Last week, I read my old friend Roy Exum’s column about his wonderful friendship with the legendary Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. I have read and heard that story several times and always smile fondly when I read it again. Roy and Coach Bryant were good friends who always seemed to enjoy each other’s company. I was never what you would call friends with Coach Bryant. I considered myself to be friends with both Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer for obvious reasons but never Coach Bryant. I interviewed him on two different occasions and the first interview was one I would like to forget. In fact, if I remember correctly, Roy Exum was on the Krystal bus that day at Creeks Bend in the summer of 1976.
I was a young, enthusiastic sports reporter for WDOD radio back then and my boss, the late Bill Nash, had gotten me an interview with Coach Bryant after his round of golf. I was terrified and likely shaking in my boots as I stepped aboard the lavish bus that Coach Bryant was using that day as he played in a celebrity golf tournament.
I walked slowly up to the booth where he was sitting. He never looked at me as I was introduced to him. He simply stared out the window, hardly noticing that I was in his presence. I turned on my tape recorder which was stocked with fresh batteries, and I started the interview. Now back then I was just 25 years old and on the short side of experience. I learned a very valuable lesson that day; never begin an interview with a serious or important question. After starting my recorder I asked, “Coach……how many more years can we expect to see you at the University of Alabama?” I knew right away that was a huge mistake. As I waited for the legendary “Bear” Bryant to unload on me with full force, I thought about getting up and running as hard as I could to get off the bus and just lie down in the road and wait to be run over.
It was quiet…..deathly quiet as Coach slowly turned and looked at me and said, ”I don’t think that’s any of your….. G*****n business. Now ask me something I give a s**t about answering.”
I didn’t get up and run. I sat in my seat and finished the interview which actually turned out to be pretty good. I didn’t stop shaking until later that evening, when I got home and played the tape for my wife. Years later as I think back on that day in 1976, I really wasn’t frightened of Coach Bryant; just in total and complete awe of him. I bet Roy Exum could relate to that same feeling.
A few years later, near the end of his career, Coach Bryant came back to Chattanooga to speak at a fundraising banquet for UTC Athletics. I did another interview with him, this time on television, as I was working for WDEF-TV Channel 12. I was hoping he wouldn’t remember me at all after that near-disaster in 1976. After we were finished, I shook his hand and he said, “This one was a lot better than that last one wasn’t it?”
I was smiling from ear to ear as I held on to his hand and told him….”You’re right Coach. You’re right about that.”
I have thought about my two meetings with “Bear” Bryant a lot over the last few years. I was in awe of him, I never doubted that at all. He had as much charisma as anyone I have ever known, but the biggest thing about Coach Bryant was this: you never wanted to disappoint him. Whether you were doing an interview or playing college football for him. There are hundreds and hundreds of former players who know exactly what I’m talking about.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).