College Football Coach. He is best remembered as the longtime head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team. During his 25-year tenure as Alabama's head football coach, he accumulated six national championships (1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, and 1979) and thirteen conference championships, along with 15 bowl wins including 8 Sugar Bowls. He was also known for being a tough, stern disciplinarian and for his trademark black and white hound's-tooth or gingham hat, deep voice, casually leaning up against the goal post during pre-game warm-ups, and frequently holding his rolled-up game plan while on the sidelines. Born Paul William Bryant in the community of Moro Bottom, outside of Fordyce, Arkansas, the 11th of 12 children, his parents were poor farmers. He received his nickname "Bear" from his having agreed to wrestle a captive bear during a theater promotion when he was 13 years old. He attended Fordyce High School and played on the offensive and defensive line of the school's football team. During his senior season, the team won the 1930 Arkansas state football championship. In 1931 he accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Alabama but because he elected to leave high school before completing his diploma, he had to enroll in a Tuscaloosa high school to finish his education during the fall semester while he practiced with the college team. He played end for the Crimson Tide and was a participant on the school's 1934 National Championship team. After graduating from college, he was selected in the fourth round by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1936 National Football League Draft, but never played professionally. That same year, he took a coaching job at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, but he left that position when offered an assistant coaching position under Frank Thomas at the University of Alabama, compiling a 29-5-3 record over 4 seasons. In 1940 he left Alabama to become an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University at Nashville, Tennessee and after the 1941 season, he was offered the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas. However, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he joined the US Navy and in 1942 he served as an assistant coach with the Georgia Pre-Flight Skycrackers. During his time in the Navy, he served off the coast of North Africa without seeing any combat action. While in the Navy, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In 1944 he was discharged from the Navy to train recruits and coach the North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight football team. In 1945 he became the head football coach at the University of Maryland at College Park, Maryland. In his only season there, he led the team to a 6-2-1 record. After the 1945 season, he left Maryland in a dispute when he had suspended a player for breaking training rules and the college president reinstated him without consulting Bryant. In 1946 he became the head football coach at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, Kentucky and coached there until 1953. While there, Kentucky made its first bowl appearance in 1947 and won its first Southeastern Conference title in 1950. The 1950 Kentucky team concluded its season with a victory over Bud Wilkinson's #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. In 1954 he accepted the head football coaching job at Texas A&M University at College Station, Texas, serving as its athletic director. In 1956 he led the team to the Southwest Conference championship and the following year, his star running back John David Crow won the Heisman Trophy (the only Bryant player to ever earn that award). At the close of the 1957 season, having compiled an overall 25-14-2 record at Texas A&M, he returned to the University of Alabama to take the head football coaching position, succeeding J.B. "Ears" Whitworth, as well as becoming its athletic director. In 1961 Alabama went 11-0 and defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl to claim the national championship. The next three years (1962 to 1964) featured Joe Namath at quarterback and were among his finest. The 1962 season ended with a victory in the Orange Bowl over Bud Wilkinson's University of Oklahoma Sooners. The following year ended with a victory in the 1963 Sugar Bowl. In 1964 Alabama won another national championship, but lost to the University of Texas in the 1965 Orange Bowl, in the first nationally televised college game in color. Alabama would repeat as champions in 1965 after defeating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Coming off back-to-back national championship seasons, his Alabama team went undefeated in 1966, and defeated a strong Nebraska team in the Sugar Bowl. For the next four years, Alabama achieved little success but in 1971 they went undefeated during the season but lost to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. They would go on to split national championships in 1973 (Notre Dame defeated Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl) and 1978 (despite losing a regular season matchup against co-national champion USC) and win it outright in 1979. After the 1982 season he decided to retire, closing out his career with a victory over the University of Illinois at the Liberty Bowl. After the game, he was asked what he planned to do now that he was retired and replied "Probably croak in a week." His reply would prove ominous. Four weeks after making that comment, and just one day after passing a routine medical checkup, he checked into Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa after experiencing chest pain. A day later, when being prepared for an electrocardiogram, he died after suffering a massive heart attack. He was a 12-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and a three-time National Coach of the Year in 1961, 1971, and 1973. The national coach of the year award was subsequently named the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award in his honor. His all-time record as a coach was 323-85-17, with the most wins as a college football head coach up to that time. A month after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, by President Ronald Reagan. At the University of Alabama, the Paul W. Bryant Museum, Paul W. Bryant Hall, Paul W. Bryant Drive and Bryant-Denny Stadium are all named in his honor. In 1996 he was honored on a United States postage stamp.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
Mary Harmon Black Bryant