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Coach Bryant's Defensive Theory for the Alabama Crimson Tide

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"It's not the will to win that matters - everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters." -- Paul W. Bryant
"It's not the will to win that matters - everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters." -- Paul W. Bryant

Recently I was poring through the archives over at the Paul W. Bryant Museum and came across a superb summation Alabama's defensive philosophy penned by Coach Bryant in the late 1960s. This is the two-page introduction to the defensive section of Alabama' 1967 playbook which, as far as I can tell, is essentially unchanged from the version he included in the 1958 playbook -- his first year as head coach of the Crimson Tide.

Defense is a part of the game that gives the player an unexcelled opportunity to engage in physical contact, and those that are fond of it will usually excel in this facet of the game.

Defense in its simplicity requires that the players be able to do three or four things. They are:

  1. Whip the blocker or blockers so that he can disengage the blocker at will.
  2. Get to the ball rapidly.
  3. Tackle the ball carrier.
  4. A defensive secondary must be able to defend against the pass.

Defense is the most important aspect of the game. Some of the reasons this is true are:

  1. If you prevent the opponent from scoring you will not lose.
  2. More mistakes are always made with the ball.
  3. Adverse weather conditions can seriously affect a team's offense yet have practically no effect on the defense.
  4. There are more ways to score on defense than on offense. (The defense can score with a blocked kick, an intercepted pass, a safety, a recovered fumble in the air and with a punt return.)

The objectives of the defense are:

  1. To prevent a score.
  2. Hold every gain to a minimum.
  3. Force a mistake.
  4. Get the ball back.
  5. Score.

Our Defense is predicated on stopping the long gainer. If our opponent has to go a long distance and we hold their gains to a minimum, something will happen before they can score. Mistakes that we may force or they may make are; a fumble, a busted offensive assignment, intercepted pass, or a penalty. It is very rare for a team to run as many as ten plays without an error.

Team pursuit is the most important factor in defensive football, or course the best players get blocked infrequently, but no "football player" stays blocked. it is imperative that eleven players pursue the ball (at the correct pursuit angle) like a pack of hounds at full cry.

A man's value to his team varies inversely as his distance from the ball. The opponent will score unless you get to the ball carrier. Eleven men must hit the ball carrier before he hits the ground or the whistle blows. This is the most demoralizing thing in football.

At least half of the time we will start playing defense with kickoff, and we want to tackle the ball carrier behind the 20-yard-line. Possession of the football behind he 25-yard-line is not a blessing and the advantage is definitely with the defense in this area. A mistake here by the offense could be a critical one.

Each player must be cognizant of the down, distance, and tactical situation at all times and play accordingly. Of course, the first thing you must do is take care of your responsibility and then go to the ball.

Our objective on 1st and 2nd down is to hold the offense to five yards or less, forcing the offense to come up with 3rd down and five yards or more. If our opponent takes to the air, the men up front must put a rush on the passer and the secondary must go get the ball.

A thrown ball belongs to the one that can get it and one interception will nullify a number of completions providing the offense does not score. We must intercept one out of every six or seven passes that our opponents throw.

If our position waits until 4th down to punt, the advantage is with the defense. The defense knows with a reasonable degree of certainty what the offense is going to do and we have the opportunity to block or return.

A blocked kick has a terrific demoralizing effect on a team and will usually win a game between two evenly matched teams. A punt return properly executed, gives a ball carrier as good an open field running situation as he will ever get.

Each player must perform his defensive assignment in a flawless manner and have the utmost confidence in his teammates to do likewise. If our opponent ever threatens our goal line, we must have the courage and resolution to rise up and stop the enemy.

The best and only good defense is eleven "hard nosed" football players with an undying determination to get the ball or ball carrier.