Fighting The Fade: Entropy of the Empire

26 Jan

This post is part of my dedication to write about Coach Paul Bear Bryant every Jan. 26 in remembrance of him. I have a WordPress site that compiles my experience growing up in the Bryant era of Alabama football, which included m time as a walk-on QB during his last season- the fall of 1982. You can read all of the posts here: https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/

“I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man”(1 Kings 2:2 ESV)

I have a calendar reminder every January to begin thinking about what to write on.

These days, it is almost impossible to not link Coach Bryant to the remarkable run by current Alabama coach, Nick Saban. But looking back, I have done that times ten (as have countless others).

For some reason this year, it has been about ‘fighting the fade’.…. and I have resisted this topic because it doesn’t sound as complimentary or as reverent as I intend to be. But it is a reality, nonetheless. Some of it is also about my personal competition with a body that is now 53 and requires energy and work to maintain.

JM Spring 1984

The ‘fade’ is evident

In the Fall of 1982, I could smell and feel that the Crimson glory was in decay. Things had been running on rewind. The buildings, the equipment, the weight room, the colors were fading. The support staff looked more like retirees than hungry and ambitious culture changers.

There were exceptions of course. Strength coach Al Miller had a hunger and newness to him. And even though the weight room was cramped, old, and outdated… he forged ahead ….

It was in that weight room one day, broken in pieces by a ‘light’ workout that I heard him wonder out loud “Was there any player left who knew or remembered what past champions had sacrificed to earn a ring?”.

And it scared me when he said that…because I was worried about that myself…and I knew that I had no clue (and was somewhat terrified if I wanted to know).

Now- before I am mis-understood…this is not a hit piece blaming Coach Bryant… I have experienced this over and over in life:

I went to Banks High School AFTER the glory of the 60’s/70’s

My time at Alabama – the ending of Coach Bryant’s era

But the feelings have been felt in other times as well….

I was at Tennessee a lot at the end of Coach Fulmer’s run (that decay happened really fast – it was new and vibrant ’93 to ’99… but I told a good friend of mine that ‘the orange is old’ in 2004- and it was more about the campus feel and how tired everybody seemed.

Is there a point to this ‘downer’ of a post?

Yes…. all glory as it relates to man has a shelf life- and it is no ones fault.

Moses wore a veil to hide the fading glory.

Poems and songs have been crafted to relate to the reality of the decay that precedes death.

The Bible states it this way:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)

And I believe, Coach Bryant shines in this area…..

Since all empires fade in the gravitational pull of entropy…. what do we do?

We fight and we constantly seek RENEWAL.

I don’t treat the end of Coach Bryant’s run as negative- I honor him for how long he sustained it- through all the changes that were demanded to stay fresh and relevant.

In his final speech to the team- he knew what was needed…. He told us “Because of current trends in football and rule changes….we have to start passing the ball more”

So here is what we have to do personally and even organizationally to promote longevity:

We have to expend the energy and drive to be refreshed and renewed.

We cannot rest long on any past success.

We have to be willing to battle to the very end.

In the end, we all end up in the same state…. but HOW we get there makes all the difference in the world.

Alfred. Lord Tennyson captures the zeal needed to fight decay in his classic poem, Ulysses.

The entire poem is worth the read- he is resting and enjoying the prosperity of past battles, but he knows he needs to be back in the battle.

Years ago, I took the last part of that poem and adapted it to a TEAM challenge:

It may be that foes will wear us down: 
It may be we wear championship crowns, 
And match past champions, whom we knew. 
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
And I guess that is my final remark- inspired by my heroes of the past… chief among them Paul “Bear” Bryant
My battle is with my team- we strive together- and it is a glorious fight!
And the team?
The team of my family
The team of my co-workers
The team of my faith
As we continue to fight the decay of life…. we become one equal temper of heroic hearts.
And in the end, we realize that that investment in others has great reward.
That attitude can even turn the trend of a nation…..

 

 

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Coach Bryant, Culture, and Coaching Football

26 Jan

Coach Bryant, Culture, and Coaching Football

This will be a part of my yearly tribute to Coach Bryant as well as a post on my football blog.

Any coach worth his salt will understand that football is a dynamic and evolving game and the best coaches are ones who keep a great throttle on the pace and direction of change is his philosophy and process.

Coach Bryant did this-  and Coach Saban as well. A great coach ‘understands the times’ so to speak, and is forever building connections between sound fundamentals and current trends. I have debated in my mind the value of anticipating change and being the FIRST to introduce change versus the guy who works just behind the chaos of the change and finds great nuggets in the plowed ground- but if you are too far behind the wave, you can end up being a cheap imitation and ineffective.

Think about the brilliance of Bryant…. working with the rugged and rural players of the 50’s, navigating the civil rights era of the 60’s, improvising in the hippie movement of the 70’s, and winning in the conservative mood of the early 80’s.

Coach Saban has shown a similar knack to adapt. Indeed, his entire ‘process’ is based on fundamentals and adaptation:

NICK SABAN’S PROCESS (WITH NOTES)

• COME TO WORK- GET TO WORK
• GRIND IT OUT EVERY PLAY-EVERY DAY- IN THE RIGHT WAY
• FINISH YOUR PREP-YOUR PRACTICE-YOUR DUTY
• FOCUS ON THE PROCESS NOT THE RESULTS. The results will take care of themselves.

In some ways these are coaching cliché’s, but everyone I know who is around Saban speak of his relentless work ethic and demand for others to grind it out with him. He also studies human psychology and understands techniques needed to motivate today’s players. He is more of a positive energetic pusher to the players in public and is tougher on his coaches in private. Love him or hate him, he has command and everyone around him keeps in step.

I heard Saban speak at a clinic when he was at LSU and he spoke of how he needed to adjust his coaching style. Here are the notes I took:
“Never before has coaching had a greater challenge or greater responsibility. I have found it difficult coaching players who are a product of this culture.
Kids have too many choices and too few commitments and very few consequences. They are self-absorbed (not selfish), it’s just a mentality. They want to know “how does this benefit me?” Very few of our players coming into our program have ever experienced consequences and that means they do not know suffering. But if you don’t suffer, you never get hungry, and you never learn to fight

It is tough on coaches today. We have fewer coaches, less time with the athletes, and greater expectations.

So here are some adjustments I have had to make in my coaching style over the years.
I want to inspire learning. I bring in people and talk to my players about why I need to learn and why they need to learn. This involves character education: commitment-perseverance- integrity. We tell them, ‘there are no victories without adversity. That’s tough to teach when there’s a re-set button on the X-box.

I constantly put before them a roadmap: ‘graduate- perform with confidence and consistency’. I create their expectations- I tell them to not let the media or public do it. A kid coming in our program today believes he needs to win the Heisman or go to the NFL to validate his career. We need to make his expectations realistic and give him a day- by -day plan to get there

I’ve learned to coach and not criticize. If you do not praise their good techniques, you better be careful about chewing on them. I want to catch them doing it right and point it out. The worst coaching ever is to scream, ‘CATCH THE BALL!’. Instead teach then how to catch the ball.

I tell them regardless of the game circumstances, NEVER show frustration. Don’t hit/ lash out/ throw things/argue – if you do that your opponent grows. If you always look determined and fighting- I have found a lot of these opponents crumble. Kids are front -runners. I tell my coaches- don’t vent on players or officials- it is a sign of weakness,not confidence.

A word about ‘character’. My definition of character is: my thoughts- habits- and priorities as shown daily in my choices

To put it this way- if all my players get is x’s and o’s , I’m not coaching. Today’s kids need character training first.”

In light of these ideas, I have started my own checklist of cultural influences that may or may not be a part of your student athletes’ experience.

ATHLETES TODAY…. EXPERIENCE MORE LEISURE

MOST OF US WOULD COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THESE ARE MORE LEISURE TIMES. The rapid advance of human technologies have us enjoying more and experiencing discomfort less. Heat and hydration issues are just a small part of the impact of this reality. Educating our players about the importance of embracing discomfort and difficulties has to be included in your program.

ATHLETES TODAY…. ARE MORE MOBILE
Our entire world is more mobile. The absences I process now for families on the move is exponentially larger than even 5 years ago. This consistent travel pattern impacts summers and weekends. It also needs to be part of your in-season expectations as well.

ATHLETES TODAY…. TEND TO SPECIALIZE

If you are in a large school , it may not show as much as a smaller school, but any coach today needs to find ways to encourage players and be flexible with them as much as he can stand. I encourage all varsity coaches to work together in this.But the reality is…. you are going to have less and less multiple sport athletes.

ATHLETES TODAY…. WATCH ESPN AND PLAY MADDEN/NCAA FOOTBALL

Have you ever taken time to discuss with your team the impact of media on them? What is the messaging of those mediums? How does it impact your players in their attitudes toward coaches and play callers?
based on some of this, and other factors, here are some evolutionary processes I recommend you consider for your program…..

More player/coach relationship time: I challenge coaches to build into their meeting time to talk ‘girlfriends and grades’- how is it at home? These are small group meetings and one on one.

More multiple player systems: The current thing I am working on is LINE- BACKERS- SKILL and teaching these guys techniques on both sides of the ball and practicing together/ competing together. Build maximum depth scenarios, but also play a lot of players. If you can, platoon your squad- but have them ready to go both ways when needed.

Strategic use of physical contact in practices: I encourage coaches to re-think how physical practices should be and figure out the best way to build in times that you ‘just have to get after it’. You can over-do AND under-do the contact part of practice. One thing we did was a Tuesday ‘live at the 25’ and for 10 minutes we played it ‘live/live to the ground but did it at the BEGINNING of practice rather than at the end when they were more fatigued.

Player participation in personal discipline: I believe it is imperative for coaches to think about a leadership council or unity council to draft team expectations and incorporate them in team discipline. You can’t TURN IT OVER to them, but you can involve them.

AND FINALLY- FUNDAMENTALS (WINNING EDGES) THAT WE CAN CONTROL

Conditioning and Fitness– including nutrition/flexibility/rest/ inflammation management

Intensity in competition– create opportunities to COMPETE- even if it is just who did the best job at cleaning the locker room or hustled the most. Which group can gain the most weight..make the best grades.. log the most service hours… make competition fun and meaningful.

Schemes– balance of big toolbox, but not confused- press your coaches to build a better system, better language, and better teaching techniques- have your players teach… be willing to flip the classroom..

Kicking game emphasis- too much lip service on this one. I have my own thoughts about this, but I truly believe I can win a game just by being better in special teams.

Football IQ- teach your players about the game- especially situations- give them freedom to make plays.

IMPORTANT TEAM/ LEADER DISCUSSIONS:

know your job- do your job-
everyone matters

Playing as a team

Outside Voices—– Locker room talk- Who Do We Listen to?

Where does our pressure come from?

Don’t be afraid to be different….. Don’t fear change…..

Don’t despise experimentation

Communicate.

The kids today are still hungry to win…… and they do want someone to show them how…..

Remembering Coach Bryant

26 Jan

Welcome to my site that helps to chronicle the impact that Coach Bryant had on me as an individual growing up in the state of Alabama and as a walk-on player during his final season as the coach at the University of Alabama.

I would also love to hear from you!

If you have a special Coach Bryant story, send it to me at jayopsis@gmail.com and I will be happy to include it on this site.

I try to update this site every Jan. 26… which marks the date of his passing away in 1983.

It is a great honor to live in Alabama and to have lived through a golden era of Crimson Tide history!

Saban vs Bryant? That Is As Ludicrous as Batman vs. Superman!

26 Jan

originally posted on jayopsis.com

Saban vs Bryant? That Is As Ludicrous as Batman vs. Superman!


33 Years Ago…..

As many of you know – I try to post something about Coach Bryant on the anniversary of his passing away on Jan 26, 1983. The site I have dedicated to Coach Bryant is full of special memories.

SABAN VS. BRYANT? BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN?

In March of this year (2016) Warner Brothers will release a movie, “Batman vs Superman” that on the surface, seems to be a ridiculous title- but my understanding is that the storyline involves a conflict that ultimately results in the harmony and formation of the Justice League.

The confetti was still falling on Jan 11 after Saban’s 5th national title when the talking heads began the debate on who is the greatest coach…Bryant or Saban? This is an equally ridiculous question, but I do understand the human need we have to compare, contrast, and debate. I have always joked that heaven may have a football planet where we get to play all those scenarios…  we have eternity…right?

But just like the movie (if I am right about the storyline), the debate ultimately leads to a unique harmony of what has made Alabama football a special place in my life.

WHY BRYANT HAS AN EDGE AND ANTICIPATING SABAN’S NEXT CHALLENGE

To save you some reading time- let me cut to the main point.

Coach Nick Saban has an opportunity to take on (as a competitor) his next great challenge and his hardest one. One that none of us would have the right to complain if he chooses to leave it or even fail to achieve it- and that is to survive the anticipated dip in performance.

I have no clue WHEN that may happen… but Coach Saban himself this year hinted that even he knows that it will come at some point….. and it will be a great challenge for him to stay the course.

HISTORY SHOWS US THAT THE BEAR DID IT……..

In 1969, Coach Bryant’s Alabama team went 6-5, was only 2-4 in the SEC (they even lost to Vanderbilt) and was beaten 47-33 by Colorado in the Liberty Bowl.

Can you imagine what a Paul Finebaum show would sound like during that stretch?

To make matters worse, the 1970 team went 6-5-1 including the famous opening loss to Sam Cunningham and USC. USC outgained the Tide by more than 300 yards (559 yds of total offense) and whipped the Tide 42-21. Cunningham ran for 135 yds on just 12 carries.

We know the rest of this story- Alabama shocked USC the next season- went 11-1 and won the SEC, finishing #2 in the nation. That sparked the 1970’s as Bryant’s best decade.

IF- Coach Saban is able to persevere an inevitable dip … and guide the ship through the hurricane of doubters and dissent.. and then find a conference or national championship after that… then he would silence all doubters.

In the end…does it really matter?

The problem is that regaining that ‘winning edge’ in this modern era poses more peril than ever before… and deep in my soul I always stand amazed at the passion and energy of Saban to continue to do it. A mortal man would take his money, trophies, and ride his grandchildren on his boat.

In many ways… modern day football is a young man’s game…..

WHAT MOST FOLKS MISS- IT’S MORE THAN WINS

Now let me mention the HARMONY I find between the two coaches….. did you see it? It was on display… right on the Alabama sideline during the game.

Whenever former players feel comfortable coming around and want to come around- you know that a special culture is at work. Alabama’s sideline at the National Title game was packed with many adoring former players.

That is what both Coach Bryant and Coach Saban have in common. And the fact that Coach Saban has young men in such high regard of him in a generation that is more prone to mock and disregard elders… this is quite an achievement.

Coach Bryant towered in a day when it was more common to follow the leader no matter what.

But men followed him with such a passion that the bond still stays strong today.

Coach Saban has managed the same thing. But his ability to transcend generation, race, socio-economic differences, and regional differences is impressive!

Relationships matter…. and winning coaches know how to invest in their players in such a way that the players go through pain and persevere out of love and inspiration.

FINAL FOOTBALL THOUGHTS

Football continues to display dramatic narratives and storylines- my favorite one is always the comeback story… someone who is cut down and counted out… but through perseverance and fight… finds victory once again.

It means a lot to me that Wade Phillips never stops fighting and builds a Superbowl bound defense.
I am also proud of Mike Shula and his work with the Panthers.
The personal stories this year are fun… Peyton Manning, Kenyan Drake, and I could go on and on….

When the Superbowl ends… then I will experience the winter of discontent…. but I also know that once again come August- the boys of fall will be dreaming again- everyone undefeated and expecting greatness…..

Be Nice To Everyone

25 Nov

This is a common Coach Bryant story on social media- but  it is an excellent story  with great applications:

“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player, and I was having trouble finding the place.

Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.” I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?”

I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?

He says, “You probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?”(small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South)

I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas , and I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.”

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was, and he says, “Yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good.” And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach. As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

I met the kid I was looking for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him.

I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I’m down there.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?”

And I said, “Yes I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come.

And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?”

And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.”

Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him…”

“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to someone.

When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now. And he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would make Dreamland proud. I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.

I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.”

Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

MEMORIES OF COACH BRYANT- THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

5 Jun

 These posts began in 2013……..

January 26 will mark the 30th anniversary of the passing of Coach Paul “Bear’ Bryant. I am going to take the month of January to reflect on my experience with him as a boy growing up in Birmingham during some golden days which culminated to my being a walk-on player his last season.

There are thousands of stories about Coach Bryant which add to the myth of the man. Even some of my recollection may need to be adjusted by comments/corrections. The fact that his life is surrounded by myth is proof of his greatness. Some of the stories I will relay were told to me as fact. Some that I will relay are 30 year memories of eyewitness testimony.

I will also mention that there are some amazing books out there about the life and narrative of Coach Bryant. It would take a lot of space to list all the ones I have enjoyed over the years.

I personally loved Coach: The Life of Paul “Bear” Bryant  by Keith Dunnavant
but there were MANY more!

I guess it is safe to say that I have never read a book about Coach Bryant that I did not enjoy.

Of course the movie was a big disappointment. I was still on the team when we were given a special premiere of the film. It was fun to see Wes Neighbors and Mike White in a movie. There is a funny story about how Thom Whitley’s character makes it into the final part.(Maybe another day- I wish I knew where Thom was). But, we were disappointed because a movie really can’t capture all that Coach Bryant meant to those who followed his life and career with such reverence. I did get to meet the wonderful person who played Coach Bryant’s (Mary Harmon) wife in the movie while we lived in Nashville.

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

Of course, because I am connected with the Christian faith as a Bible teacher, I get asked OFTENDo I think Coach Bryant was a believer? And I tell people the following story, as it was told to me. Please stay with me until the end of this one because it is important to know an important general principle here.

SKEPTICAL WITH REASON

Coach Bryant was very skeptical of religion, and he had good reason to be. My understanding was that Coach Bryant grew up very poor in Fordyce, Arkansas and his mom was a deep devotee to the Church of God. Part of that devotion was a belief that if you sought medical help, you were not showing faith in God as the healer.

Someone please correct my detail here: But my memory is that Coach Bryant lost a sister who would have lived if she had been taken to a hospital. Coach Bryant lived with an understandable anger toward that decision.

Coach Bryant had a deep love and respect (fear) for his mother and he grew up in a society that equated spirituality with smokin’, cussin’, drinkin’- so, though he did those things, he kept them very discreet.

THE CUSS JAR

One of my favorite Coach Bryant stories is that he put a jar in the coaches office and told all the assistants that he and them were to watch their mouths and if they cussed in front of the players, they were going to have to put money in the jar as a penalty.

One day the team had a really bad practice and Coach Bryant came in the next morning not happy about the poor effort. As they headed out the door for practice that afternoon, Coach Bryant took out a wad of cash from his pocket and deposited it firmly in the jar before practice. It was going to be tough on everyone that day!

ALABAMA AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN ATHLETES

I used to love hearing Wayne Atcheson’s story about starting the FCA chapter at the University of Alabama in the 60’s, making it one of the longest consecutively running FCAs in the country.

Coach Bryant was not keen on having an FCA program at the beginning. He was concerned that it made the players soft and not aggressive.

He completely changed his mind about the ministry and years later completely funded the ministry. But his concern was a legitimate one. (Another day and another topic).

He took time just about every year (and I distinctly remember this talk) where he talked to the Christians on the team about not losing toughness because of faith. His example was 3 killer linebackers that started for Baylor one year who all went on to be Baptist preachers. They must have made quite an impression on him!

But Mr. Atcheson (who I saw recently at Samford, and he is now working for the Billy Graham Association library) was always pleased to report that Coach Bryant told him that he used to think FCA was the worst thing that could happen to his team at Alabama and he now believed it was one of the best things about his team at Alabama.

ALABAMA’S LEGACY OF STRONG CHRISTIAN QB’S

There is no doubt that many of Coach Bryant’s players, staff, and coaches had enormous impact on him. I haven’t hear many people mention this, but the early death of Pat Trammel must have had a deep impact on Coach Bryant. We have been mourning the passing of Pat’s wife, Ba, who passed away Dec. 22, 2012.

And we do know the raucous legendary tales of Joe Namath, and Kenny Stabler.

But there was quite an impact on the state of Alabama from a spiritual standpoint from the strong public testimonies that followed Alabama quarterbacks Gary and Jeff Rutledge, Steadman Shealy, Walter Lewis, and (though it was after Coach Bryant), Jay Barker.

I would not be a Christian today were it not for the ministry of Jeff’s dad, Jack Rutledge at Ruhama Baptist church. Mr. Rutledge would show us bowl watches and made it clear that a being a Christ follower did not mean ‘weakness’ or ‘being a sissy’.

I loved getting to know Jeff more when he and I coached against each other in Nashville and I saw Walter Lewis recently (in Best Buy and Lowe’s of all places), he is doing well.

Of all of those, Steadman Shealy, is said to have had the greatest impact on Coach Bryant. When Steadman spent time after his playing days as a grad assistant coach, he reportedly had a big impact on Coach Bryant from a biblical teaching standpoint.

THE STORY OF COACH BRYANT’S CONVERSION

This is how it was reported to me from multiple sources.

Coach Bryant had long had questions about the gospel. You can’t live in the heart of the Bible belt and not be confronted with it. Though it often comes with mixed messages of human hypocrisy and abuse.

Billy Graham had numerous opportunities to lay down the message: We can’t save ourselves- it is a humble reliance on Jesus Christ.

But that message has a hard time gaining root in a man who literally fought his way out of poverty and loomed large as the man’s man of success and fame.

But he also could see the fragility of life. He was fading. And he had a huge, tender heart behind the scowl and rough exterior. He had a lot of guilt. He didn’t like how he treated his players when he was a young, fireball coach. The reason (I believe) he wore the ring from the junction-boys late in life was that it was a testimony that they held nothing against him for his demanding and often brutal techniques.

He held guilt about smoking filterless Chesterfield’s and hiding all the whisky just to please his mama and be protected somewhat from the flak of the crusaders and finger pointing whisperers.

In the end- this message was too easy and his sin seemed too big. Yes, he had given millions and helped people his whole life. He had showed class and dignity, but in his soul- it did not seem enough to measure up to the God he heard about as a boy, full of fury and wrath for vain sinners who loved the world and forfeited their souls.

ON THE PLANE WITH ROBERT SHULER

There was this story: Coach Bryant heard that Rober Shuler was on his plane. The way I was told the story, it was Coach Bryant who approached him. And Coach Bryant gave a number of his personal objectons to the gospel message- mainly, it seemed too easy and there were a number of ‘Christians’ that he wasn’t too high on.

Dr. Shuler’s account says that Coach Bryant also said, ‘I talk to Billy Graham and I don’t get a feeling. And there is a part in the Bible where a prophet calls on God and God sends a bear to eat them. And the Bible says that Christian’s aren’t supposed to sin and I am on this plane smoking and drinking.”

Dr Shuler looked at Coach Bryant and said, “Being a Christian is not about feelings or deeds. It all begins with faith in what Jesus has done. Even if you don’t understand all about the Bible or God’s ways- an old evangelist used to say, ‘you are saved by the blood, not how much you know about the book’. And, Paul, Christians are not sinless. Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace not works.”

And Dr. Shuler looked at him- “I think you are ready to become a Christian, Coach.”

“In John 6:37, Jesus promises that ‘Anyone who comes to me, I will not cast out‘.”

“I can give you a ticket right now”

He took Coach Bryant’s boarding pass and wrote down these words:

MY TICKET TO HEAVEN“Any one who comes to Me, I will not cast out.” Jesus Christ. Jesus said it. He is there. I trust Him. I accept Him._______________________________Signature

I was told that Coach Bryant signed his name and that Steadman Sheley spent time teaching Coach Bryant from the Bible the truth of the simple but glorious gospel.
Sometime later, Dr. Shuler mentioned this story from the pulpit and called Coach Bryant to ask if he needed to edit it out from his televised program that was going to be broadcast over the nation.
Coach Bryant replied, “Don’t edit it out, I still have that ticket in my billfold and I would be proud for you to tell that story to the country.”
And, according to Dr. Shuler, Coach Bryant went into the hospital the next day for complications with his heart.

ASKING ABOUT WHETHER SOMEONE IS A CHRISTIAN

It is always a tough question to get.  In the end, I trust in a just, righteous, beautiful, and fair JUDGE to make that call. I do know that the Bible says, ‘No other name is given for salvation’ except Christ. No other sacrifice is accepted to wash away sin except for Christ. Jesus Himself asked if there be another way, let the cup pass.

Jesus says it clearly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life- No one comes to the Father except by me.”

I John 5:11-13 says it very well. “This is the witness, God has given eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does NOT have life. I have written these things to you, who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW you have eternal life.

The best question is not, ‘Was Bear Bryant a Christian?’ The best question is “Am I a Christian?“.

It is up to each of us to evaluate our life and see where we stand regarding the claims of Christ.

You may have great objections. You may not understand it all. Ask God to help you with that.

But don’t give me a question like “What about all the natives on a lost island who haven’t heard about Jesus”-you have heard about Him, just as Coach Bryant heard about Him.

For all of us, it is an ultimate question. And it has little to do with the trivial things that hold us back.
Don’t spend time pointing fingers around behavior and inconsistencies. All of us are in the same boat.

Are you going to sign the ticket?

MEMORIES OF COACH BRYANT- EARLY INTERACTIONS

5 Jun

January 26 is always the anniversary of the passing of Coach Bryant (1983). I  am going to take some time this month writing memories of his impact on my life.

As a child growing up, our life seemed centered around Alabama football. I cannot describe the comfort of a childhood that consisted of fall Saturdays in my grandfather, Pop-Pop’s back yard. We listened to Leonard’s Losers, sat glued to every John Forney radio relay, and ate the greatest ribs and pork chops I have ever tasted!

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud on the ESPN 30 for 30 about Bo Jackson when he talked about his friends and family in Bessemer’s reaction to Coach Bryant calling him. Bo said that people would come to stare at the phone because Coach Bryant had called!

I had close to that experience on the two occasions I met Coach Bryant before walking on at Alabama in the fall of 1982.

I first got to meet Coach Bryant in Tuscaloosa on a trip with Jack Rutledge, father of Jeff.  Mr Rutledge was my Sunday School teacher and he took a group of us to see spring practice. Two things I will never forget: it was the day that Steadman Shealy tore his ACL and the first time I met Coach Bryant in person.

We were walking up the stairs of the Coliseum and he was walking down. Mr. Rutledge said hello and we all took turns shaking his hand.

The best part of that memory was that my dad was thrilled that I had met the Bear! He asked me about it and I gave the usual lame answers a pre-teen would give. I remember saying, “he didn’t seem that big to me“.  My dad said it must have been because we were on steps, because Coach Bryant is a big man.

I later met Coach Bryant when he introduced an evangelist at Ruhama Baptist church in East Lake, AL. I think I must have been around 15 years old at the time. It was the largest crowd that the church had in a long time and it made a few of the deacons mad.

My grandmother pushed us through the crowd and told Coach Bryant, “My grandson wants to play for you one day.” He smiled and said “Smart boy”. The funniest part of that story is that she had a game program that belonged to my uncle Jerry. He had sent it with her to get an autograph. Later that afternoon, she gave the program to Uncle Jerry with Coach Bryant’s signature: “Hi Jay, See you at Bama, Bear Bryant“.

This was the program signed by Coach Bryant. It says on the right, “Hi Jay, see you at Bama Bear Bryant”

When we got home from church. Uncle Jerry was so excited that Coach Bryant had signed his game program. That was, until he saw the signature.

“This says JAY!” He said with surprise and disbelief all rolled up into the disappointment.

And I guess that is why I have it to this day.