot a 71, and Paul Dietzel a 72!” Uh-oh.”
Money and NFL Jobs offered:
1948 and 1950 Washington. Didn’t know if he could motivate professionals, and was worried that George Preston Marshall would rule against him if Bryant was not satisfied with a certain player.
“Any team that has a coach who plays second fiddle to a player is not the team I want to work for.”
Ironically, 60 years later Washington owner Dan Snyder sided with QB Robert Griffin III over head coach Mike Shanahan and it led to disaster. A caveat is that Snyder’s tenure as owner has been a disappointment every year, so maybe this one example is irrelevant.
Green Bay tried to hire Bryant “before Emil Fisher died, and before they got Vince Lombardi.”
John Plummer called about the Falcons job. Bear told him, “I appreciate your interest, but there isn’t enough money in the US Mint to got me into the same town with Furman Bisher.”
“I said that when I went to Atlanta I took my lunch bucket, because I didn’t want to spend a dime there.”
“Three real singers, not offering me a job in pro football, but stock, long-term contracts, fringe benefits, a bunch of things. In the long run one offer would have amounted to around $1 million.” (Bear once turned down an offer to coach Arkansas that involved “Pete Ranay and Jack Stevens offered me stock in their oil company, Arkansas-Louisiana Gas. A chance to get in on the ground floor. If I had taken it, I’d be worth $40 million now.”)
- A group trying to put a team in Birmingham, Alabama.
- The New York Jets; Bear offered to buy them as head of a group for $10 million; the owner suggested Bear could buy the Dolphins for half that, but Bear didn’t consider it.
- Oakland Athletics owner who was trying to put a football team in Birmingham. Offered Bear $100,000 per year for 10 years plus an option for 35 percent of the club.
Bear’s agent Jimmy Hinton negotiated with Dolphins owner Joe Robbie.
“We put in everything I could think of, making the total value so good I’d have had to make about $1.7 million over a five year period to equal it. A stock option, a place to live, cars – the works. The most important was $10,000 for Mary Harmon (Bear’s wife) to go back and forth to Tuscaloosa during the season.”
The people at Alabama told Bear he could leave if he could find another good coach to replace himself with. He couldn’t; the Dolphins hired Don Shula.
“We’ve done pretty well, Jimmy Hinton and I. We’ve got part ownership in a meatpacking firm, Zeigler’s. And I have a small piece of a yarn-treating firm, Olympia, and a Volkswagen distributorship, and I’m on the board of the First National Bank of Tuscaloosa, Federated Guarantee of Alabama, a development company in Huntsville, and one in Houston. And I have a few stocks that keep me in debt. But most of my money is tied up, and I’m always scrambling.”
Bear also had part of a hat company that made hats like he wore, and bought land with several other people at various times. Also mentions several other failed ventures.
On Joe Namath
“The greatest athlete I ever saw.”
“A Vanderbilt tackler hit him pretty good when he was a sophomore and, according to our players, said, ‘Hey, number 12, what’s your name?’ Joe said, ‘You’ll see it in the headlines tomorrow.’ On the next play he threw a touchdown pass.”
“It was rumored that I got $25,000 for delivering Joe to the Jets, and if the guy who started it said it to my face, I’d spit in his eye.”
Namath had “Joe Hirsch, the writer for the Morning Telegraph, as his personal handicapper; Ray Abbruzzese, his old Alabama teammate and Jet defensive back, as his bartender. His apartment was decorated by the same guy who did Frank Sinatra’s. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t care what a man is as long as he treats me right. I like everybody.” That’s about as close to a personal philosophy as I could give you on Joe.”
On Air Conditioning, which Bryant seems to have been obsessed with:
While at Kentucky:
“We had the first air-conditioning unit in Lexington. We had it in the window of our bedroom, and Bull Hancock came over, and Louis Hagan, and we sat on the bed and drank whiskey and had a helluva time with that air conditioner. Even today I’m a nut for air-conditioning.”
Later in the book, after Bear got the Alabama job and the university bought him a house:
“Naturally, I had it air-conditioned. In the meantime Julian Lackey and Young Boozer, two old friends, raised more than $50,000 in private donations to air-condition the dorm the boys lived in.”
At the same time, they remodeled the football offices, and . . .
“Then I ordered some more air conditioners. I put in nine – two of my own I’d brought from College Station, and seven I bought out of pocket, six for my assistants and one for the coaches dressing room. You say, boy, Bryant sure was a nut for that air-conditioning, and I was, ever since that night in Kentucky when we entertained Bull Hancock and Louis Hagan and Charlie Mitchell in our bedroom in front of that little old window unit.”
Later in the book:
“I’ll never forget Jim Tatum. After the war they started holding coaches clinics overseas,” [a group including Bryant and Tatum went to Japan] “Tatum had this air-conditioned room, and one night he called Duffy Daugherty and me to tell us he was dying. We went up there and he looked like he was having a stroke. We were drying Tatum’s face off with towels, trying to keep him calm, when the doctor came in and made the diagnosis. He said the air-conditioning had gone off and Tatum got so hot he almost smothered.”
On Paying Players
“You talk about paying players. That’s a form of motivation. It was very popular after the war, too, but not as popular as it is today. Buying players is at an all-time high. Well, I’ve done that, or at least let some of my alumni do it.”
“I’m not sure how many of our boys got something; I guess about four or five did. I didn’t know what they got, and I didn’t want to know, but they got something because they had other offers and I told my alumni to meet the competition.”
Bryant also writes that he was paid while he played at Alabama in the 1930s.
On Alabama vs Tennessee 1935, the Tide won 25-0:
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but it’s true. The night before the game we anted up our nickels and dimes and quarters, accumulated the grand total of about five bucks, and bet it on ourselves. We were big underdogs. We made a killing, about a buck apiece.”
“Before the war it wasn’t uncommon – it was unethical, but it wasn’t uncommon – to raid another campus, drive right in and talk a guy into your car and drive him to your school. Virtually kidnap him. I can’t recall the names, but it happened at Alabama. Guys you were counting on were suddenly somewhere else. Those were the days of the so-called tramp athletes. Raiding was a way of life. We all did it.”
“I used to get a kick out of listening to Coach Thomas, Harry, Mehre, Hunk Anderson, and those former Notre Dame players talking about sneaking off to Calumet or someplace to play in pro games on Sunday, the day after they had played for Notre Dame. One game in particular Coach Thomas always talked about. They had played one of the big Midwest schools on Saturday. He was the Notre Dame quarterback. I don’t recall which team, but it had been a dogfight. The next day six or seven of the Notre Dame players got in cars and went to Gary for a pro game. And when they lined up and looked across the field they were facing the same team they’d played the day before.”
“Another guy who is a head coach in the NFL right now was with us at Kentucky one day, then in the Detroit Lions camp the next, then back with us again.”
~ Note: The only person I can find that played for Bryant at Kentucky and then was a HC in the NFL is Howard Schnellenberger. He was the head coach of the Colts in 1974. Bryant’s book was published in 1975.
During WW2, Bryant knew he was shipping out the following day, had no idea where the military would send him, spent all night drinking cheap champagne and boarded the military plane:
“When I got on the plane I was sleepy from the champagne, and scared. I remember sitting next to an army officer, a full colonel, but I didn’t know the insignias and I kept calling him “lieutenant.”
The transport was a big old prop that droned along, and I fell right to sleep. I dreamed I was in a big meadow with only one tree in it. And the Germans were strafing me. I kept running and they kept strafing. I knew I was a goner. I don’t know how long they kept it up, but when I woke we were landing. I could see the lights. If they were enemy lights, we were mighty close to the front. Then I saw a big sign,
“Welcome. La Guardia Field.” I wasn’t going overseas right away after all.”
1950 Sugar Bowl Kentucky vs Oklahoma
Bear Bryant versus Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma had won 31 straight games)
“I was trying to decide on a defense for his split-T and coming up empty. And you won’t believe this, but I had a dream. I dreamed we had a four-tackle scheme with certain keys, and beat Oklahoma. The next day the more I thought about it the more I liked it. And that’s what we did – we played four tackles:
Yaworsky, John Ignarski, Bob Gain, and Jim McKenzie. Yaworsky took the place of an end, Ignarski a middle guard (modern nose tackle).”
~ I think this means it was a 5 man DL, with the weak side DE plus four DTs.
~ I assume it was either a 5-3-3 or a 5-2 Monster, I haven’t found any pictures.
~ Multiple articles about the game say that Kentucky played 3 DTs instead of 2.
At Texas A & M:
“We went to his [Jones Ramsey’s] house and polished off a bottle of bourbon. I’m a Scotch drinker myself, but Jones couldn’t beg any in the neighborhood, and he came up with the bourbon. I made believe I didn’t know the difference. We drowned our sorrows pretty good, and I think I converted old Jones that night. We talked for about four hours. Years later, before he went to Texas to be Darrell’s PR man, he named his last son after me.”
“People ask me if I ever kicked a guy. Yes, I have. And if a boy lets me kick him and slam him around and he doesn’t kick back I have said I don’t want him. I’d demonstrate on a boy, show him how to block or do this or that and really let him have it, and then say, “Now you show me,” and lots of times they bellied up and really dehorrned me. One boy did it at A&M and, realizing what he’d done, started running off, and I had to call to him, “Hey, come back. You’re my kind of player.”
Alabama vs Georgia Tech game, “I’m dodging liquor bottles from the Tech stands, for one thing.”
“Darwin Holt would go in for QB Pat Trammell when we went on defense. That was about all the substituting I did in 1961.” (From 1953 to 1964, college football was “one platoon” with a caveat that they allowed one player to be substituted between plays, otherwise all players played both offense and defense).
The Post published a story that said Bear had rigged games. Bear eventually got some money in a settlement.
1962 Alabama vs Georgia Tech, a game Bear was later accused of rigging:
Down 7-6 with about a minute left, first down on the Tech 14, threw a pass. The receiver was wide open, the ball hit him in the hands and bounced up in the air and was intercepted.
“We were a passing team that year. We had Namath, and what runner can run better than Joe can pass? But as often happens in a case like that, your blocking suffers. You do a lot of backing up and rubbing bellies, trying to pass protect. You’re not down there knocking them out of the way like you do with a ball-control team.”
On Bear’s Playing career
Rarely mentioned, Bear’s playing career involved him being one of 2 Ends, the other being Don Hutson, famous as one of the first receivers to really develop route-running. Many people claim Hutson “invented” timing routes.
Bryant played Right End in ‘33, ‘34, ‘35 at Alabama.
“Alabama has tremendous strength at the ends. They have, in Paul Bryant and Don Hutson, as fine a pair of wingmen as ever played in the South. Bryant weighs 200 pounds and can step the century in 9.8 seconds.” (Danzig, 324)
Bryant, Paul “Bear” and John Underwood. Bear: The Hard Life and Good Times of Paul “Bear” Bryant New York: Bantam, 1975