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The RBR Reading Room: Paul "Bear" Bryant


The number of biographies and memoirs about Paul W. Bryant has reached a point it's easy to miss some of the lesser known ones. One that might easily go under the radar would be Delbert Reed's 1996 book Paul 'Bear' Bryant: What Made Him a Winner.

Reed, a former newspaper reporter and editor at a number of papers including the Tuscaloosa News, published the book in 1996 through Vision Press of Northport, AL. So it didn't have an enormous print run and it was clearly penned with its target audience in mind. The result probably qualified for the "hagiography" label we discussed last week, but its one of the best sort.

The book is a hybrid of sorts. It starts with something of a paean to Bryant but then provides a pretty straight forward biographical sketch. It paints the Alabama coach in the most positive light, of course, but it doesn't omit the difficult chapters of his career. The process of integration and the lawsuit with the Saturday Evening Post are both well covered.

(My favorite thing about this book is how Reed refuses to print Furman Bisher's name, simply referring to him as "a sportswriter from Atlanta.")

Past that is where the real meat is. Reed, who spent years interviewing Bryant and those in the program fills several chapters of Paul "Bear" Bryant with what they had to say. The chapter of Bryant quotes is one of the most thorough I've ever run across and, given Reed's background, one I feel comfortable in citing. Here are a few.

My favorite play is the one where the player pitches the ball back to the official after scoring a touchdown.

You don't win on tradition; you win on blocking and tackling on the field.

Don't chew out a third-stringer. Pick an All-America. You'll get their attention.

Paul "Bear" Bryant also has dozens of thumbnail remembrances of Bryant by those who knew him. These are really the heart of this book. Many of these are the usual laudatory comments his former players and assistants tend to invoke but Reed has done a good job of selecting what to include. Taken as a whole, these direct quotes do a good job backing up the blanket character analysis he made at the start of the book.

There's also a ton of great anecdotes. Probably the best one was provided by Reed himself. He recalls an interview with Bryant where he asked the coach what he would change about the game of football if he could.

I sat poised with pen in hand, ready to write something profound like "eliminate the forward pass," or "add 20 yards to the length of the field," or something of that magnitude.

Coach Bryant thought briefly but intently, then said without a hint of a smile, "Make Auburn stop cheating."

The back of the book has a ton of statistical information about Bryant's career as well as comprehensive lists of the coaches who worked under him and players who played for him. A lot of this is online nowadays but, certainly, when the book came out the information was a godsend.

In the end, Paul "Bear" Bryant is a book written specifically for the Crimson Tide faithful and doesn't make a single apology for it. Still, Reed was too good a journalist not to fill the tome with valuable information that ensures even the most die-hard fan will probably learn something they didn't know.