|The Toughest Coach There Ever Was by Frank Deford|
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Once he had his degree in hand, though, he planned to return to Scooba. And he did-for the '56 season. East Mississippi had taken on a new president in the interim, a local man familiar with Bull Cyclone's exploits, and he hired him back. The president was a little red-haired fellow named R.A. Harbour. He always went by his initials, hoping that no one would remember that his square name was Ritzi Algeine. Unfortunately, behind his back he was called Stumpy, for he was as small a man as Bull Cyclone was big. Like the coach, though, the president was married to a smart woman, one who was every bit his partner. Edna Harbour joined the faculty at Scooba, and she eventually became its public relations director. Edna was a beautiful woman, taller than her husband, and she constantly pushed Stumpy, regularly correcting him and embarrassing him in front of his colleagues.
Still, it's fair to say that Stumpy wanted as much for the college he ran as Bull Cyclone did for the football team, and the new president was delighted to get Sullivan back in '56. The team had again fallen on hard times, and the fans had grown resentful, as all fans do, at the lack of success. When Stumpy hired Bull Cyclone, the Kemper County Messenger ("This is the only newspaper in the world whose sole interest is in Kemper County") exulted: "He is considered one of the best offensive coaches in existence, including senior college.... Sullivan's teams didn't always win, but they always put on a show for the spectators. When you saw Sullivan's boys play, you saw a jam-up scoring, razzle-dazzle game that left you breathless and sometimes mad also. But you saw a football game."
But it was just like '50 all over again. Scooba had only two players back from the '55 squad, so Bull Cyclone had to scour the territory for live bodies. The way it worked then, at Scooba and at a lot of other places, a coach would rope in so many players, weed out the losers during summer practice and then "dress out" the survivors. Bull Cyclone didn't disguise what he was doing. Just the opposite. A candidate he was recruiting would ask, "Corch, are you giving me a scholarship?"
"Yeah," Bull Cyclone would grumble, ''I'm giving you a scholarship-if you don't quit or if I don't run you off." It was customary for a Scooba player-freshman or sophomore-to sign his scholarship form as he boarded the team bus to go to the first game.
Understand, "running off" was a fairly common gridiron practice in those days. It was, far example, what cemented Bryant's reputation as a martinet when he started coaching at Texas A&M in '54. You didn't get cut, you got run off the team. Or perhaps, more often, you chase to run yourself off. "Bull ran off more All-Americans than he kept," says Dan Edwards, who played quarterback at Scooba in the late '50s. Players can remember hearing suitcases banging dawn the stairs of The Alamo just before dawn as boys decided not to go through another two-a-day. Others would leave surreptitiously in the black of night. They'd sneak dawn the stairs and then push their cars out of earshot before starting them up, lest Bull Cyclone woke up and come after them and make them stay on the team.
When Sullivan's old players get together, they often wonder about the ones that quit. It wasn't exactly dishonorable to get run off. After all, a lot did, and damn near everybody almost did. Edwards, for example, left six times before ultimately deciding to stay. Still, the survivors wonder whatever happened to the others. Well, here's one report, from C.R. Gilliam of Carrolton, Ala.: "We'd practice four hours in the morning and then four more hours in the afternoon. I was playing defensive guard and got my nose broken. It was bleeding real bad and pushed around to the side, but Bull just kicked my butt and told me to get back in there.
"That night, I'm laying on that pillow, my nose is aching, I'm feeling real sorry for myself, and I'm thinking, 'I don't have to take this.' I got up and met Bull in the hall the next morning and told him I was going home. 'How?' Bull asked me. 'Walkin',' I told him. I started out and must have gotten four or five miles, to near Geiger, when here come that red Pontiac station wagon of his. He picked me up and took me on home to Carrolton. I never did go to the doctor about that nose."
Something like 200 of Bull Cyclone's players became coaches, and he'd tell them, "Son, don't never worry about a player who leaves. The only thing for you to do is find out why he left and work on it for the next one comes along like that."
Coaching, at least as it was practiced then, in the good old days, wasn't exactly like the ministry. The idea wasn't to save all the souls. The ones that got run off were on their own, but the ones who stayed would be affected far out of proportion. Bull Cyclone, like a lot of coaches, especially football coaches, had more impact on many boys' lives than did their fathers. It was all very basic, really. "You either loved him or you didn't stay," says Bill Buckner, Scooba's best quarterback, who is now the coach at Hinds J.C. "He pushed everyone to the point where they either left him or they gave him what they were capable of."
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 March 2008 )|
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