Bear Bryant

Missing image
Image from stamp honoring Bryant

Paul William 'Bear' Bryant (September 11, 1913January 26, 1983) was an American college football coach. Best known as the longtime head coach of the University of Alabama football team, he achieved an unparalleled legendary status in the sport, winning the national championship six times, and setting the record as the all-time (up to that time) most successful coach in NCAA Division I college football, with a record of 323-85-17.

Bryant was born in Moro Bottom, Arkansas on September 11, 1913. In 1931, as a player with the Fordyce High School Redbugs of Fordyce, Arkansas, he won the 1931 Arkansas High School Football State Championship.

He attended the University of Alabama and played on its football team. He played in the 1935 Rose Bowl after a 10-0-0 season. He graduated in 1936. The team's combined record during Bryant's college playing years was 23-3-2. Bryant later served as an assistant coach for four years at the University of Alabama; the team achieved a record of 29-5-3 during this period.

He served in the United States Navy during World War II and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

After returning from the war and serving briefly as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University, Bryant was head coach at the University of Maryland for one season, the University of Kentucky for eight seasons, and Texas A&M University for four seasons, before returning to the University of Alabama. He coached at Alabama for 25 seasons, winning national titles in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, and 1979. In his career he participated in a total of 31 post-season bowl games including 24 consecutively at Alabama. He had 15 bowl wins, including eight Sugar Bowls, was a 10-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and a four-time National Coach of the Year.

Bryant presided over a turbulent time in the history of the university, in particular with racial relations in Alabama in the 1960s. He and basketball coach C. M. Newton are credited with bringing the school's sports programs into the modern era. After losing to an exceptional University of Southern California team whose star running back was a young African American from Mobile, Bryant is said to have gone to the governor of Alabama personally, as the university's athletic director, to request a change in policy with regard to the granting of athletic scholarships to blacks, which was granted. Many believe that it was Bryant's intention when scheduling the game with U.S.C. Also in the 1960s, The Saturday Evening Post ran a story alleging that Bryant had been overheard conspiring with University of Georgia coach Wally Butts to fix their Southeastern Conference football game. Bryant sued the Post for libel and was eventually awarded $360,000, a considerable sum in that era which hastened the demise of the weekly Post as a general-interest magazine and put it out of business entirely for a while (the current Post is now a bimonthly publication specializing in nostalgia and published by an entirely different ownership and managment).

Bryant announced his retirement as head football coach at Alabama effective with the end of the 1982 season. His last game was a Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee versus the University of Illinois. He intended to stay on as athletic director; however Bryant died on January 26, 1983, less than a month after his final game, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where a major street is named in his honor and there is a museum dedicated to him on the campus of the University of Alabama.

The 2003 movie The Junction Boys is about Bryant's first season as head coach at Texas A&M, in which he had the team put through strenuous practices in the sweltering late summer heat in Junction, Texas.Gary Busey also played Bryant in the 1984 bio-pic, "The Bear".


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