Publish date:


Football coaching's winter rite—contract jumping—is now at its frenetic height

Football coaches have toiled so assiduously to create the legend that they are developers of character that it is difficult, this week, not to consider them hoist on their own petard. Their legend, of course, is partially true for the young have always learned by observation. But just what kind of character is being built? Though it must be conceded that alumni pressures may be largely responsible, coaches are accumulating within their ranks a very slick, fast-talking and shifty group of fellows—adept at evasion of the recruiting rules and equally adept at charming old ladies on television. This week, a quick-moving minority of them is piously engaged in what is becoming a sort of winter rite—contract jumping. It is now widely accepted that a coach's contract is only a scrap of paper if he has an opportunity to "better himself," although the college which fires a coach must prepare to pay off at least part of the total salary agreed on for his tenure or face action in the courts. Thus, Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant demonstrated no compunction at all when he broke a 10-year contract after only four years at Texas A&M and took a fresh coaching job, which was offered him—also with no signs at all of abashment—by his alma mater, the University of Alabama. At first glance—the issue of sharp practice aside—it seemed like an odd thing to do. Bryant has been making a good deal of money in Texas (some estimates are as high as $60,000) because he has a television program, is privy to the thoughts of large men in the oil industry and has built and runs apartment houses just off the campus. Bryant himself explained the decision as one based on love and duty. "When your mother calls," he said, "you come arunnin'." Actually, Bryant, whose team was put on probation for two years (1955-56) as a result of his overenthusiastic recruiting, is now "running out of horses"—that is, his hotter players are graduating—and next year he would be forced to face the world, and the alumni, with less than realistic hopes of victory. At Alabama, however—where both Coach J. B. (Ears) Whitworth and a program of low-pressure football have just been junked—a slush fund is being raised and an atmosphere conducive to big-time operations re-established. Meanwhile, Texas A&M, which still lusts for bowl games, is looking for another top coach—which means it is doing its best to encourage more contract jumping.

It would be hard to say whether the condition of the present player roster at Texas A&M might have influenced him or not, but when the news of Bear Bryant's departure reached Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty, 1,000 miles to the northeast—closely followed by an inquiry on his availability—Duffy said, "I guess I have too much sentiment for Michigan State." When the news reached UCLA's Red Sanders, 1,500 miles away, he cleared his throat and said: "I have a very good job here." A week later, despite the fact that his contract at UCLA has six years to run, Red Sanders allowed that he would fly to Texas to consider a deal described by Texans as a $15,000 salary, a $5,000 expense account, television shows to net $10,000, plus ground-floor stock in an oil company, an air-conditioned, rent-free home, free food and a new station wagon every year.

The game of musical chairs went merrily on elsewhere, too. Smiling Jack Mitchell hopped from Arkansas (he had replaced Bowden Wyatt who hopped off in his gift Cadillac in 1955) to the University of Kansas. Coach Frank Broyles hopped from the University of Missouri (where he had spent just one season) to replace him and intoned on arrival, "I'm in Arkansas as long as you want me." The week's record of frenetic job grabbing moved the New York Herald Tribune's Red Smith to characterize football as the "only sport that publicly claims to ennoble the human race [but one which often] brings out the worst in man. A baseball manager, a horse trainer, or the proprietor of a prizefighter is seldom encountered in a cathedral discoursing upon the spiritual values of his game. But football [is characterized) by cynical contempt on both sides for the sanctity of contracts; by constant violation of agreements governing the subsidizing of players. In the circumstances it seems almost miraculous that the undergraduates have not taken a tip from the elders and gaffed a game now and then. The basic decency of kids must be indestructible."


WINNER: Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant, who is leaving Texas for new job at Alabama.


LOSER: Low-pressure Coach J. B. (Ears) Whitworth, dropped in favor of Bryant.


NEUTRAL: Michigan State's Coach Hugh (Duffy) Daugherty, who was asked to take Bear Bryant's job at Texas A&M but cordially declined to abandon the Spartans.


When this genial-looking custodian of young athletes took over the football coaching job at the University of Arkansas last week, he gave a new and clearer meaning to a little speech he delivered just 11 months ago when accepting a three-year contract at the University of Missouri. "I didn't seek out the Missouri job just to stay a year or two. If the people want me and I feel I'm contributing to the program, I'll be happy to make my home at Columbia for a long time."

The vacuum into which Frank Broyles plunged last week was created by this even happier-looking molder of young manhood, who resigned his job at Arkansas after two years of a five-year contract to move on to the University of Kansas. Arkansas high school coaches were prompted to buy a newspaper advertisement suggesting the qualifications of his successor: "Coach," it read, "must be willing to break a contract at slightest whim and without any second thoughts."

It would seem only fitting to be able to report that this jobless coach—having been dumped into the cold by the University of Kansas—was about to hop into the spot at Missouri vacated by the gent at the top of this column. Job hopping, however, is not that neat a process and Chuck Mather, at the moment anyhow, is low man on the totem pole in more ways than one. Pity the coach with no contract to break, for both his allure and chances of getting a new one are apt to be slim.