The definitive portrait of Paul “Bear” Bryant, the most successful college football coach in history.
Just five weeks after coaching his final football game for the University of Alabama, Paul “Bear” Bryant passed away. The impact he had on the state of Alabama and the entire college football world cannot be overstated.
For twenty-five years as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, and thirteen years before that at Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A&M, Bear Bryant’s outsized personality and deep charisma made him the dominant figure in the world of college football, turning boys with ordinary talent but extraordinary heart into winners—both on the gridiron and off.
At Alabama, Bear Bryant would go on to become the winningest coach of all time, achieving the best record in the country in both the 60s and 70s. He is the only coach to win national championships with both segregated teams and integrated ones. His secret lay not in any strategic brilliance he brought to the game, but in his gift for molding individual talents into a cohesive unit that could achieve far more than the sum of its parts would suggest.
That ability made him a great coach, but to many, Bryant represented more than just a coach: He was everything a southern gentleman was supposed to be—tough, principled, charismatic, modest in victory yet quick to assume blame in defeat, and as mindful of where he’d come from as where he was going.
Coach is not only about the man and his tremendous ability to succeed, it’s also a tribute to the South and the legacy Coach Bryant left behind. In a divisive era, Bryant gave Alabamians something to be proud of. And, he was simply the greatest football coach of all times.
Bryant (1913-1983) retired in 1982 as the winningest coach in major college football history, with 323 victories, more than either of the legends Amos Alonzo Stagg or Pop Warner. Starting in 1935 at Union College in Jackson, Tenn., Bryant then served as an assistant coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt, spent four years in the service and then coached at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M before returning to Alabama in 1958, where he stayed until he retired. From a background of grinding rural poverty, he found football a means of escape and, driven himself, always favored players whose drive was their strongest attribute. Freelance journalist Dunnavant demonstrates that Bryant was revered in his adopted state because, at a time when Alabama came in for opprobrium as the home of Bull Connor, George Wallace and Bloody Sunday in Selma, he was respected throughout the country as a rugged, earthy yet disciplined and decent man. And while not in the forefront of the battle for integration, it suited him well, for many of the young African Americans who went to Tuscaloosa came from a background similar to his and he understood them. Though hagiographic, this bio makes for good reading.