As a child growing up in Alabama, I knew firsthand that legendary Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, was larger than life. Twenty-five years after Coach Bryant’s death, his name still invokes awe and respect. Known for his trademark Hound’s-tooth hat and his low rumbling growl, Coach Bryant is remembered as one of college football’s winningest coaches and one of Alabama’s most memorable citizens.
Although he did not have a degree in the subject, Coach Bryant employed sound psychology in his coaching strategy. As he urged ordinary young men to become champions, Coach Bryant taught perseverance and endurance: Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.
Coach Bryant retired at the end of the 1982 season with a record of 323 wins, 85 losses and 17 ties. He died on January 26, 1983.
Coach Jet Rogers, now an active member in our church, served as an assistant coach on Coach Bryant’s staff at the University of Alabama from June 1966 through July 1971. I took the opportunity recently to ask Coach Rogers about his memories of Coach Bryant:
Question: When Coach Bryant stepped onto the field, he was respected by his players, the fans, and his opponents. How would you describe Coach Bryant off the field?
Coach Rogers: He was a business man, reserved. One-on-one he would listen to what I had to say, then try to give me good advice.
Coach was not critical of others and kept a positive attitude. He would not allow us to use the word “can’t.” Beginning on Thursday, he had on his “game face” through Saturday, and we coaches would steer clear of him.
Question: What was Coach Bryant’s attitude toward his players and staff members?
Coach Rogers: He believed we all were part of his family. He loved us!! He would worry a great deal about our traveling so much in automobiles as we recruited prospects. We truly felt he was like a father to us, because he pushed us to do more and to be better in every possible way.
Question: What are some of your most significant memories from working with Coach Bryant?
Coach Rogers: I learned a lot about life and sports.
WINNING: Coach had us believing that we were going to win, regardless of who we played.
HELPING: I needed some financial help and asked Coach Bryant to call the bank for me and set up a loan. He proceeded to give me a father-son talk and wrote me a personal check to meet the need. Also, one year, my wife and children were in a car wreck. Coach Bryant visited our daughter in the hospital and presented her a gift which thrilled her to death.
COMPASSION: My dad passed away right after the 1967 Sugar Bowl game. Following the funeral, we returned to Tuscaloosa, and Coach Bryant walked down the hall to my office. He closed the door and told me, “A man’s daddy is the most important person he has because when you’re down and out, maybe broke, or your wife is leaving you, or things get out of control, you can always go to your dad and ask for advice. He is the one person that will help you. Jet, I know how you feel, now with your dad gone. I want to be a father figure for you.” This meant so much to me.
Question: In recent weeks the ethics and sportsmanship of some athletes and coaches have been called into question. In your opinion, did Coach Bryant practice good ethics and sportsmanship?
Coach Rogers: Yes. Coach informed parents that he would lead and teach their sons the ethics and rules of the game. He also had his own rules—some were written down and the main one, in my thinking, was: “Don’t embarrass your family; don’t embarrass yourself, the coaching staff or the University.” Coach Bryant told his players if they got an unsportsmanship penalty, they would not play anymore in that game. Further, if the player blatantly caused a penalty, he would not play in the next game. This happened to one of our best defensive players in one game, prior to our game against Auburn. Consequently, he was taken from the game and disallowed to play Auburn.
Coach stressed “respect for self and respect for authority.” His players wore a coat and tie to all the games. Also, they were to be mindful of the fact that when their coach stood up to speak to them after finishing a meal together, everyone was to stop eating and “listen up.” We were at a Bowl game and Coach finished eating, stood up, and tapped his watch a couple of times, then faced the team. One player continued eating his meal, and Coach Bryant said to him, “I want you to get up from the table, go to your room, get your suitcase, and head back to Tuscaloosa.”
Question: Do you still have contact with some of the players who played for you and Coach Bryant?
Coach Rogers: Yes. While at Pensacola High School, I hired three former players: Alec Pittman, Steve Root, and Robin Cary. I have been in a position to help one or two Bama boys in their search for coaching jobs.
About two years ago (2006), the University of Alabama honored the 1966 football team. This team went undefeated, plus a Sugar Bowl win against Nebraska. This 1966 team is known as the team without a ring, because we were the only Division I team without a loss or a tie. We all were so excited to be together again, everybody was hugging each other’s necks! These ex-players were thanking us for helping them accomplish so much. We should have been thanking them. Players and coaches are family—Coach Bryant instilled this in us.
Question: Are there any players who stand out as having demonstrated exceptional character during or since their playing years?
Coach Rogers: I can think of many players. John Croyle, Leroy Jordan, Jeremiah Castille, Ray Perkins, Woodrow Lowe, Joe LaBue, and Eddie Morgan are a few I shall mention. Coach Bryant expected us to be of good character. In his words, “If you don’t have character, you better get it soon or you will be gone.”
Question: How would you want others to remember Coach Bryant?
Coach Rogers: I honestly believe that most all of the players under Coach Bryant loved, respected, and honored him. I certainly did. I still miss chatting with him over the phone after we moved away from Tuscaloosa. If you were not fortunate to have known Coach Bryant, please read about him. I have heard comments concerning Coach that are untrue. It really upsets me when I hear people say that he drank too much. I was in his company many times, and I never witnessed him drinking excessively. I don’t think he would exhibit poor judgment. He meant so much too many—more than anyone I have ever known. People need to know that he molded lives.
Question: How do you hope your players remember you?
Coach Rogers: I loved each of them and tried to give them Christian leadership. I tried to help mold their lives. Two of my players became ordained ministers. I attended a funeral in which an ex-player preached. He shared with me that I had a strong influence on him. I appreciated this more than if he had said I was a great coach. I hope each of these men remember me as a coach who respected them, cared for them, and gave them something to lead toward productive lifestyles.
Question: What advice would you give to young high school and college athletes concerning sports and life?
Coach Rogers: I would emphasize these four areas…
ATTITUDE – Always have a good attitude. If you are on the 3rd or 4th team, don’t pout; just convince the coach that you are going to get better. Take your sport serious and use it to help mold your life for the future.
PUNCTUALITY – Always be on time for practice, meetings, meals, classes, etc.
EGO – Never get the big head. Be humble, be thankful for the ability you have and opportunities that you make happen. Always give your best; nothing less than your best.
SPIRITUAL LIFE– Go to the church of your choice. Try to live close to God and let Him guide you daily. If you do this, you will accomplish much and be a happier individual.