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Profiles In Plagiar-Ageism: Paul William "Bear" Bryant

Programming Note: Each night this week we will be running a new installment of Profiles in Plagiar-Ageism.  By new I mean half old, half new.  The first three episodes previously ran over at The Big Eleventh; after those air several all new episodes will follow.  It's like when the original version of The Office came across to the pond, only with less awkward jokes.



Profiles In Plagiar-Agism is an offseason series being run to examine the history of exit plans. We will be analyzing some of the greatest football coaches of all time and determining any parallels between their final days and those that are facing Joe Paterno.

Paul William "Bear" Bryant Coaching Years: Maryland 1945, Kentucky 1946–1953, Texas A&M 1954–1957, Alabama 1958–1982. Total: 37 Years.

Mythical National Championships: 4?* (Note, in two of these four years, the team went on to lose their bowl game. In said years,the MNC was awarded before the bowl game so they were allowed to continue to claim their #1 ranking)

Conference Championships: 15

Backstory: Bryant grew up in Arkansas and earned his nickname from volunteering to fight a bear when the circus came to town. He later played college football at the University of Alabama where he was part of the (cough-cough)** 1934 National Championship Team. He was drafted into the NFL but never played. Bryant landed several assistant jobs, including one at Alabama, but left to join the Navy at the start of World War II. After an honorable discharge he jumped back into coaching. At Kentucky, he led the school to their first ever conference championship and then, after the "Junction Boys" summer during his first year at A&M, turned that program around and won the Southwest Conference championship two years later. The following season, however, things began to fall apart when a rumor of Alabama interest surfaced. He did, in fact, leave A&M for Bama and stayed there until this retirement in 1982.

Burn Out or Fade Away? Faded away on fire? Can I say that? He shared an MNC in '78, won outright in '79, then finished 6th in the AP the next two years. His last year was nothing to print plaques about but it's still better than Penn State has finished the last two seasons.

Current Legacy: Um, ya, they still like him there. Very much so.

Similar to Paterno's Situation? Well, they are tough to compare. Paterno was at Penn State his whole career. Bryant was HC at four schools. Paterno grew the program as an independent. Bryant played in the SEC. Paterno took a true cow college with no football history and turned into a national power. Bryant sure did turn the program around (the preceding coach had a wining percentage of .163), but from 1924-1946 the school won 81% of their games and had claimed (emphasis strong) six national championships before he ever arrived.

So what did we learn? Well Bryant didn't go out on top, but he came pretty close. Four of his last five seasons were rather impressive. What was his response to life after football? "I'll probably croak in a week." He was wrong, it took four weeks. Paterno has made similar jokes about mortality, but he's also very healthy. The point is the one thing these guys have in common is their total lack of hobbies. Joe has made it very clear that he doesn't golf or fish or do any of that old people stuff. He coaches football, period. Joe still thinks he has it, Bryant thought he lost it, and that's why he retired:

After a disappointing '82 season, Paul Bryant announced he was retiring at seasons end. He said the decision had come because he wasn't pleased with himself anymore. "This is my school, my alma mater. I love it and I love my players. But in my opinion they deserved better coaching than they have been getting from me this year."

No one ask the Bear to leave, he felt it was time and packed up his office.  It's hard to speculate exactly why he felt he could no longer coach up to his own expectations, especially considering his very recent success and an idol-ship very similar to the one Paterno is enjoying right now.  I'm also left wondering when, or under what circumstances, Joe would do the same thing.  He's already lightened his recruiting routine and managed through the Dark Years without wavering.  He showed he had what it takes when the 2005 team finished third in the polls, but questions about why exactly the team has been mediocre since fuel a "does he still have it" debate that has been going on for over a decade now.

Baring another slide into oblivion, which seems unlikely, Paterno is probably going to be able to leave the way he pleases.  What is going to be interesting is when, or why, he decides to it's time.


* Now Bama has a reputation for claiming MNC's they didn't actually win. If they need this for ego reasons I'm not going to stand in the way. But when I look up the polls in '65 and '78 they finished #4 and #2, respectively. They lost games both years.  I don't want the wrath of Bama, I've liked every one of their fan's I've ever met in person, but I simply don't get this.

** Ok, this is getting effing ridiculous. Bama was ranked sixth, SIXTH, that season. Yes, they were undefeated but if you want to bitch about being snubbed by the polls get in the back of this very long line we are standing in.