Monday, September 11, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: Paul William “Bear” Bryant – September 11, 1913


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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia –
Paul William ("Bear") Bryant, football coach, son of Wilson Monroe and Ida (Kilgore) Bryant, was born on September 11, 1913, in Moro Bottom, Arkansas. He was one of eleven children in a poor family, and he remembered himself in his youth as feeling inferior, not doing well in school, and being lazy. But by the time he retired, Bryant was the college football coach with the most wins: 323 victories, 85 losses, and 17 ties. He compiled this record at four schools: University of Maryland (1945), University of Kentucky (1946- 53), Texas A&M University (1954-57), and University of Alabama (1958-82). His teams won six national championships. Many of his former assistants became head coaches, including Jerry Claiborne, Jack Pardee, and Ray Perkins. He sent more than forty-five players to the pro ranks, including quarterbacks George Blanda , Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, and Richard Todd. His coaching style stressed discipline and maximum effort. Some have said that he coached people more than football.

Bryant began his football career as a burly tackle at Fordyce (Arkansas) High School, where he received All-State honors. There he got his nickname when he wrestled a bear at a carnival. At the University of Alabama, he played football from 1932 to 1935 and helped the Crimson Tide to a 23-3-2 record and a victory in the 1935 Rose Bowl. Following graduation he remained at Alabama as an assistant football coach until 1939; he was at Vanderbilt University during 1940-41.

Bryant served in the navy as lieutenant commander (1941-45). After his discharge, Bryant became the head football coach at Maryland, leading the team to a 6-2-1 record, its first winning season in years. In 1946, following a clash with university president D.H. Byrd, who reinstated a player Bryant had suspended and who fired an assistant coach without consulting Bryant, he left to become the head coach at the University of Kentucky. In his first season Bryant's Wildcats posted a 7-3 mark. Overall at Kentucky, he had an impressive 60-23-5 record and led the Wildcats to four bowl games -- Great Lakes 1948, Orange 1950, Sugar 1951, and Cotton 1952 (losing only the Orange Bowl) -- as well as posting a Southeastern Conference championship in 1950. The highlight of his career at Kentucky came in the 1951 Sugar Bowl, when Bryant's Wildcats defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 13-7 and snapped their thirty-one-game winning streak.

Bryant brought charisma to Kentucky football and made the Wildcats a national force. He had said he wanted to stay at Kentucky until he retired, but on February 4, 1954, he resigned as head football coach, after signing a twelve-year contract extension only a month earlier. Bryant attributed his decision to conflict with basketball coach Adolph Rupp. Both men, highly competitive, wanted top priority for their programs. Bryant, who had believed that Rupp would soon retire, resigned when he found out that Rupp had signed a ten-year contract extension. Bryant went to Texas A&M in College Station. He coached four years there, posting a 25-14-2 record.

Bryant returned to his alma mater in 1958 to become head football coach and athletic director. He led Alabama to twenty-four bowl appearances and six national championships. On November 28, 1981, he broke the collegiate coaching record with 315 career wins as Alabama defeated Auburn, 28-17. He was also instrumental in integrating the Alabama student body in 1971 by recruiting black athletes. Bryant retired following the 1982 season.

Bryant enjoyed duck hunting and fishing in Kentucky, occasionally in the company of his close friend Gov. Lawrence Wetherby (1950-55). In 1934 he married Mary Harmon Black; they had two children, Paul, Jr., and Mae Martin Tyson. Bryant died on January 26, 1983, and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama.  

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Dunnavant, Keith. Coach : The Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.
GV939.B79 D86 1996, Special Collections Research Center

Bryant, Paul W., and John Underwood. Bear; the Hard Life and Good times of Alabama's Coach Bryant. 1st Ed.].. ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975. Print.
GV939.B79 A32 1975, Young Library - 4th Floor

Huddleston, Walter D., Terry L. Birdwhistell, Sarah Duncan, and Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. Walter D. Huddleston Oral History Project. 2001.
OHWDH, Special Collections Research Center - Oral History Collections

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