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The hire that presaged Texas A&M to the SEC, and forever bound A&M to Alabama and Kentucky

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SPOILER: It’s the Bear

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This trip down memory lane involved the hiring of a man that will forever bind the Aggies and Wildcats to Alabama, and will tie them all into SEC lore.

On February 4th, 1954, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant left his $15,000-$17,000 year job at Kentucky to take over the AD and football coaching positions at Texas A&M at a discount rate. At the time, A&M was an all-male institution, with just 6500 students. But, one thing Aggieland did have in its favor was a rabid fan base. Fans matter, and that is a point we shall address in just a moment [dramatic foreshadowing.]

As would reportedly happen with Nick Saban in 2013, the decision to stay or leave was an emotionally-charged one. And, as would also happen with Nick Saban decades later, the Bear had his own gaffe, one that provided fodder for sportswriters, when he proclaimed that he wanted to “live and die in Kentucky.”

But, less than two months after that love-fest, upset about playing second fiddle a basketball school, the lack of fan support, and the recent NCAA violations incurred by Adolph Rupp, the Bear and his SEC Championship hit the road. And with him, he would take his plaid hats, smokey sports coats, and sonorous whiskey-graveled growl to the dusty land grant in East Texas.

Thus, fifty-seven years before it would be a fait accompli, Texas A&M would bind itself to two SEC institutions, and begin the first of many ties between College Station and Tuscaloosa. The rest, as they say, is history.

USA Today has the Lexington Courier Journal archived story today, and it is fascinating reading.

The undefeated No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats travel to College Station this week to face the 3-2 Aggies. It is the first meeting at A&M since Kentucky lost the most successful coach in their program history to the Aggies, the man who would become a legend at three SEC programs. In 1952, the Wildcats were carried off the field. Don’t expect such reception this weekend.