Learn more about the life and legacy of coach Paul W. Bryant.
Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant: his name conjures images of a man in a houndstooth hat standing by the goal post, coaching his team to yet another victory. Years of experience were etched in his gentle face, but behind the grandfatherly exterior lay what could be described as the right stuff, the stuff that created a legend. He had a reputation as a homespun authoritarian and a tough, but loved, taskmaster.
Bryant was born in Moro Bottom, Ark., on Sept. 11, 1913, 11th of 12 children in a farming family. At Fordyce High School, he was recruited by the University of Alabama to play right end to Don Hutson’s left end.
Post-graduation, he held a brief stint at Tennessee’s Union College before returning to Alabama as assistant coach to Frank Thomas, followed by assisting Red Sanders at Vanderbilt. After service as a Naval Officer in North Africa during World War II, he accepted his first head coaching position at Maryland in 1945. He turned the team into a winner, and then did the same in his eight years at the helm at Kentucky.
He left for Texas A&M University in 1953, where he earned a reputation as an extreme disciplinarian. From 1954-58, he produced a Southwest Conference championship team and his lone Heisman winner, John David Crow. Bryant then returned to the University of Alabama for good, saying “…when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”
The mentor who turned the Crimson Tide around, he was named the NCAA’s Coach of the 1960s. His teams toured the bowl circuit: Orange, Cotton, Sugar, Gator, Liberty, Bluebonnet – 24 in all. When he retired, Bryant had won more games than any other coach in college football history (323). In 25 years, he coached Alabama to 25 winning seasons, 24 bowl games, and six national championships. Bryant inspired those under him through hard work, high standards, and quality of character. He was the best kind of leaders; he turned individuals into teammates.
A mere four weeks after his final victory in the Liberty Bowl and retirement, Bryant died of a heart attack in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Jan. 26, 1983. Since 1986, this Coach of the Year Award has been named in his honor, with the awards benefiting the American Heart Association. In his memory, excellence in football playing and coaching lives on.