Friday, February 27, 2009

Players change, and as a result, I've changed

A friend passed along a copy of the book "Bear Bryant: CEO," which I've been reading the last few days. It's an interesting collection of quotes and short stories about Coach Bryant which lend insight into his coaching philosophy.

Here's a good excerpt about his ability to change, his feelings on rules, and the importance of choosing your battles.


"Paul Bryant was never inflexible when it came to changing with the times, and that's just one of the marvelous traits that separated him from the ordinary," said Alf Van Hoose, a longtime sportswriter for the Birmingham News. "He was a liberal thinker when it came to football and motivation of people."

It wasn't just in strategy that Bryant was willing to change. He was willing to reconsider his position on smaller details of his players as well. For example, students in the 1970s began to wear longer hair. Bryant had always insisted his players keep their hair short, but even he came to realize that he needed to give a little about this.

After giving it some thought, Bryant called his friend Darrell Royal and said that he'd noticed while watching a recent game that Texas players were wearing their hair longer. Royal acknowledged that the times had changed, and he was changing with them. Besides, he said, "I can't see that another inch or two of hair makes much difference." He had only to point to his team's 30-game winning streak as proof.

Following the conversation, Bryant called in Johnny Musso, Alabama's All-American running back in 1971, to ask him again, "Why in God's name do you want hair hanging out of your helmet?"

Musso replied simply, "It's important to us."

Bryant made what seemed to him a big concession by saying, "If it's important to you -- and damned if I know why -- then go ahead and let it grow. But keep it clean."

"My football players have changed, and as a result, I've changed," Coach Bryant would later say. "I don't pretend otherwise."