Wow- it is amazing to see all of the visits and comments on this series- Alabama football and Coach Bryant are red hot topics!
I wanted to spend one of the posts in this series to evaluating Coach Bryant as a coach. And with the analysis, explain what are the winning edges that make him among the best and, likely, the best of all-time.
Evaluating a coach is not easy. It is almost like judging an offensive play call- a good call 'worked' and a bad one 'didn't"... a great coach wins a lot and gathers championships and a bad coach loses, loses the big ones, or doesn't add up trophies. Shallow and juvenile assessments, though a part of the formula.
Another problem with assessing a coach is that there are different styles and approaches that can be successful. I blogged on this years ago (sorry, it is dated...mentions Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik: but the principles are still valid I believe : The Outlaw vs. The Sheriff )
EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm sad to report that high school coaches are increasingly put on the college coaching yardstick. Take any major newspaper in Dec. and January and read how much change is happening at the HS level. A HS coaching evaluation has to be different, but few administrators understand the dynamics.
In the end, what makes Coach Bryant the best is a dynamic matching of hundreds of variables- some of which even he had no control over. But, he made the best of his situation and utilized his talent for a long duration.
Coach Bryant's Strengths:
Magnetic Charisma and Presence: Some of this is just God given. He was a tall, broad, man's man. When you see pictures of him in the early days, he looked like a John Wayne type of man. He could tell a story and knew how to time the punch lines. He had great charm and wit.
But it wasn't hollywood exterior- he wasn't play acting. He had it. And there was a power to his presence- He was tough. He would demonstrate blocking as a coach and nearly knock players out in his early days.
The bottom line is this- especially in today's media market- your typical, big-time- highly successful head coach will be (usually) tall, physically fit, and have a catch your eye presence. Coach Bryant had those things in spades.
The cool thing about Coach Bryant was that he had a visual that helped him keep ALL of those attributes all the way to the end. Of course he never lost his charm or well timed wit! But the houndstooth hat topped off an iconic image that kept the glory from fading as rapidly as it normally would.
Most of the coaches who enter into legend have a trademark icon that cinch it. I don't think you can prepare that- it just happens.
I know I covered this attribute first- and it is always our first judge of people- but the eye test is very low as far as a sustainable success. Coach Bryant's personality and presence was more of his character. But he used all of his talents in a hall of fame way.
Instant and Ever Growing Credibility: Yes, Coach Bryant passed the eye test. But he did a fantastic job of stepping through success into more success until it culminated in where he wanted it to stop. This is rare and again, takes some great fortune along the way- but Coach Bryant parlayed success as a player, into success as a young head coach, and knew when to move.
When Adolph Rupp was given a cadillac at Kentucky and Coach Bryant was given a lighter- he was smart enough to know it was time to go.
This is why it is so tough to hire head football coaches at the college level at the major programs- who will deliver instant credibility?
There was great excitement at Alabama when Coach Bryant came home.
Again, small pieces of a great puzzle...... and they have to come together, layer by layer.
Adaptability: I wanted to list this first- but I felt like there is a flow to these attributes. Coach Bryant's ability to see trends and adapt to the schemes and his players was his greatest strength. Adaptability is NOT change for change sake, and it is not doing what everyone else is doing as a fad- adaptability IS holding to a core set of vales/principles and teaching/applying/evaluating those as conditions change.
A key component of adaptability is the ability to see. Coach Bryant had amazing powers of observation. On the day he announced his retirement, he told us that the next coach at Alabama was going to have to be able to throw the football because that was where the game was going.
Think about the extreme conditions that Coach Bryant proved to be a winner. The loss of innocence turbulent 60's with integration strife- the long haired/free sex and drug rebelliousness of the late 60's and 70's, the questioning of authority in the aftermath of Watergate, the growing corporate age of late 70's and early 80's.
He also knew how to adapt as a psychologist in terms of getting the most out of his players as the environments changed in culture.
However, as all great leaders do- HE controlled the change. He was not behind the curve, he was not in front of it- He stayed just behind the wave and never sacrificed his principles in the process.
Team/Scheme/Staff: Coach Bryant understood that it was a unified, team effort of everyone involved. Coach Bryant knew that he needed to surround himself with great people and lead them to do their best.
But Coach Bryant was a master at bringing everyone under the BIG TENT. Not just the University of Alabama, but the entire State of Alabama. Even today, Coach Bryant's education of the average Alabamian has a lasting imprint.
On the Bear Bryant shows, every Sunday, Coach Bryant educated the masses on class, how to handle winning, and how to handle losing. He demonstrated humility and passion all at the same time. He had fun!
He did not want his players hotdogging- 'Act like you've been there before'. He wanted Alabama to win with the white hat and not the black hat. He encouraged all the fans to do the same.
Coach Bryant pulled in all other sports and the academicians at the University under the tent. He made it clear that he was giving back- and even the most hardened Deans softened to football after being wined and dined at football games.
All the players saw him as a man who gave as much as he asked. And because of that... we would all lay it down for him.
A story that was told to me was one of his recruits came to Alabama with horrific dental issues. Coach Bryant was rumored to have called the President of the NCAA and say, "I'm going to pay to have my player's teeth fixed and I dare you to try and do something about that." True or not, those stories stuck!
Coach Bryant knew that there needed to be a varied staff as well. He had those coaches who were good on the field, good on the x's and o's, good on the chalkboard- and they all used all of their abilities to add the the championship soup of work and expectations.
Finally, Coach Bryant knew scheme and technique. Everything he did was fundamentally sound.
All humans are flawed. Ultimately, Coach Bryant's biggest undoing was time itself. "The outer man is decaying, but the inner man is renewed day by day."
I easily admit that I did not get to see the Bear, in his prime, up close. The entire facility felt old and in need of an uplift. The Crimson pads had an out of date, weather worn kind of feel.
Even my equipment seemed out of date- hip pads were bulky- the weight room wasn't up to what I had seen at Clemson as Danny Ford showed it to me in the spring of 82 when I was on a recruiting visit.
Tennessee was touting their indoor facility.
Georgia was re-doing their whole athletic facilities.
What Mal Moore and President Witt did to enhance every aspect of the campus/facilities/Honors Dorms/Stadium at Alabama was as essential as finding Coach Saban.
But- Coach Bryant did it as well as any mortal could in the same situation.
It started showing up in recruiting. The SEC opponents were finally wining the argument of Coach Bryant won't be there much longer. It wasn't a HUGE difference, but winning edges are small.
Coach Pat Dye was going into homes and doing the Bear Bryant speech better than Coach Bryant- and the pendulum would swing.... doesn't it always?
Win or Spin: Coach Bryant also knew how to communicate. When we lost to Tennessee that year, it was a real blow. We had played well enough to win, had a chance late but had to endure the humiliation of our first loss to that rival in 11 years!
That next BIG MEETING, he took us from the low of lows to the highest of highs. He went team by team of the teams above us in the polls and explained when and how they were going to lose and how we still had our ultimate goals in front of us.
By the way- my first sense of it all being over was the lack of that happening following our loss to LSU in Birmingham a few weeks later. He looked hurt and tired and ill that day. And we were plain terrified of how bad we were going to get punished in practice.
But the team never rallied back- and it cost us the next week against Southern Miss.
We did get pumped for Auburn and that game turned on a Jeremiah Castille interception that was ruled pass interference and a last minute dive by Bo.
The Liberty Bowl game prep was special because every person in that organization was deeply committed to sending him out on top.
In the end- the Bryant resume has to be considered deeper that the stats.
72-2 home record
6 national titles
14 SEC titles
29 Bowl games
10 time SEC coach of the year
6 time national coach of the year
But the stats ain't bad either!