Randy Smith: My “Bear” Bryant Story

Friday, September 20, 2013 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

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.

rsmithsports@comcast.net

---

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).



Randy Smith: SEC Picks Week Thirteen

While several SEC schools will end their regular season on a down note due to underachieving and too high expectations from their fans, a few schools have had a great season. And while the disappointed group is happy the season ends this weekend, Fans from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. Of course at least five of the fourteen schools ... (click for more)

Tyner Rams Top Woodville In Richard Hardy Tournament

The Tyner Rams beat Woodville 60-32 Wednesday afternoon in the Richard Hardy Memorial Basketball Tournament.   LeAundra Melton led the Rams with 23 points.  Keniah Watkins had 20 points.  Tyner led Woodville 32-12 at the half.  Scores by quarter:  Tyner 18 14 12 16 -- 60 Woodville 2 10 12 8 -- 32 Tyner (60) J. McKenzie 1; Keniah ... (click for more)

5 Disinherited Adopted Children Of Dr. J. Don Brock May Share In Rich Estate After All

Five disinherited adopted children of the late Chattanooga businessman J. Don Brock may share in his large estate after all. After losing at the trial court and appeals court level, the plaintiffs won a victory at the Tennessee Supreme Court. Justice Cornelia Clark ruled in favor of the adopted children and remanded the case to the trial court for settlement of the estate. ... (click for more)

Walker County Asks Dismissal Of Erlanger Lawsuit Asking Court To Order New Taxes For Payment Of $8.7 Million Debt

Walker County, Ga., is asking the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Erlanger Health System that asks a federal judge to order the levying of taxes to pay an $8.7 million debt. Walker County noted that new Commissioner Shannon Whitfield has imposed a special tax levy on its citizens designed to satisfy the debt. It also says that Commissioner Whitfield held several meetings with ... (click for more)

Stormwater Fiasco And East Ridge Camping

When did the Chattanooga City Council get replaced by members of the East Ridge City Council? I don't recall a time in Chattanooga where they've voted to shoot the city in the foot more than they have lately.  If this goes through despite the environmental impact warnings and then Camp Jordan has increased flooding after spending millions on sports ball fields, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Why I Am Thankful

You would think that after 40 years of publishing an annual list of things for which I am thankful, I’d be getting to the bottom of it, but it seems the older I get I have found I appreciate so much more around me. I take absolute delight in planting a flower, feeding the birds and throwing a ball for my dog. I find that the more people who I come to know the more who I come to ... (click for more)