Vincent Thomas Lombardi was probably the greatest coach in pro football history. Arriving in Green Bay in 1959, he immediately transformed the Green Bay Packers from the National Football League’s doormat into contenders. From his second season, 1960, through his last as head coach at Green Bay, 1967, his Packers played for the league championship six times and won five, including victories in the first two Super Bowls. Vince Lombardi’s stocky figure on the Green Bay sidelines remains the most recognizable image of pro football’s first golden age, when it established itself as the most popular television sport.
But the game of college football has roots and traditions that the pro game can imitate but never equal, and the domain of Paul (“Bear”) Bryant, the greatest of all college football coaches and the winner of a record six national championships, was larger than that of Vince Lombardi. Bryant was no less a TV icon than Lombardi; Roone Arledge produced his first ABC college football telecast in 1960 at an Alabama home game, and for the next 23 years Bryant’s houndstooth hat was instantly identifiable to any fan of either the pro or college game. The coach in the houndstooth hat in
By the time Lombardi got his job with Green Bay, Bryant had already turned around the fortunes of four different college programs, at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Alabama.
Bryant’s career would outlast Lombardi’s by 13 seasons. For all his brilliance, Lombardi left no disciples. Bryant’s progeny have produced winning records at both the professional and college levels, and many of them are coaching today. John Mitchell, Bryant’s first black scholarship player, is currently an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers; Sylvester Croom, who played for Bryant in the early seventies became the first black head coach at a Southeastern Conference school, Mississippi State; and Ozzie Newsome, a consensus All-American for Bryant in the mid-seventies and an NFL Hall of Famer, is currently general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, the highest-ranking black executive in the league. Like a craggy Janus, Bear Bryant’s legend extends to both the past and future of football.