Before he became Alabama’s new athletic director… before he became a multi-millioniare businessman… before he became the youngest head coach in college football at Tennessee… Bill Battle was an Alabama football player for Paul “Bear” Bryant.
In an interesting profile of Battle at Al.com, Bama’s new AD opens up about the coaching style of his mentor. The entire piece is well worth your time, but we’ll include a small portion of Dan Kausler’s article below. It’s a short, fascinating glimpse into the coaching methods of an SEC legend.
According to Battle, Bryant was far more than a one-trick pony. The ex-player suggests his coach knew exactly which buttons to push with his players and when to push them. Any good manager knows that you can’t motivate everyone in the exact same way every single day. And when it came to getting the most out of his workers, there weren’t many managers better than Bryant:
“‘Probably my favorite story is from my sophomore year,’ Battle said. ‘We were playing Mississippi State in Starkville, and we were winning 7-0 at halftime, but we weren’t playing very well. We were ahead. We weren’t too worried. We went in and sat down and they gave us Cokes and stuff.
‘Pat Trammell, who was probably his favorite player of all time, was sitting up front. Coach Bryant came in, and he was as mad as I’ve ever seen him. He grabbed Trammell and shook him and fussed at us and told us how sorry we were playing. We went out in the second half, and I don’t know if we did a lot better, but we won the game.’
The story is just beginning. Two weeks later, Alabama visited Georgia Tech.
‘They had a really good team,’ Battle said. ‘At the end of the half, we were down 15-0. In the old Georgia Tech visitors’ dressing room, it had risers and chairs going back, and the blackboard was down here. Well, everybody was scrambling to get in the back of the room so they wouldn’t be too close to that front seat.
‘We sat there and sat there and sat there, and he didn’t come in. Everybody was wondering, ‘Well, did he go home? What’s the deal?’ He came in, and like he did a lot of times when he was thinking, he was whistling and jingling the change in his pockets. …’
The players were ready for a tantrum.
‘He said, ‘They’re not as good as I thought they were,” Battle recalled. ‘We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em. We’re going to embarrass them right in front of their crowd. All we need to do is change two or three little things, and we’re going to be good.’
‘Well, that was not exactly what we were expecting. So sure enough, we went out and started playing better, and we score, and we get within where a field goal wins, and we get down and Richard O’Dell kicks a field goal as time expires, and we win 16-15. If he had come in and fussed at us, we’d have probably gotten beat 40-0.’
It was Bryant at his best.
‘He was smart enough to know how to lift you up,’ Battle said. ‘He was good at putting you down. He got people grounded. He was real good at that. But he could pick you up, too.’
In light of the Mike Rice scandal at Rutgers, one wonders if any coach could grab and shake a player in this day and age without someone getting tape of the act to ESPN. But clearly, Bryant was a master of motivation in his own day and age.
Kudos to Battle and Kausler for sharing a couple more anecdotes about a man still worshipped in the Yellowhammer State… and still respected everywhere else.