Alabama’s fabled football coach died in January of 1983. Before that I got to know him pretty well and because he’d tell me stuff, I wrote I bet about 250 columns about him and his Alabama teams and the players. He is still widely quoted after – what? – he was buried in Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery. I was there through the whole of it and somewhere there’s a picture of me standing next to Joe Namath.
Fall practice has already started in Tuscaloosa and, believe this, there were more afternoons where I thought they’d kill somebody. John Hannah, who played at Baylor, remembers well one afternoon when nine players were sent to the hospital with heat problems. The next day Bryant talked to the team.
“Now see there ... it just like I’ve been telling you – the human body will pass out before it dies!” By the time a player got to be a senior that was the funniest story they would tell one another and, curiously, none of the underclassmen ever laughed until they were seniors.
At the end of every afternoon practice Coach would whistle up the players and even that was comical. That’s where some of his best one-liners were given birth and Bryant would always talk in a low voice – to watch the players jockey for a position where they could actually hear his gems of wisdom was wonderfully funny as well. I’ll always remember his players falling all over one another elbows flying and an occasional fist or two. It was a show unto itself.
I thought about Coach Bryant yesterday in the face of an abysmal grand foo bah by the Hamilton County Department of Education and I sat for over three hours while two good attempts to muster support for a five percent raise for our teachers went awry. And not just that … I believe had only the HCDE showed just a tinge of class instead of a haughty stance as one teacher stood and apologized for being white, there is always the chance for everyone involved to be nice; that way you can outlive the roar.
Whites and blacks in our community – from where I sit – are doing a wonderful job working together but let’s be real honest -- if the situation was reversed, both County Mayor Jim Coppinger and City Mayor Andy Berke would be falling all over each other with apologies, statements of clarity, and the black pastors who tried to humble Sheriff Jim Hammond over the arrest of a known drug pusher.
Please, we’ve had over 70 black-on-black shootings. Good people and even little kids getting shot but the clergy’s efforts are nothing more than a funeral notice. This is so wrong – blacks have killed each other over gangland turf yet these clergy disciples actually ask television cameramen “when will the other media get here?”
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BEAR BRYANT ON HANDLING MISTAKES
“Let me tell you … bad things are going to happen. The absolute worst thing you can do is try to hide. They’re going to find you. And when they show up, there are just three things you can do. First, you apologize. Forget going into details but you tell everybody who will listen how sorry you are that you happened to have gotten involved in something you had no business being part of.
Secondly, you do whatever it takes to prove you mean it. I’ve run players down to their knees. I’ve kicked guys out of the dorm, thrown ‘em off the team, embarrassed them to death. At Alabama our players know we expect class, hard work … in life your back will be up against the wall a lot – you might as well get used to it.
“The second thing you do with a mistake – big or small – you make darn well sure you learn a lesson from it … and the third thing is real, real simple … don’t you dare ever do it again.” Coach Bryant often said.
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At a teacher’s in-conference training session on Friday, a segment on “white privilege” quickly got out of hand. School officials pooh-poohed what they claimed was taken out of context, but when a white teacher actually stood before the group to apologize that she was born white, that’s a five-alarm fire. On Monday a local TV crew called the school’s central office, only to be told they refused to make any further comment, that the issue was closed … that’s why it opened once again.
For the superintendent, a member of his staff, or even the school board to call it “a closed matter” is the mark of a coward. The County Commission meeting was abuzz and the five percent teacher raise … that a lot of people wanted to somehow work, not to mention 3,000 of the very ones who teach our children – and are even surrogate mothers in some cases, doesn’t have squat to show.
The reason our teachers did not get a five percent raise is Bryan Johnson’s latest failure. Next week when the state test scores are announced, we are told everyone will be so thrilled nothing else will matter. The truth is that if he wants a downtown parade after we’ve been the worst metro-level school district, we ain’t gonna’ need more than one wagon.