(Editor’s Note. This piece is a review of the most recent book, “The Long Shadow of Coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant,” by Dr. Gaylon McCollough. It is the second book he has written that deals with lessons he learned while playing football at the University of Alabama for Paul “Bear” Bryant.)
This past weekend marked the 29th anniversary of the death of coaching legend, Paul “Bear” Bryant. Alabama fans may be basking in the spotlight created by its football team’s dominating win over LSU in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) championship game on Jan. 9 and the fact that Coach Nick Saban has now guided the Crimson Tide to two national championships in three years. But Alabama fans will never forget that in the 25 seasons that Bryant was the head coach, the Tide won six national championships.
Anyone who goes to Tuscaloosa to visit the University of Alabama campus will drive down Bryant Drive past Bryant-Denny stadium. The visitor will drive past the Bryant Museum and the Bryant Conference Center. A few blocks north of those buildings sits Paul Bryant Hall, the home of the academic center serving Tide athletes. A statue of Bryant sits on the north side of the stadium just off University Boulevard.
Bryant came to Alabama in early 1958 at what was probably the lowest point in the program’s history. In his fourth season he won the national championship. Two more followed in the next four years. The 1966 team went 11-0 and is considered by Alabama fans to be the uncrowned national champion of that season. The players who played for Bryant during those early years hold a special place in Tide football legend. They are remembered by many as “Bear’s boys.”
Dr. E. Gaylon McCollough was one of those early players. McCollough arrived from Enterprise, Ala., in the fall of 1961. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity play in those days. McCollough played in the 1962, 1963 and 1964 seasons and was an All American performer at center on the 1964 national championship team.
McCollough turned down a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys to attend medical school. He has built a successful practice in cosmetic surgery. He became a confidant of Coach Bryant and remains connected to the Alabama program today.
McCollough has written several books over the years. His latest book, “The Long Shadow of Coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant,” was published in 2010. McCollough has developed a set of leadership principles that he wrote about in this book. He currently gives motivational speeches based on the leadership principles that he first learned while playing for Coach Bryant.
McCollough relates a number of quotes from Coach Bryant that illustrated points associated with leadership. According to McCollough, the coach once said, “What separates winners from losers, however, is that when a winner falls short of his or her goal, a lesson is learned and used as a stepping stone right back to the top.”
In 1964 McCollough was the center on the 11-0 team that faced Texas in the Orange Bowl. Joe Namath was the senior quarterback of that team. Namath injured his knee early that season and really only played part-time during most of the games. In the Orange Bowl game, junior Steve Sloan started. Alabama fell far behind halfway through the second quarter when Namath limped onto the field. Playing on one leg he led the Tide back.
With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter Namath drove the Tide down the field. With seconds left to play Alabama faced a fourth-and-goal from inside the Texas 1-yard line trailing 21-17. This was to be the final play of McCollough’s career at Alabama. He snapped the ball to Namath who then tried a quarterback sneak behind McCollough’s block. When the play ended, McCollough looked around for Namath and realized that he was lying on top of him a yard into the end zone. He and Namath jumped up and began to celebrate. An official came running in from the side and another one came running from the back of the end zone. Both signaled touchdown. One official even took the ball from Namath just before raising his arms in the touchdown signal.
The head referee came running up from behind the pile. He took the ball from the back judge, placed it at the 1-yard line, and signaled first down for Texas (The official was from the Southwest Conference in which Texas played.). In the confusion of the moment, the offense came off the field. The game was over and Texas had won. The players to a man knew that Namath had scored. Coach Bryant had been standing quietly on the sideline watching the play unfold. One of the players came by the coach and told him that the team had scored. Everyone felt robbed of a glorious last-second, comeback win.
According to McCollough Coach Bryant said, “If Joe had walked in (to the end zone) there’d have been no question about it.” In that moment the coach had taught an invaluable life lesson that McCollough remembers to this day. If you want to accomplish something, don’t do just enough to get the job done. Go beyond what is required. Leave a margin of safety and don’t rely on other people to judge your success or failure. Like the game of football, life is not always fair, so it is up to each of us to get our part of the job done beyond question.
Like all great coaches, Paul Bryant was a great teacher and motivator. He taught football but used it as a vehicle to teach life. He used to say that he could take ordinary players and make them good and take good players and make them great. In 1964, McCollough played center at 210 pounds. He remembers that he was the third largest player on the offense that year. Bryant made them play great as a unit because he knew that the mind is the strongest muscle in the human body.
McCollough acknowledges that Coach Bryant had his faults and that he battled some inner demons like all of us do. His book does not recount those faults in detail. The point of the book is that everyone has the inner strength to overcome their limitations and to accomplish things they don’t initially believe possible.
His book is an excellent read for anyone wanting to gain insights into a complex man who is now something of a legend. The book also is a must read for anyone looking for insights into the leadership process or for anyone who simply wants help in navigating the difficult passages we all face in life. It is a valuable addition to the library of anyone striving for success in today’s world.
Dr. E. Gaylon McCollough is giving a talk that is free and open to the public at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the United States Sports Academy campus in Daphne, Ala.
Dr. McCollough maintains a successful medical practice specializing in cosmetic surgery. After 25 successful years in Birmingham, Ala., he moved his practice to Gulf Shores, Ala. He is the co-author of several successful textbooks on facial and nasal plastic surgery. He is a long-time friend and supporter of the United States Sports Academy. Anyone wanting to contact Dr. McCollough can email him at email@example.com.