By Donovan Tennimon
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There are a number of coaching connections between Texas A&M and Alabama, who are prepared to do battle this weekend.
Although Texas A&M and Alabama have only played each other four previous times, there is a lot of history between the two programs. Everyone knows about Paul “Bear” Bryant leaving Texas A&M because "mama" was calling him at Alabama. Most people are probably aware that Gene Stallings, one of the Junction Boys, played and coached under Bryant before taking over at Texas A&M, and later, Alabama. Not many people are familiar with Jackie Sherrill’s connection with the two programs, however, and some people have forgotten all about Dennis Franchione.
Coach Bryant came to College Station in 1954 after eight years as head coach at Kentucky. He enjoyed tremendous success at Kentucky; no football coach has been able to match his achievements in Lexington since he left. Perhaps the biggest reason Bryant chose to leave Kentucky for struggling Texas A&M was he did not like living in the shadow of head basketball coach Adolph Rupp. Supposedly, after each had big seasons in their respective sport, Bryant was given a nice lighter for his accomplishments, while Rupp was given a Cadillac.
Coach Bryant took over one of the worst programs in the Southwest Conference when he came to Texas A&M. His first year with the Aggies was no better than his predecessors', going 1-9. Then, in his second year, he was able to guide the Aggies to a 7-2-1 record, and in just his third year, he led the team to an undefeated season. While the Aggies were experiencing a revival, Bryant’s alma mater was in decline. After five national championships under two different head coaches -Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas - Alabama was in a slump under then head coach J.B. “Ears” Whitworth. After seeing his success at both Kentucky and Texas A&M, Alabama made the call to one of their favorite sons.
Despite being from a small town in Arkansas, Bryant played his college ball at the University of Alabama. He experienced moderate success as a player under another legendary Crimson Tide head coach – Frank Thomas. Perhaps the most famous account of Bryant as a player was a win against rival Tennessee, where he played most of the game on a broken leg. While at the Capstone, Bryant was known as the “other end,” this is in reference to playing opposite Don Hutson. Not only did Hutson enjoy a stellar career while at Alabama, earning numerous accolades, but he also enjoyed a very long career in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, and is considered by many to be the first star wide receiver in the league.
After just four seasons with the Aggies, Bryant returned to the University of Alabama as head coach in 1958. He would stay there for 25 seasons, becoming the most successful Division I-A football coach until his retirement following the 1982 season. It is rumored that one of his last requests was for the university to pursue Gene Stallings as his replacement. Stallings would not get the chance to coach Alabama until 1990. Coach Stallings’ philosophy of football followed Coach Bryant’s philosophy: play great defense and special teams, run the ball, and do not turn the ball over.
Stallings had the fortunate pleasure, or unfortunate pleasure depending on who you ask, of being on Coach Bryant’s very first team at Texas A&M. He got to experience first-hand the brutality of Bryant’s early coaching style. When Bryant loaded up his team on buses and took them to the small town of Junction, Texas, he subjected them to a living hell for ten days. Less than half the players returned to College Station and a new mentality was forged on the team. Stallings was one of the few that survived the trip, and the experience would help influence him as a college football player and coach.
Stallings was head coach at Texas A&M from 1965 to 1971. He did not enjoy very much success at his alma mater, but did manage to hand Coach Bryant one of his losses in the 1968 Cotton Bowl. Following a 0-4 start to the 1967 season, the Aggies reeled off seven consecutive victories. Texas A&M beat Alabama 20-16 and Coach Bryant picked up his former pupil at the end of the game in a congratulatory embrace. Stallings followed a long career as an assistant and head coach in the NFL with his final coaching job – Alabama. He led the Crimson Tide to 70 victories in seven years and won the 1992 national championship.
Jackie Sherrill played under Coach Bryant at Alabama from 1962 to 1965, and was a graduate assistant there for 1966 and 1967. After several coaching stops at Iowa State, Washington State, and Pittsburgh, Sherrill became head coach at Texas A&M in 1982. He would go on to coach at College Station for seven seasons, and started the tradition of the “12th Man Kickoff Team.” Coach Sherrill led the Aggies against the Crimson Tide twice, once in 1985 and three years later in 1988, with Alabama winning both games.
Coach Dennis Franchione coached at Alabama for just two years, 2001 and 2002. Franchione led Alabama to an impressive 10-win season in 2002 and seemed to have Alabama on the right track. He left abruptly after the Tide were hit with NCAA sanctions relating to improper recruiting tactics by former head coach Mike Dubose. In a surprising move, Franchione left Alabama for Texas A&M, what some would consider a step-down. His five seasons at A&M were mediocre at best, compiling an overall record of 32-28 and a conference record of 19-21.