I am a Dawg through and through. My father started at free safety for Georgia in the late 1960’s, I cried when Georgia lost to Pitt (Dan Marino) and Penn State (Todd Blackledge) in the early 1980’s, and have always voluntarily worn the red and black. The only exception was 60 seconds after I was born. Dr. Joe Parrish placed a Tennessee Volunteers hat on my head. I have seen a lot of hospital pictures from that day, but Joe’s picture seems to be missing.
With this in mind, one of my favorite quotes was made by Coach William Paul “Bear” Bryant. He said, “I don’t want ordinary people, I want people who are willing to sacrifice and do without a lot of those things ordinary students get to do. That’s what it takes to win.”
I can objectively say that Coach William Paul “Bear” Bryant was, is, and will probably forever be, the most revered college head football coach. Because he is college football, a large picture of him hangs in our “Georgia room” between Herschel Walker and Vince Dooley.
Bryant was born on September 11, 1913, in Moro Bottom, Arkansas.
The 11th of 12 children, he grew to an imposing 6’1″ and 180 pounds by age 13. About that time, he would earn his famous nickname by wrestling a bear.
He starred at end for the University of Alabama football team opposite future NFL Hall of Famer Don Hutson; and even bigger star player. After successful coaching careers at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M, he won six national championships over 25 years with Alabama, and retired with a record 323 wins in 1982. Bryant died in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 26, 1983— 28 days after coaching his final game.
However, thousands of famous and successful people have interesting stories and stellar statistics. What made him different?
While he was a brilliant tactician, could adjust quickly in the middle of a game, and a great recruiter, it was his form of leadership that set him apart. Some of critical leadership qualities include:
1. SEEING THE BIG PICTURE – At the beginning of his tenure at every school, particularly his alma mater, he had an overall vision of exactly what that football program should look like.
2. COMMUNICATION – Coach Bryant communicated his vision not only to his players and assistant coaches, but also to the administration, the faculty, and the students. His vision spread to alumni and fans throughout Alabama, the South, and the nation. His communication skills made his program special. Thus, the overwhelming support followed.
3. MOTIVATOR – Coach Bryant could get the best out of his players. He would use many techniques; fear being one of them. Players feared Coach Bryant’s wrath. He would single out one player to get the attention of the team. He suspended superstars Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler sending the message no one is bigger than his rules. While he was tough as nails, he would often leave a path to get a second chance.
4. CHARACTER AND HARD WORK – Not everyone was cut out to play or coach under Bryant. He recruited and hired men who would put in the extra hours. He valued a less talented player who would work tirelessly to become better over a more talented player who was lazy. He also valued honesty, integrity, and taking personal responsibility. Blaming others for mistakes on the field was not acceptable. This combination of his leadership would benefit those around him as many former players and coaches went on to successful careers.
From 1958 to 1982, you could easily spot the Coach with his houndstooth hat, list of plays in his hands, oftentimes leaning on a goalpost surveying the battlefield before the game. His life ended in 1983. The following month, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But, his spirit and dominant legacy are very much alive today.
Just ask any four-year old boy in any town in Alabama wearing a little Crimson Tide shirt who Coach Bear Bryant was. The child might respond by saying, “Sir, do you mean who he is?”