Friday, January 26, 2024

Remembering Coach Bryant- A Decade of Posts

As many of you know - I try to post something about Coach Bryant on the anniversary of his passing away on Jan 26, 1983. The site I have dedicated to Coach Bryant is full of special memories. Today marks a decade of keeping this tradition.

You can also find posts here:
Wordpress- Coach Bryant Memories

Another year to commemorate and remember Coach Bryant. Every year, I’m not sure what to write about, but then something always hits me. This year became much easier when Coach Nick Saban announced his retirement after 17 amazing seasons with the Tide and then the subsequent hiring of Coach Kalen DeBoer.

Before I get to the coaching change, I wanted to make mention of the privilege I had to attend the Jeremiah Castille Foundation Night of Champions Dinner that honored the 1973 Alabama team on Dec.16 at the Downtown Sheraton.

It was a wonderful event that highlighted an amazing team. Both Greg Byrne and Paul Finebaum both gave wonderful tributes to Coach Bryant and that team. By far my favorite speaker that evening was Ralph Stokes who spoke of the opportunities Coach Bryant afforded him by signing him to a scholarship at Alabama. He went on to write a book about that “One of the First” that details how he overcame the prejudices and challenges of being one of the early African-American players to come to the Tide on scholarship.

I doubt Coach Bryant will ever receive the proper recognition on those early moves and how his love for all his players, his ability to build team unity, and his effort to make sure they succeeded long after football was gone.

Last night, I attended the Alabama Football Coaches Association Clinic (ALFCA) held annually in Montgomery. The High School coaches there got to hear from a number of outstanding coaches and it was the first time that Coach Deboer spoke to the Alabama high school coaches. I though he did an excellent job. 

It made me go back to some memories about Coach Bryant's retirement.

Let’s do a little remembrance of the Bryant retirement and do some comparison and contrast and the challenges ahead.

Dec. 15, 1982 changed everything in the year I had with Coach Bryant.

It was written on the board in Bryant Hall for us to report to the annex. That RARELY happened.

When I sat down and saw all the extra people in there, I immediately knew I was observing history.

My memory fails me here a little- it seemed like he either read his speech before the media and then talked to just us. Or he talked to just us and then read the speech to the media.

His talk to us was animated, energetic, optimistic. He spoke of his plan to bring on his successor and stay on as Athletic Director. He said the next coach was going to need to be able to throw the football because of the rules and the way the game was headed.

Then, when he read his speech- he seemed tired and had no energy. It was like two different men! Again, 30 year old memory.......

Here is the transcript of the read speech:

There comes a time in every profession when you need to hang it up and that time has come for me at the University of Alabama.

My main purpose as Director of Athletics and head football coach here at Alabama has been to field the best possible teams, to improve each player as a person and to produce citizens who will be a credit to our present day society.

We have been successful in most of those areas, but now, I feel the time is right for a change in our football leadership. We lost two big games this season that we should have won, and we played only four or five games like Bryant-coached teams should play. I've done a poor job of coaching.

This is my school- my alma mater- and I love it. And I love the players- but in my opinion, they deserve better coaching than they've been getting from me this year and my stepping down is an effort to see that they get better coaching from someone else.

It is a great joy for me, personally, to have had the opportunity to coach at my alma mater. I know I will miss coaching, but the thing I will miss the most is the association I have had with the players, the coaches, the competition- all of those things that have made such a strong tradition at Alabama.

I can't say enough, or thank enough, the coaches who are with me now- and those who have been there in the past.

I plan to continue as Director of Athletics and pledge my support to my successor in every respect, particularly in recruiting.

The storm was in full brew now and a pressure was building.

The rumor was already in the works that Ray Perkins of the NFL New York Giants was going to be the new coach. Believe it or not- we practiced later that day. And it was so strange- it was not mentioned at all.

But the practice was terrible. To be honest, all of the practices had been terrible up to that point. The dorm was a sea of visitors that evening.
I just drifted into the background and listened.. watched. The Liberty Bowl practices never did pick up.

What did come into full view was that Ray Perkins was coming to Alabama.
All of the attention was about Coach Perkins and what his staff might be like and what his pro style offense may do to coaches and players.

There were some sad players, and even sadder coaches. Word was that some were being told immediately that they would not be back.

The last game was a thriller- Alabama beat a good Illinois team 21-15 on a bitterly cold Memphis night and carried the Bear on their shoulders for one last time.

Jeremiah Castille was the MVP for his Liberty Bowl record 3 interceptions and Coach Bryant was all smiles.
I was so relieved and proud- this is how it was supposed to end. Coach Bryant notched his 323rd college football win in his last stand.

I wrote about this in my last post: We all know the difficulty Alabama had replacing the legend.

But I do think there are STARK differences when I think about the end of the Bryant era and the end of the Saban era.

Facilities: The facilities at Alabama had fallen behind many other schools when Coach Bryant passed away.

Program Success: The program was not operating at the level we would call “Alabama standard” when Coach Bryant retired, he knew it more than anyone.

Sudden loss of Coach Bryant: In my opinion, this was also tough in that the traffic death of the beloved coach put a hamper on the program.

School and Athletics Leadership: The actual school leaders were not perceived to be strong. A lot of the power was held by trustees and boosters. In fact, until Coach Saban came, that weakness at the top created a fragile and unstable environment.

These factors could play a role in allowing Coach DeBoer to have continued success, but we all know it is a fragile time. The success rate of following a legend is not very high, but it is doable.

Things that could hamper Coach DeBoer are somewhat out of his control and that is the difficulties of recruiting and retaining elite players in that age of the portal and NIL difficulties.

A few days ago, I posted this information with some analysis of the cannibalistic actions and attitudes of fans with unrealistic expectations. Mass communication has given naysayers and negateers way too much access to voice opinions that are at times ludacris and juvenile.

But that is the soup that all coaches have to navigate….. It is not for the faint of heart!

I also referenced a few days ago about my short analysis of the Bryant vs Saban debate. I do want to not leave out the great job by Gene Stallings and the 1992 National Championship

I do give Coach Saban the edge on career success over Coach Bryant because of the challenges of the times- though both men had great intuition on how to evolve to survive.

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