By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist
Billy Richardson of Jasper was a member of Coach Paul Bryant’s first national championship team at Alabama, 1961. That team also featured Cotton Clark of Carbon Hill.
Things were different, wildly different, in those days. There was no limit on how many scholarships could be given. Players played both sides of the ball, until LSU’s Dietzel began the platoon system.
Bill and Cotton played in the same backfied on offense and the same secondary on defense. Each ran hard and hit hard.
Billy was one of the first players recruited by the Bear for the Crimson Tide, as was Cotton.
“My freshman year we had at least a hundred at the first team meeting,” Billy said. “Right away, Coach Bryant told us to look around, shake hands with the guys next to us and get to know them.” Then Bryant told them that many of the relationships wouldn’t be lengthy.
“You might not believe it but only a couple of handfuls of you are going to be left,” Bryant said.
Richardson said, “He was telling us we better remember we were there for an education as well as to play football. By the time I was a senior, I think 11 of us from that group graduated.”
Bryant began to change the image of the college football player at Alabama.
“At the time,” Richardson said, “Frats and others talking about athletes just called us jocks. Things were different under Coach Bryant. Some players tried for education, some didn’t. Some were just there to play football.
“We had some sharp guys, guys who played by like Pat Trammell and Gaylon McCollough went on to become doctors. We had tutors available. It was not unusual to see them in the dorm. If you didn’t go to class you’d be disciplined for it in some form or other after practice.
“At meetings, Coach Bryant would ask us to consider what we’d be doing after graduation.”
Bryant knew full well that two percent of college football players make it to the National Football League.
Now the days of the prototypical Big Dumb Ox college football player are over, for the huge part, and have been for years.
Back in the Day, Coach Bear Bryant put a value on his players earning their college degrees, Coach Nick Saban insists on it. I couldn’t find what percentage of the Bear’s boys graduated, but today’s different. Here’s one reason why:
The NCAA measures Graduation Success Rate and Academic Progress Rate. Teams that don’t measure up can find themselves at home at bowl time, regardless of record.
Beginning with 2012-13 championships, the NCAA said teams must earn a minimum 900 four-year Academic Progress Rate over the most recent two years to be eligible to participate.
For 2014-15 championships, teams must earn a 930 four-year average APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years to participate in championships. In 2015-16 and beyond, teams must earn a four-year APR of 930 to compete in championships.
More important to my mind is the Graduation Success Rate.
The NCAA’s measuring tool and its threat is a reason why Clemson graduated 85 percent of its football players, Alabama 84 percent and Oklahoma 72 percent. Auburn had its best year, graduating 82 percent.
Georgia was in doghouse with 53 percent.
And players have to be smart to play for big time programs because their schemes, offense and defense, have become complicated to the point of sophistication.
The basic college football defense is normally (or a variation of) the 3-4-4 or the 4-3-4 or the 4-4-3. Coach Saban employs normally the 3-4-4. Three down linemen, four linebackers, 4 in the defensive secondary.
But then comes pass and blitz packages like Cover 2, Cover 3 and all the way to Cover 7, all formulaic to the point that Einstein might’ve blushed.
I’ve been told there might be nearly 400 schemes off the basic patterns. That’s difficult to believe, except I counted 156 separate defensive sets off a schematic.
It takes weeks for a player to know where to go and what to do in certain situations. At places like Alabama and Auburn, there is little drop off in the ability of a junior player or a freshman player.
An injury, though, and in comes an inexperienced player who doesn’t understand fully his role. It’s a cog missing from a high performance engine. The complicated schemes won’t work and it’s back to basics the opponents’ high performance engine can pick apart.
It gets detailed sometimes to inches -which way a Defensive Back turns his hips, how close he lines up to the linebacker, even how his feet are placed. Leverage is key.
There are no dummies, and no room for any.
It’s the reason why a highly regarded QB facing Alabama a couple of years ago in the College Playoffs was stymied to the point that he came off the field following an interception and said to his coach, “Those suckers are everywhere.” He did not of course say suckers.
Overall, the SEC graduates as many or more of its football players than any conference. And, of course, overall, wins more games. And, of course, simply is better all around.
God Bless Alabama peaches and the SEC.
(Next week: Harry Connick Commits the Impossible, Right Before My Bewildered Eyes.)