Born on September 11, 1913, in Moro Bottom, Arkansas, Bear Bryant starred at end for the University of Alabama football team. After successful coaching stints at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M, he won six national championships over 25 years with Alabama, and retired with a record 323 wins in 1982. Bryant died in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 26, 1983—one month after coaching his final game.
Paul William "Bear" Bryant was born on September 11, 1913, in the community of Moro Bottom, outside Fordyce, Arkansas. The 11th of William Monroe and Dora Ida Kilgore Bryant's 12 children, he grew to an imposing 6'1" and 180 pounds by age 13, earning his famous nickname by agreeing to wrestle a bear from a traveling circus.
Bryant was an offensive lineman and defensive end for Fordyce High School, earning all-state honors for the 1931 Arkansas High School Football State champions. He went on to play at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, where, despite being the "other end" opposite future NFL Hall of Famer Don Hutson, he was twice named to the all-Southeastern Conference third team and once to its second team.
Early Coaching Career
After graduating in 1936, Bryant became an assistant coach at Alabama for four years and Vanderbilt University for another two. He joined the U.S. Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his service time bookended by stints as coach of preflight training school football teams in Georgia and North Carolina.
Named the head coach of the University of Maryland shortly before his discharge in 1945, Bryant went 6-2-1 in his lone season with the Terrapins. He then enjoyed a successful eight-year run at the University of Kentucky, highlighted by a 1950 season in which the Wildcats ended the University of Oklahoma's 31-game winning streak and he was named the SEC Coach of the Year.
At the start of his first year as head coach of Texas A&M University in 1954, Bryant put his team through an infamously brutal training camp at an agricultural station in Junction, Texas. Two-thirds of the players quit before camp ended, and the Aggies went 1-9 to give Bryant his only losing season as a head coach, but those who remained formed the core of the undefeated unit that won the 1956 Southwest Conference championship.
Bryant returned to his alma mater in 1958 as head football coach and athletic director, his five wins that year surpassing the team's output from the previous three seasons. Pacing the sidelines in his trademark houndstooth hat, he established the Crimson Tide as college football's team to beat over the following decade, winning the national championship in 1961, '64 and '65.
When the program began to sputter late in the decade, Bryant updated his offensive system and recruited the school's first black players. The result was a return to dominance, with the Tide winning the national championship in 1973, '78 and '79.
Bryant wrapped up his legendary career in December 1982 with a then-college football-record 323 victories. Along with his record-tying six national titles, he won 15 conference championships and was named the College Football Coach of the Year three times.
Death and Legacy
Less than one month after his final game, Bryant died of a heart attack at Tuscaloosa's Druid City Hospital on January 26, 1983. The following month, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1986, Bryant was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, and the College Football Coach of the Year Award was renamed in his honor. He was named the coach of the Sports Illustrated all-century college football team in 1999, and to many he remains the ultimate symbol of coaching excellence at the collegiate level.
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