Bear Bryant

11 09 2010

Bear Bryant. This legendary Southern coach hardly needs any introduction, but as college football season is upon us, we take a look at Paul William Bryant on this date, the anniversary of his birth.

I have two connections to Coach Bryant. While most immediately associate “Bear” with the University of Alabama, and the famous houndstooth (remind us sometime to tell you about the time we accidentally showed up at a Ole Miss game with only a houndstooth umbrella on a drizzly day — Becky and I thought we might get jumped!), many don’t realize that he also coached at other prestigious Southern schools, including two very dear to my heart — my beloved University of Kentucky and, my alma mater, Union University.

After graduating, and playing football at the University of Alabama, Bear Bryant accepted his first coaching job at Union University before returning to Alabama as assistant coach under Frank Thomas. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to accept the head coaching job at the University of Maryland for one season, and then moved onto the University of Kentucky. Coach Bryant coached the Wildcats for eight seasons, winning the SEC title in 1950. From UK, he also coached at Texas A&M and served as athletic director there before moving onto the University of Alabama in 1958.

Bryant coached at the University of Alabama, his alma mater, winning six national championships there and coaching for 25 years. An Arkansas native, and a Southern man through and through, this symbol of football was buried in Birmingham, Alabama. He has had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan, been the subject of numerous movies, songs, and even had a memorial U.S. postage stamp in his honor. This Southern legend is the face of football, so we remember his legacy as we enter into our favorite of all Southern seasons — fall football season!




One response

13 09 2010
Larry Thompson

Legend in Kentucky says that Bear Bryant left the University of Kentucky after successful seasons in both football and basketball, when the school rewarded the “Baron,” UK Basketball Coach Adolph Rupp, with a Cadillac and the “Bear” got only a cigarette lighter. He knew football would never compete with basketball in the Bluegrass State.

The truth, however, is that Bear crippled himself. This excerpt from Lexington Herald-Leader sports columnist Mark Story tells the story:

On Jan. 3, 1952, Paul “Bear” Bryant was the toast of Kentucky.

That day, the University of Kentucky football coach and his team flew home to Lexington from Dallas. Two days before, Bryant’s Wildcats had whipped Texas Christian University in the Cotton Bowl.

The victory capped a three-year period (1949-51 football seasons) in which UK went 28-8 and played in the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls, winning the latter two.

Yet, rather than issue a triumphant statement over back-to-back victories in New Year’s Day bowls, Bryant came home to make a stunning announcement.

“The University of Kentucky surprised the football world yesterday,” Larry Boeck reported in the Jan. 4, 1952, edition of The Courier-Journal, “when Coach Paul Bryant announced the school has stopped all recruiting of players outside the state (of Kentucky).”

An out-of-state recruiting ban.

Even 58 years later, some say 1/3/52 is the day the music died for UK football.

Read more:

Some say he was pressured into making the out-of-state recruiting ban by UK President Herman Donovan, but being pressured into anything doesn’t sound like the Bear. I think it was more of a “I’m-such-a-good-coach-I-can-beat-you-with-one-hand-tied-behind-my-back” kind of attitude.

In any event, Bear coached only two more seasons at Kentucky, and UK football never regained the luster of those days in the late 40s and early 50s had the best overall sports program in the world.

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