Bryant has earned the loyalty of young men as varied as the burly veterans on the G.I. Bill, the obedient crew-cut disciples of the Eisenhower era, the rebellious students of the '60s and the cool careerists of the present generation. Says he: "You can't treat them all equal, but you can treat them fairly. That goes not just for how they're different as individuals, but how they're different from other generations. One player you have to shake up and get mad, but you'll break another player if you treat him like that, so you try to gentle him along, encourage him. The '60s were a rebellious period, and you've got to realize that a player is going to feel that too. Even the places you find good ballplayers can change. I used to think I wanted strong old country boys like I used to be. Now I think the best place to find players is around a Y.M.C.A., where they're playing lots of sports, getting smart and quick, not just strong and dumb."
Ironically, the man who has bent with his times might once have led them. "I wanted to be the Branch Rickey of football when I was at Kentucky," says Bryant. But when he tried to break the ban on black players in the South, just as Rickey had broken the color line in major league baseball by bringing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, the university said he could not. "They told me no. So for years, I used to recommend all these great black players to schools up North." At Alabama, Bryant played his first black in 1971, and blacks now constitute around 30% of the team. No one thinks anything of it any more at the university where Governor George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door in 1963 and, for a time, prevented black students from enrolling.
Over the years, Bryant has changed his strategy to keep the juggernaut rolling. An unabashed borrower of football tactics, he is more a refiner than an innovator. Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd taught him the T formation, then watched helplessly as Bryant's team beat him at his own game. Babe Parilli showed him how to run a split T the way the pros did. Darrell Royal spent a day and a night in a motel room showing him films of the Wishbone offense.
Bryant has also molded teams to talent with a skill that is almost magical, transforming his tactics to suit the players. When strong-armed Joe Namath was at quarterback, Alabama threw like the pros. When muscular Richard Todd, who followed Namath to the Jets, was at Alabama, the Tide did its passing off the run. Says University of Pittsburgh Coach Jackie Sherrill: "He's forgotten more about football than all of us young coaches will ever learn."
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