What the presidents said about Bear Bryant

I was working on some research this morning and instead of staying focused on the work, I branched out and found a host of other interesting items. Here are a few quotes from presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan about legendary Alabama Crimson Tide coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant.

Gerald Ford, Remaks in Mobile, September 26, 1976:
You don’t know how pleased I am, how honored I am with the comments by my long-time friend, Bear Bryant. He is right. We graduated–he from the University of Alabama, and I from the University of Michigan. He got into coaching, and I did. He did a lot better in coaching than I did, but let me say that I am a good Monday morning quarterback when it comes to reading the paper and seeing what ball teams win and what ball teams lose.

I don’t offer the advice because I played and coached, and I found that, you know, there is nothing like the coach who is there and the players who have to play. But I have great respect for the players that are successful and the coaches who are successful. And I want to commend all of you here in the great State of Alabama for not only having a great university and a great university at Auburn, but I want to commend you for having, I think, one of the outstanding coaches, not only from the point of view of technically being a great coach but being a great leader of men, and that’s what really counts. Thank you very much, Bear.

Ford at the Annual Awards Luncheon of the NCAA (Ford was presented the Theodore Roosevelt Award, January 7, 1975:
But I am sure I don’t have to tell any of you, in this audience particularly, the problems of being an athletic director or head coach. For instance, I see my good friend Bear Bryant1 down here. I was talking to Bear and he said, “We both had the very same experience on New Year’s Day.” I said, “How is that possible? I was skiing and you were at the Orange Bowl.” He said, “That is what I mean. We both hit the top, and after that it was all downhill.” [Laughter]

You know, I think Alabama played a superb ball game, but Notre Dame just seemed to have something a little extra. You could tell, as I watched it anyhow, that Notre Dame was feeling pretty confident. I heard later they brought in Earl Butz to give the blessing.

Gerald Ford at the Awards Dinner of the American Football Coaches Association, January 9, 1975:
As a resident of Washington, the District of Columbia, on at least a temporary basis, I want you to know what a real thrill it is to have all of you here. Washington is a real football town, and you can’t imagine the excitement seeing John McKay fly in over the Potomac, Ara Parseghian drive in over the Potomac, and Bear Bryant walk in over the Potomac.

Reagan awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, February 23, 1983:

And the next is a posthumous award to Paul W. Bryant, and Bear Bryant’s granddaughter, Mary Harmon Tyson, will accept the medal on behalf of her family.

In many ways, American sports embody the best in our national character—dedication, teamwork, honor and friendship. Paul “Bear” Bryant embodied football. The winner of more games than any other coach in history, Bear Bryant was a true American hero. A hard but beloved taskmaster he pushed ordinary people to perform extraordinary feats. Patriotic to the core, devoted to his players and inspired by a winning spirit that never quit, Bear Bryant gave his country the gift of a legend. In making the impossible seem easy, he lived what we all strive to be.

Reagan on visiting Bryant at a practice:

Now, I have to leave soon, but I can’t go without talking a minute about a great man that I was proud to call friend—Bear Bryant. He was sort of the essential American. And, you know, a few years back, I set a kind of a record here at the University of Alabama. I was here to go to a formal dinner where I was to be the after dinner speaker. And Bear invited me to come out and visit practice out here—football practice.

Well, the only way it could be worked out and the timing and all was that I had to put the tux on first. So, there I was out on the practice field throwing a ball around with about 65 fellows, and I was in black tie. [Laughter] Bear got quite a kick out of this. But he really started to laugh when it began to rain. [Laughter]

Ronald Reagan on Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s death, January 26, 1983:

Today we Americans lost a hero who always seemed larger than life. Paul “Bear” Bryant won more college football games than any other coach in history, and he made legends out of ordinary people. Only 4 weeks ago, we held our breath, then cheered, when the “Bear” notched his final victory in a game named, fittingly, the Liberty Bowl.

He was a hard, but loved taskmaster. Patriotic to the core, devoted to his players, and inspired by a winning spirit that would not quit, Bear Bryant gave his country the gift of a life unsurpassed. In making the impossible seem easy, he lived what we strive to be.