Coach Bryant’s greatest legacy?

By Delbert Reed

What is Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s greatest legacy?

That question is asked often, and those who knew him best find it difficult to choose a single facet of Bryant’s long and outstanding career as a winning football coach, folk hero, teacher, counselor, father figure to his players, grandfather figure to the children of his former players and a memorable example of achievement and excellence in life.

Bryant was all of this and more, and his memory and influence loom almost as large today, more than 30 years after his death on January 26, 1983, as he did in life.

There are daily reminders of Bryant in and throughout the of campus, where you will find , , the , the , Paul W. Bryant Hall and his slightly larger-than-life bronze statue standing watch along Champions Walk near the north entrance to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

His photograph decorates the walls of offices, homes, restaurants and sports bars throughout the state and beyond. Replicas of the famous hounds-tooth hats he often wore are still popular accessories on football game days and remind everyone of “The Bear.”

As an additional reminder of Bryant’s lasting impact on football at the of and throughout the nation, the is planning a 2013 season-long celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bryant’s birth on September 11, 1913.

Many of Bryant’s NCAA records, including six national championships, 15 conference championships, 29 bowl teams, 24 consecutive bowl teams, 15 bowl wins, Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year ten times and national Coach of the Year three times, still stand today as proof of his legendary coaching career. In addition, many of his former players still serve the sport prominently and successfully as testament to his legacy as a coach and mentor.

Few football fans need to be reminded that Bryant’s successors as head coach at have all been measured against his standards, and most know that the award presented to the nation’s outstanding college coach each year is named the Paul W. Bryant Award in his honor.

Fifty four of Bryant’s former pupils have become head coaches at the college or professional level, placing him far ahead of his nearest rivals in that category and serving as testimony that many who played for him were inspired if not “called” to follow in his footsteps. Four of those—Howard Schnellenberger ( 1983), Paul Dietzel (LSU 1958), Danny Ford (Clemson 1981) and Gene Stallings ( 1992)—went on to win national championships. Four others (Mike Riley, ; Joey Jones, South Alabama; Bruce Arians, Phoenix Cardinals, and E. J. Junior, ) are still serving as head coaches in 2013.

As great as he was as a football coach, Bryant’s vision reached far beyond the goalposts, and that vision continues to help his former players and the sons and daughters of his former players even today. Bryant quietly established a scholarship program to benefit the children of his former players and more than 1,000 of those children have attended the with tuition assistance from the Bryant scholarship.

The idea for a scholarship program for the children of his players is more typical of Bryant than many fans realize. He truly cared about the long-term success of his players and went to great lengths to assist them in life after football, as scores will testify. The primary reason that 54 of his former players became head coaches is simply because he helped most of them get started in the profession, including often giving them a start on his own staff and making calls to recommend graduates to other head coaches.

We’ve done a lot of leg-pulling in our time, but we always have a fine relationship. Personally, I think Bryant is the best coach in the country. Just look at the number he’s lost; it ain’t many.
----- Ralph Shug Jordan, former Auburn Coach