Fred Thompson’s character Arthur Branch once said in an episode of Law and Order that “If it wasn’t for that sonuvabitch Bin Laden, we’d only remember September 11 as Bear Bryant’s birthday.” Today, many people throughout the world of college football—and especially in Alabama—will make Branch proud by not letting Bin Laden spoil the centennial celebration of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s birthday.
While working on Mama Called, a new documentary of Bryant’s life, I found myself pondering a question which I had asked myself many times over the years: Was Bear Bryant the greatest college football coach of all time?
In the time since his death in 1983, it has become more and more obvious that he was. Two other coaches of major college football teams passed him up in the all-time victories list—Joe Paterno (409) and Bobby Bowden (377) won more games in the major college ranks—but Bryant’s won-lost percentage is considerably higher (.780 to Paterno’s .749 and Bowden’s .740). Bryant won more national championships (six) than Paterno and Bowden combined (four). And for what it’s worth, Bryant was 4-0 in head-to-head matchups with Paterno.
Bryant’s stature in college football is so great that there’s really only one other football coach since World War II whose reputation compares—Vince Lombardi, another man whose 100th birthday was commemorated this year. I once asked Bart Starr, who had known Bryant for years and who won five championships under Lombardi at Green Bay, if he thought Bryant was the Vince Lombardi of college football. Starr said, “At the least. Some people might call Coach Lombardi the Bear Bryant of pro football.” (More on that comparison later.)
Paul Bryant coached at four universities and completely turned their football programs around for the better. Maryland was 1-7-1 in 1944, and then, in Bryant’s first and only season as head coach, went 6-2-1. Kentucky was 2-8-0 in 1945; in Bryant’s first year, 1946, the Wildcats were 7-3. In 1953, the Texas A&M Aggies were 4-5-1. When Bryant got there the next year, he gutted the entire squad and rebuilt it practically from scratch; the Aggies finished just 1-9 in 194, but Bryant’s labor bore fruit the next year, when they jumped to 7-2-1, and in 1956, they were the Southwest Conference Champions at 9-0-1. The Alabama Crimson Tide were 2-7-1 in 1957 to 5-4-1 in 1958 under Bryant, and, of course, the rest is history.
Bryant is the only coach to have achieved greatness in both the era of limited substitution (when all players had to spend some time on both offense and defense) and the era of unlimited substitution, the modern era of football when players specialized at just one position.
Bryant coached 133 games against 25 men who were eventually voted into the College Football Hall of Fame; in those games, Bryant was 85-42-6. He also coached against 11 of his former players and assistant coaches, with a record of 45-6. LSU’s longtime coach Charlie McClendon once ruefully exclaimed, “He taught me everything I know, but not everything he knows.”
The vast majority of college football historians have also overlooked the fact that Bryant is the only coach to have achieved greatness in both the era of limited substitution (or one-platoon football, as it was called, when all players had to spend some time on both offense and defense) and the era of unlimited substitution, the modern era of football when players specialized at just one position.
Bryant coached for 38 seasons, and his career breaks right down the middle between the eras of one-platoon and two-platoon ball. The difference was probably best summed up in a comment Bryant once made to me during an interview: “In the old days, you spent more time coaching football. Nowadays [with expanded staffs and larger rosters] you spend more time coaching the coaches.”
From 1945 t0 1963, his record was 141-49-13 for an excellent .727 win-loss percentage, while from 1964-1982 he was 182-36-4 for an awesome .829. No other football coach who had to make the adjustment from limited to unlimited substitution in the game even begins to compare.
However, Benny Marshall a longtime columnist for the Birmingham News, tapped into one of the most important, fascinating sets of parallel stories in sports history when he drew the comparison (if an overblown, rather unflattering one) between Bryant and Vince Lombardi—going so far as to refer to Lombardi as “a poor man’s Bear Bryant.”
Besides being born in the same year, Bryant’s and Lombardi’s lives shared an amazing number of similarities. Both men married young and stayed married to the same woman their entire lives. Both had two children, a son and a daughter, —and both sons were named after their fathers. Their football mentors—Jim Crowley at Fordham for Lombardi and Frank Thomas at Alabama for Bryant—learned the game under Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. Both won their first championship in 1961. They each developed close and lasting relationships with rebellious prodigies—Lombardi with Paul Hornung, Bryant with Joe Namath. And both, of course, were uncompromising taskmasters who stressed fundamentals and discipline.
They nearly played against each other when Alabama met Fordham at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1933; Lombardi was ineligible for Fordham’s varsity squad but was in the stands that day.
Lombardi’s impact on pro football has faded; he has no protégés or disciples still in the game. But The Bear’s influence still pervades every level of the game, from small colleges to the pros. Joe Namath, his most famous recruit, helped bring out about the merger of the American and National Football League. Ozzie Newsome, one of Bryant’s first black All-Americans, is currently general manager of the Baltimore Ravens. John Mitchell, the first black player to start for the Crimson Tide and Bryant’s first black assistant coach, is now in his 20th season as defensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And Sylvester Croom, who starred at center and later served as an assistant coach for Bryant, became the first black coach at a Southeastern Conference school, Mississippi State, in 2004, and is the new running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans.
Bryant’s domain, I would argue, was larger than Lombardi’s or any other pro football coach’s. For nearly four decades Bryant was the dominant figure in what the great sportswriter Dan Jenkins called in his book, Saturday’s America, “the world of small towns and college communities that, from Labor Day through New Year’s, gives unqualified devotion to college football, displaying the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that can only be faked or imitated in pro football stadiums.”
Courtesy: Allen Barra
Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie–The Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters. If they had a son, Obama isn’t sure that football would be an option for him.
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” he said in an interview with the New Republic. “And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence.
“In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.
Obama isn’t asked what changes could be made, nor does he indicate if he’ll have a role in making changes happen. He believes a bigger concern for the sport comes from the college level, which acts as the NFL’s feeder system.
“I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,” he said. “You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.”
The NFL has taken steps to improve player safety, and Obama touches on the fine line the league must walk on this issue. The NFL has the responsibility of protecting the long-term health of its players while continuing to produce an exciting and profitable product. In a game with inherent violence and injury risk, that’s no easy task
Dan Hanzus | NFL Around the League Writer
MOBILE, Ala. – Former USC safety T.J. McDonald knows when Monte Kiffin’s around.
The calling card Kiffin left around his office and the football facilities at Southern California gave him away. That calling card also symbolized the countless hours he dedicated to football during his three-year tenure with the Trojans.
“He’s got these coffee cups in Styrofoam cups,” McDonald said. “Anywhere you go in the building, you start seeing those Styrofoam cups, you know Monte’s not far. He’s somewhere close.”
Those cups could be found all over the place at any and all times of the day. Football enveloped Kiffin’s mind, and McDonald could sense it. If Kiffin’s 13 seasons as a successful NFL defensive coordinator didn’t immediately earn a player’s respect, his passion for the game and energy he provided did the job.
Kiffin stayed across the street from the school, walking over to his office early in the morning and leaving late at night, according to McDonald. That allowed plenty of time for the safety to enter Kiffin’s office and pick his brain about plays or schemes.
“Whatever the case may be, I could go up to that office, and he’s going to be there with the remote in his hand, sitting the same way,” McDonald said.
More than anything, McDonald enjoyed being around his defensive coordinator, even if it was just to talk about the game in general. It was easy to love him as a coach, because he could see the passion and dedication Kiffin gave to football.
Monte Kiffin is rumored to become the Cowboys’ next defensive coordinator.
Would that be a wise move?
The 72-year-old Kiffin, credited as the inventor of the famed “Tampa Two” 4-3 scheme, earned a reputation as one of the legendary defensive coordinators in NFL history during his 13-year tenure with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in scoring defense 11 times and total defense 12 times under Kiffin. The Bucs were top five in both categories six times, including a double No. 1 overall rank during their Super Bowl championship season.
You won’t find many NFL defensive coordinators with more impressive resumes. However, the Tampa Two zone would be a curious scheme fit for a franchise that made two major investments in press-man corners last offseason, giving Brandon Carr a five-year, $50.1 million deal and trading up to draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick.
And Kiffin didn’t enjoy nearly as much success during his foray into college football to coach on his son Lane’s staffs at Tennessee and USC. In fact, Kiffin’s last season at USC was awful.
The Trojans became the first team in 48 seasons to go from being No. 1 in the preseason polls to unranked at the end of the season. USC finished the season 7-6, losing five of its final six games, a skid that started when Kiffin’s defense allowed 39 points to Arizona and 62 points to Oregon. USC ranked 40th in the nation in scoring defense (24.3 points per game) and 60th in total defense (394.0).
Oregon’s dominance of Kiffin’s defense is especially alarming. The Ducks racked up 730 total yards in their win at Los Angeles Coliseum, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns.
Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon instead of taking the Eagles’ job, but the Cowboys will still have to face a team that runs a lot of zone read out of the spread twice per season, assuming Robert Griffin III recovers from his knee injury.
How can the Cowboys be confident that Kiffin can help them catch up with the Redskins?
LOOKING FORWARD: The future of the NFL Pro Bowl could incorporate the NCAA Senior Bowl (Special Feature)
So what would a Pro Bowl-less NFL calendar look like? According to NFL.com’s Albert Breer, one possibility would be replacing the game with a college all-star game.
Breer writes that the AFC and NFC’s all-star team could be recognized at the NFL Honors award show on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, with the college players hitting the field after.
"That game would likely be an existing college event, most likely the Senior Bowl, which would be moved to be part of the NFL calendar, with the thought that it could kick off draft season and highlight prospects on a bigger stage, though the league would certainly be careful about NCAA rules entanglements," Breer writes.
The concept would be to mix today’s stars with future stars. Breer’s well-researched piece has comments from NFL executive vice president of business ventures Eric Grubman, who sounds like he doesn’t see a traditional Pro Bowl in the future.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones is close friends with Cowboys tight end James Hanna. The former college teammates played three seasons together with the Sooners.
When Jones got married in Fort Worth on July 6, Hanna, the Cowboys’ sixth round pick in April, was one of his groomsmen.
So it only seems obvious that the two would joke around about the possibility of playing together on Sundays.
“It’s a huge joke because I’ll never go to the Cowboys,” Jones said Monday during Big 12 media days at The Westin Galleria hotel. “That would be so fun to be able to go back and play with him. I wish him nothing but the best at the Cowboys, but I don’t know if there’s ever a chance that me and him will ever play together. They got a pretty good guy down there that’s going to be playing there for a long time.”
Tony Romo is certainly a very good NFL quarterback, but he’s 32 and the Cowboys could always use a young, strong-armed passer to learn under a veteran quarterback.
However, that would likely come from a draft pick in the later rounds. Most likely, Jones won’t be available at that time. The Oklahoma quarterback nearly entered the NFL Draft this year, filling out the paperwork that allows experts to project were a prospect would be chosen. Jones said he was informed that he would go in the first round.
Even though there are no guarantees, it was enough to make Jones put serious thought into foregoing his senior season.
“I remember the day, I was praying about it and then just kind of had a peace about staying,” Jones said. “I felt like that was what the Lord wanted me to do.”
Coming back for a shot at a national championship also played a significant role. The Sooners lost three of their last seven games last season and Jones’ numbers dipped from an outstanding sophomore campaign that included 4,718 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes. Jones threw for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2011.
But Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops doesn’t blame that finish on his starting quarterback. Stoops said Monday that he didn’t ask Jones to improve on anything during the off-season. Instead, Stoops said he asked 10 other players on offense to improve.
“Everybody (said), ‘Landry struggled,’” Stoops said. “No, he didn’t. The offense struggled. He had more dropped passes in the last three games, we couldn’t even keep track of how many. Didn’t run the football as effectively as we needed to at all.
“All of that goes together. And so to me, it’s more of an issue of the offense and the offense around him than it is him.”
If the Sooners are to reach the national title game for the first time since January 2009, Jones will likely have to be as effective as past Sooners quarterbacks Josh Heupel, Jason White and Sam Bradford. Stoops sees many similarities between Jones and those other three. Pretty good company considering Heupel won a national championship and White and Bradford each won a Heisman Trophy.
A good work ethic, size, talent and toughness are some of the traits that Stoops says his current quarterback shares with the other standouts he’s coached at Oklahoma.
According to Jones, the measurables, comparisons and statistics don’t matter this season. Getting the Sooners into the national title game like Heupel, White and Bradford did is what he cares about most.
“I don’t want to be just somebody that has a lot of good stats,” Jones said. “I want to be somebody that gets to play in that national title game, and actually win one.”
Video: BCS committee speaks – Click on picture above or HERE to watch video
WASHINGTON (AP) Playoffs and tournaments long have determined champions of every college sport from baseball to bowling.
The exception was major college football.
That ended Tuesday. Come 2014, the BCS is dead.
A committee of university presidents approved a plan for a four-team playoff put forward by commissioners of the top football conferences.
For years, the decision-makers had balked at any type of playoff because they said it would diminish the importance of the regular season. If only two teams had a chance to win a championship in the postseason, even one loss could be too many. That made for some very high stakes regular-season games. As recently as 2008, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive proposed the type of plan adopted Tuesday, and it was quickly shot down.
Four years later, minds changed. The 12 university presidents stood shoulder to shoulder on a stage at a news conference in a posh hotel in the nation’s capital and delivered the news.
”It’s a great day for college football,” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said. ”As soon as the commissioners realized they could do this and protect the regular season, the light went on for everybody.”
The move completes a six-month process for the commissioners, who have been working on a new way to determine a major college football champion after years of griping from fans. The latest configuration is certain to make even more money for the schools than the old system — and not satisfy everyone.
”There were differences of views,” said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, who headed the BCS presidential oversight committee. ”I think it would be a serious mistake to assume it was a rubber stamp.”
Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman was the most notable holdout. He had said he preferred the status quo or a tweak of the Bowl Championship Series. Perlman said the playoff still wouldn’t be his first choice, but he was not going to stand in the way of progress.
”This is the package that was put forth and we will strongly support it,” he said.
Instead of simply matching the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a title game after the regular season, the way the BCS has done since 1998, the new format will create a pair of national semifinals.
Many college football fans have been clamoring for a playoff for years, and the BCS has been a constant target for criticism. Lawmakers have railed against it. A political action committee was formed, dedicated to its destruction. The Justice Department looked into whether it broke antitrust laws. Even President Obama said he wanted a playoff.
Now it’s a reality.
No. 1 will play No. 4, and No. 2 will play No. 3 on Dec. 31 and/or Jan. 1. The sites of those games will rotate among the four current BCS bowls — Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar — and two more to be determined. One of the new sites will likely be wherever the newly formed bowl created by the SEC and Big 12 is played, Slive said.
The Cotton Bowl, played at the $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has long wanted to be part of the BCS and is expected to make a strong push to be in the semifinal rotation.
The winners of the semis will advance to the championship on the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the last semifinal. The first ”Championship Monday,” as it was called in the BCS release, is set for Jan. 12, 2015.
The site of the title game will move around the way the Super Bowl does, with cities bidding for the right to host.
The teams will be selected by a committee, similar to the way the NCAA basketball tournament field is set. The men’s tournament has 68 teams, and 37 at-large bids.
The football committee will have a much tougher task, trying to whittle the field down to four. This season, 125 schools will play at the highest level of college football.
Among the factors the committee will consider are won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. The selection committee will also play a part in creating matchups for the games at the four sites that do not hold a semifinal in a given year.
”I think it’s tremendous progress,” Washington State coach Mike Leach, a playoff proponent, said in a telephone interview. ”Five years ago there wasn’t even dialogue about a playoff. Instead of diving in the water, they dipped their toes in. I think it’s’ going to be ridiculously exciting and it’s going to generate a bunch of money. I wish they dived in.”
The BCS had given automatic qualifying status to six conferences, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 and Big East. That allowed those leagues better access to the big, high-payout games than the other five conferences, such as the Mountain West and Conference USA.
Automatically qualified status is gone and the commissioners believe the new system will create more interesting games beyond the ones that determine the national title.
”What the system now is, several semifinals, championship game and some access bowls. By creating a couple of access bowls, people will be able to play high-quality opponents in big venues with big brands,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
No one has put a hard number on it yet, but this new format figures to more than double the TV revenue of the current BCS and Rose Bowl contracts. Those pay out about $155 million annually.
The commissioners want to lock in this format for 12 years with a television partner. The current four-year BCS deal with ESPN runs through the 2013 season. The new format will be presented to potential TV partners in the fall, starting with ESPN.
”I think we have found what we think is the right place and it stabilizes the postseason for a length of time that I think is healthy for the game,” said Slive, whose members have won the last six BCS championships.
There are still some details to work out — such as who will be on the committee and what new bowls will be involved in the semifinal rotation — but all the decision-makers are on board.
Lower divisions of college football already have a playoff, but the highest level has always used bowls and polls to determine its champion. Those days are coming to an end.
”We believe this new format will be good for student-athletes, for the alumni and for our institutions,” Steger said. ”It’s a best of both worlds result. It captures the excitement of the playoff while protecting the regular season.”
NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP COMING: Playoff system long overdue for college football | BCS commissioners reach consensus
We spend all day long talking about the NFL here, but word that the BCS commissioners have reached consensus on a model four-team seeded playoff is enough to pull us away for a moment. (See related article below)
Football fans have been throwing pebbles at this darkened window for eons. Someone has finally woken up inside the house of college football.
The NFL has grown to massive scale by listening to the millions of people who love the game.
Football fans want one champion.
You can have your Coaches Poll, your Harris Interactive Poll and your shimmering computer rankings. Fans of college football deserve to see a winner decided on the field.
Look no further than the Super Bowl for proof. Mothers, toddlers, your vegan uncle — people who’ve never pondered the existence of the "Tuck Rule" — most of them have found themselves in a room watching the Super Bowl. It kills in ratings, it’s become a national holiday. College football has the chance to celebrate its champion with similar and appropriate fanfare. This would only grow the game.
The bowl-game system has its merits, most based on schools making money. Try explaining the BCS system to a new friends at a dinner party. Watch their eyes glaze over. Watch them float away mentally. With a four-team playoff, those days are over.
The playoff model will be presented to the university presidents next week for approval. This is their chance to show us they’ve learned something.
Courtesy: Marc Sessler | NFL.com
RELATED: BCS commissioners reach consensus on playoff plan
CHICAGO — The BCS commissioners are backing a playoff plan with the sites for the national semifinals rotating among the major bowl games and a selection committee picking the teams.
The plan will be presented to university presidents next week for approval.
Once the presidents sign off — and that seems likely — college football’s champion will be decided by a playoff starting in 2014.
"We are excited to be on the threshold of creating a new postseason structure for college football that builds on the great popularity of our sport," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday.
All 11 commissioners stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind Swarbrick, who read the BCS statement from a podium set up in a hotel conference room.
The commissioners have been working on reshaping college football’s postseason since January. The meeting Wednesday was the sixth formal get-together of the year. They met for four hours and emerged with a commitment to stand behind a plan.
"I think we’re very unified," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
The commissioners refrained from providing specifics of the plan in their announcement.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott did say the two semifinals would be worked into the existing major bowls and the site of the national championship game will be bid out to any city that wants it, the way the NFL does with the Super Bowl.
People with firsthand knowledge of the decision tell The Associated Press the semifinals of the proposed plan would rotate among the major bowls and not be tied to traditional conference relationships.
There are still major details to be worked out, such as who exactly makes up the selection committee, but college football will take a page from college basketball, which uses a committee of athletic directors and commissioners to pick the teams for its championship tournament.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
Bill Callahan, the Cowboys’ new offensive line coach, has been around plenty of powerful offenses and offensive lines.
He was the head coach for the Oakland Raiders team that reached the Super Bowl in 2003 behind Rich Gannon and the league’s top passing offense. Two years earlier, with him as offensive coordinator, the Raiders led the league in rushing behind Pro Bowl guards Steve Wisniewski and Lincoln Kennedy.
He was the offensive line coach for head coach Ray Rhodes and offensive coordinator Jon Gruden for three years in Philadelphia, from 1995 to ’97, when the Eagles were one of the top-five offensive teams in the NFL with quarterbacks Ty Detmer and Rodney Peete and running back Ricky Watters.
In college at Wisconsin, Callahan was the offensive line coach for the 1993 Rose Bowl championship team that had a 1,600-yard rusher and a 900-yard rusher. At Nebraska, his teams used the West Coast offense and set many of the school’s passing records.
Most recently, Callahan was the offensive line coach and assistant head coach with the New York Jets. In his first year with the Jets, 2008, he helped develop rookie center Nick Mangold into a Pro Bowl player, along with veteran guard Alan Faneca and tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
The Cowboys hope to tap into that experience as an offensive line builder when Callahan, 55, takes over as the replacement for the retired Hudson Houck.
The Cowboys will go into 2012 with the reshaping of the offensive line as a major priority. Last year’s No. 1 pick, Tyron Smith, will be considered for a move from right tackle to left tackle. Veteran right guard Kyle Kosier, who rarely had a full practice week because of foot problems, might not return. Veteran left guard Montrae Holland will try to recover from biceps surgery. And left tackle Doug Free had a poor year in his first season at the position.
The Cowboys hope Callahan can shape the development of young players such as backup guard Kevin Kowalski, fourth-round pick David Arkin (a guard who wasn’t active for any game last year) and center Phil Costa, who played all 16 games last year but showed he has a long way to go at the position.
Callahan does not have much of a tie to the Cowboys or head coach Jason Garrett.
But defensive end Kenyon Coleman played for Callahan in 2002 with the Raiders. Callahan has worked under Rex Ryan, the brother of Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson played for Callahan in 1998 when he was offensive coordinator for the Raiders. And Callahan coached Rodney Peete, the brother of Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete, with the Raiders in 2001.