The History. The Legend.
“Sacrifice. Work. Self-discipline. I teach these things, and my boys don’t forget them when they leave.”
Paul “Bear” Bryant
Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant – his name conjures images of a man in a houndstooth hat standing by the goal post, coaching his team to yet another victory. Years of experience were etched in his gentle face, but behind the grandfatherly exterior lay what could be described as the right stuff, the stuff that created a legend. He had a reputation as a homespun authoritarian and a tough, but loved, taskmaster.
Bryant was born in Moro Bottom, Ark., on Sept. 11, 1913, 11th of 12 children in a farming family. At Fordyce High School, he was recruited by the University of Alabama to play right end to Don Hutson’s left end.
Post-graduation, he held a brief stint at Tennessee’s Union College before returning to Alabama as assistant coach to Frank Thomas, followed by assisting Red Sanders at Vanderbilt. After service as a Naval Officer in North Africa during World War II, he accepted his first head coaching position at Maryland in 1945. He turned the team into a winner, and then did the same in his eight years at the helm at Kentucky.
He left for Texas A&M University in 1953, where he earned a reputation as an extreme disciplinarian. From 1954-58, he produced a Southwest Conference championship team and his lone Heisman winner, John David Crow. Bryant then returned to the University of Alabama for good, saying “…when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”
The mentor who turned the Crimson Tide around, he was named the NCAA’s Coach of the 1960s. His teams toured the bowl circuit: Orange, Cotton, Sugar, Gator, Liberty, Bluebonnet – 24 in all. When he retired, Bryant had won more games than any other coach in college football history (323). In 25 years, he coached Alabama to 25 winning seasons, 24 bowl games, and six national championships. Bryant inspired those under him through hard work, high standards, and quality of character. He was the best kind of leaders; he turned individuals into teammates.
A mere 28 days after his final victory in the Liberty Bowl and retirement, Bryant died of a heart attack in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Jan. 26, 1983 at the age of 69.
History of the Awards
While the Coach of the Year Award has been an annual tradition since 1957, The Bryant Family felt moved to educate and impact awareness around heart disease and stroke following “Bear’s” passing. The family approached the American Heart Association to create a meaningful partnership to keep “Bear’s” legacy alive while raising funds to support research. In 1986, the American Heart Association adopted and re-named the award.
In the past 31 years since the award was renamed, the Bryant Awards has raised over $8.5 million to fund research, advocacy and educational programs across the country that are necessary for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
American Heart Association is dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The organization is second only to the federal government in funding cardiovascular research, and with heart disease claiming the lives of 787,000 annually, it is now more important than ever to support the organization’s efforts through programming like the Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards. “Bear” always talked about being bigger than something other than himself. The Bryant Awards offer an opportunity to do just that – to be a part of team Bryant in the fight against heart disease and stroke.