The Bear

John Ed in front of the sign for Fordyce, advertising it as the birthplace of Bear Bryant.


SEC football has finally started! The SEC has had some great coaches in its history. Many consider Bear Bryant the most influential. Bear coached at the University of Alabama for twenty-five years and won six National Championships. His record at Alabama was 232-46-9. Those nine ties are interesting. I don’t think the Bear would ever go for a tie, so the opposing teams must have tied the Bear.

I was speaking in Arkansas last year. Since I met Bear Bryant on a few occasions, I wanted to go to Fordyce, Arkansas, to see Bear Bryant’s home place. Next to it is a pasture with a sign identifying the home place of Bear Bryant. Standing in front of the sign were some huge cows, Texas Longhorns. I doubt Bear would have approved of having a Texas Longhorn on his property!

John Ed and a Texas Longhorn in front of a sign for Bear Bryan's birthplace.

Fordyce, Arkansas, gets credit for being Bear Bryan’s hometown because he played high school football there for the “Fighting Red Bugs.” His team won the state championship his senior year. He actually was born just outside of Fordyce in either Kingsland or Moro Bottom.

A couple of other people were born right near the place where Bear Bryant was born. One was Johnny Cash, just down the road a bit. Also, Tommy Tuberville, former head coach at Auburn and a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, was born nearby. Local residents say that all three of those famous people were born in the suburbs of Fordyce!

Paul Bryant got the nickname “Bear” because there was a county fair that would come to town and offer money to anybody who would get in the ring with a bear. Nobody took them up on it until Paul Bryant did one day. There are conflicting stories about that encounter, but everybody started calling him “Bear” Bryant.

One of the things I liked about Coach Bryant was the fact that he helped Wayne Atcheson, Steve Sloan, Paul Crane, and a few other players start a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at the University of Alabama. He invited Billy Graham to come and speak at the stadium. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Alabama is the longest continuously active huddle group of any school!

The Bear generated a lot of great quotes. He said he came back to Alabama to coach because “Mama called.” One of my favorites is by a former Bryant assistant at Texas A&M, Bum Phillips. He said, “The Bear could take his’n and beat your’n and he could take your’n and beat his’n.” He was famous for his extreme discipline as a coach. He made men out of boys.

He had a spirit of patriotism that I think we need to recapture today. When he was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, he interviewed for the head coaching job at Arkansas. On December 7, 1941, he was driving to Fayetteville to accept the head coach position. When he heard the news on his car radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, he turned his car around and went back and joined the Navy!

The Bear wasn’t a saint. He had his challenges, but I always think positively about good lessons learned from him when I see a script A or a houndstooth hat, or get the opportunity to speak to the FCA huddle at the University of Alabama.

Do you see any Bears around today?

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