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Archive for the ‘Bear Bryant’ Category

Paul Finebaum: “I think it’s a biblical thing. Twenty-five years of glory (the number of years Bryant was at Alabama) followed by 25 five years of plagues.”

Allen Barra (in the book “The Last Coach“): “Which means a new golden age should be dawning for the Crimson Tide around 2007.”

This is a great article. I wish I’d written it. Paul Finebaum is the author, and one of the several key points it covers includes one in which he states, quite correctly, that Alabama fans don’t live in the past quite as much as people accuse them (us) of.

I don’t think Alabama fans so much live in the past, as others accuse them of. They simply remember a time when excellence was required and essential. You didn’t hear the excuses and the alibis during Bryant’s times. You heard people talk about expectations of winning it all — not settling for second place. 

I’ve pointed that out before. We love the Bear, but we also love our program. We’re not looking for another Bear Bryant. It would be ridiculous to try: Bear Bryant was a figurehead, an icon, a genuinely Great Man. A lot of people would scoff right now, reading this, believing that such a statement was written by an Alabama fan of Coach Bryant because he was the Alabama coach. But those who do didn’t know Paul Bryant. They didn’t have the opportunity to stand in his presence and feel humbled just because he looked at you. And it’s nothing I can explain here. Paul Bear Bryant will never be duplicated, and we, as Alabama fans, don’t even want him to be. What we’re looking for is another great coach to add to the Alabama dynasty, a tradition that includes a lot of folks not named Bryant: Thomas, Wade, Stallings. These are the University of Alabama’s Four Horsemen, they’ve combined to give Alabama 12 National Championships, and now it’s time to add #13. Welcome to the fold, Nick Saban.

What if Gene Stallings had been hired to follow Bryant instead of Ray Perkins? What if Bobby Bowden had been hired instead of Bill Curry? What if Howard Schnellenberger had emerged from the pack at various times? What if Alabama had hired Frank Beamer instead of Mike DuBose, or an available and willing Steve Spurrier after Shula’s second season? What if Alabama had not been arrogant and played ball with the NCAA in 1995, and what if it had stood firm in the Albert Means case instead of rolling over?

 And there you have it. 25 years of frustration summed up in one series of questions. If any one of those questions had been answered in the past 25 years there might have been a very different story told today. But you can’t subvert destiny, right? The good news is that if Alabama was destined for 25 years of plague, that prophesy was fulfilled last year. Which means we are now on the threshold of a new era: welcome to the advent of Nick Saban.

Finally, the article ends with a comment that’s similar to one I made above, but coming from a Tennessee man it might carry more weight.

On the 25th anniversary of Bryant’s death, Alabama’s program is solid, legitimately looking forward for the first time in a long time.

Is Nick Saban the next Bear Bryant?

Not a chance.

He’s a very good coach, but neither Saban nor anyone else can compare. There was only one Bear Bryant. And that statement rings as true today as it did 25 years ago.

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Sly Croom is doing good things at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have beaten Alabama twice in consecutive years, and this year added cross-state rival Ole Miss, Kentucky and Auburn to its list of wins, finishing with a satisfying 7-win season plus a bowl trip. Eight wins in Starkville? Yes, and with the QB problems they’re having, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And this upward trend of success the ‘Dogs are enjoying prompts the question: What if Alabama had hired Croom instead of Shula? After the Mike Price fiasco, already late in the year and suffering from the shock and awe penalties of the sanctimonious NCAA, the coaching pickings were slim. A proven head coach was out of the question during that time of year. And what it came down to was a choice between Sly Croom and Mike Shula. Croom was an Alabama product and champion as a player and as a coach, with lessons in coaching from Bear Bryant himself. Shula was a Bama product, son of Don Shula, and had great hair. As coaches, both were in the NFL at the time, Croom coaching the running backs in Chicago and Shula the QB coach for Miami.  

Ultimately the choice came down to who had the best hair. No, I don’t believe it was a black/white thing, but I’ll grant you it would have made vast inroads if Croom had’ve been hired. It’s one thing for MSU to hire a black coach, but for Alabama, with all its pride and tradition, it would have made a statement for the whole south, to the entire country. In the end, though, they hired the prettier Shula, and damn the championship rings on Croom’s fingers. Shula looked more like a head football coach, didn’t he? Surely if he went into a recruit’s home the parents couldn’t resist his boyish charm, those eyes, that smile, that hair! Oh, if only hindsight were 50/50! (in the words of Pat Dye).

In the following years Shula would have some successes as head coach, including a 10-win season and SEC crown, and I’m sure his gentle good looks won him the hearts of many a recruits’ dear mother. But in retrospect, looking at the complete package, who looks the most like a head football coach? Shula, who is now the QB coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, or Sly Croom, who has coached up a team of blue-collar no names into a 7-win season. Croom walks the sidelines with a scowl on his face, with a furrowed brow, and points and shouts. While Shula, when he was at Bama, stared with an often-dazed expression, and was routinely slow in making the wrong decision.

Sure, it’s easy to get on the Croom bandwagon when he’s winning, and I do remember last year, when the only thing he had to hang his hat on was a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And I’m grateful for the job Mike Shula did; he took a tough job at a school still reeling, still with red butt cheeks from the NCAA’s almighty whooping stick. But Croom, who may not have boyish good looks, does have the classic coach’s stalk when he’s on the sideline, and he’s got rings, people. Championship rings on his fingers, won at the University of Alabama. Rings that I’ll bet shine brighter than Mike Shula’s baby blues ever did.

So in hindsight, maybe it’s possible Witt chose the pretty boy for the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have opted for the grizzled workhorse who is now building a reputation as a coach who not only demands excellence, but will not accept anything less. If he can win seven games at MSU, how many could he have won at Alabama?

Of course, if Croom had been hired and if had had success then Nick Saban would likely be somewhere else right now and all the excitement surrounding the program would be… what?

Few can match Saban as a recruiter, that much is certain. And as a coach he’s got few peers. But he’s not an Alabama product, and that’s his one big detrimental factor. One which, with Alabama fans, will be very easy to overlook if and when he brings home a championship. And it’s true that ‘hiring inside the family’ has bitten Alabama on the butt more times in recent years than the NCAA has. Saban is a gruff man, not personable at all, they say. The media despises him and most other college football fans in the country do, too. But we adore him, we’ve welcomed him, with all his faults, because he brings a foundation to build upon, he brings success, and he has won championships.

For Coach Croom, if he had been hired and not had success, the firestorm would not have been pretty. There’s certainly a faction of fans who would begrudge the decision of hiring a black man, although I believe it’s a small faction, and dwindling. But if Coach Croom took the podium with those rings on his fingers, few could have kept from being dazzled. He’s a product of Alabama and a Bear Bryant Man, a good man, for all accounts.

What happens if Saban bolts, which is been predicted by virtually everyone who isn’t an Alabama fan? What if Coach Saban sees the looming, potential LSU vacancy as a preferable job and grabs it up? For me, I believe Coach Croom would finally deserve the shot at Alabama. I hope him all the success in the world at MSU, excluding of course the one Saturday every year when they play Alabama. I’m not hoping for Saban to leave–God, no–I’m looking forward to this potential #1 recruiting class and I’m looking forward to everything that I think he can do at Alabama. But if he bolts, there’s a Bryant man waiting in the wing, if he’d still have us.

I believe he would.

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Because Real Men Wear Houndstooth, this is a link to the original “Supercoach” article from Time Magazine in 1980 which featured Bear Bryant, the “demigod of the autumn religion,” just two years before his death.

What fascinates Bryant about winning football games is not diagramming plays or deciding when to kick a field goal or gamble for a first down, but the challenge of melding 95 very young men into a whole, making each man’s vision of himself interdependent with those of his teammates. For all its excesses—and football has more than its share of faults—the sport can be, at its best, a social compact of a high order. Creating this bond is what Bear Bryant excels at, and for this he draws on insights and instincts he has developed over 35 years.

The goal is becoming the best at something, even if it is a game. “I’m just a plow-hand from Arkansas,” Bryant insists, “but I have learned over the years how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.”

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