Paul "Bear" Bryant

Coach Bear Bryant (1913-83)
University of Maryland (1945)
University of Kentucky (1946-53)
Texas A&M University (1954-57)
University of Alabama (1958-82)


The future coach was born Paul William Bryant on September 11, 1919, in a rural area of Arkansas known as Moro Bottom, the 11th of 12 children of William Monroe and Ida Bryant. He received the nickname "Bear" after wrestling a muzzled bear at a carnival. After the death of his father, the family moved to nearby Fordyce, Arkansas. In high school there Bryant participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He played on the 1930 Arkansas state high school football champion team as an offensive end and defensive tackle. He was scouted and recruited by the University of Alabama.

From 1932 to 1936 he attended Alabama and played on the football team. During the 1933-1934 season he was the starting offensive end. In 1935 he played on the Alabama team that defeated Stanford University in the Rose Bowl. After graduation in 1936 he stayed at Alabama as an assistant football coach. In 1940 he left to accept a similar position at Vanderbilt University. World War II interrupted his football career and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander. After the war he accepted the head football coaching position at the University of Maryland. He stayed at Maryland one year, leaving to become the head football coach at the University of Kentucky. In his years at Kentucky he compiled a record of 60 wins, 23 losses, and 5 ties. In 1950 Kentucky won the Southeast Conference title by defeating Oklahoma University. During his tenure there Kentucky went to the Great Lakes, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton bowls.


He left Kentucky in 1954 to accept the head coaching position at Texas A&M University. There he had his only losing season. After four years, however, his record stood at 25 wins, 14 losses, and 2 ties. In 1954 his team won the Southwest Conference title. Texas A&M won the conference title again in 1956, but was barred from participating in the Cotton Bowl because of recruiting violations. In 1957 the Aggies lost to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl, but Bryant had coached his first Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow.

Bryant returned to Alabama as head football coach in 1958. In his first year back at Alabama went 5-4-1. In his second year they went to the Liberty Bowl, the first of 24 consecutive trips to bowl games. He became known as a tough disciplinarian who demanded the best from his players. He had them live together in a special dormitory, and they all ate together. This toughness, however, was bolstered by integrity and fairness. He expected nothing from his players that he was not willing to give of himself. And his approach to the game paid off. Alabama football teams won six national championships and 13 Southeastern Conference titles. This remarkable accomplishment brought national attention to Alabama, and Bryant, wearing his trademark houndstooth hat, became a familiar figure on the sidelines during televised games.


Bryant was named Southeastern Conference (SEC) "Coach of the Year" eight times. In 1968 sportswriters voted him all-time SEC coach. Bryant, however, believed that a head coach was only as good as his assistants. On December 15, 1982, Bryant retired as head coach position and became athletic director at Alabama. He was succeeded by Ray Perkins, a former coach of the New York Giants of the National Football League. Less than two months later, on January 26, 1983, Bryant died of a heart attack. In 1986 he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility. The Bear Bryant Award is given each year to the top college football coach.

At the time of his retirement in 1982, Paul "Bear" Bryant (1919-1983), legendary coach of the University of Alabama's "Crimson Tide" football team, then had the best record of any coach in college football history: 323 wins, 85 losses, and 17 ties. Sixty-five of his former college players were in professional football, and 44 more were head coaches of college or professional teams.


Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. The name was an inspiration in itself, conjuring images of a man in a hounds tooth 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 grand fatherly exterior lay what could be described as the right stuff, the stuff that created a legend.

Bryant once said, "Winning isn't everything, but it sure beats coming in second." Under his leadership, rarely did the Tide come in second. Bryant understood that there was more to a player than a strong arm or fast legs. The building of character was essential to the building of a winning team. "Intentions over the years were to help the players to be better persons every day, to help themselves, to teach a lesson on and off the field," he said.

They, were lessons not soon forgotten. Kenny "Snake" Stabler, who quarterbacked Bama to a perfect eleven-zero season in 1966, recalled when Coach Bryant suspended him during his junior year. "He made me realize what I was throwing away, and he gave me the opportunity to recapture it," Stabler said. Recapture it he did, going on to play with the Oakland Raiders where he became an all-time NFL great.