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Bryant never said exactly what it was he had in mind, which is one reason Doug Barfield thinks it might have just been an attempt at some sort of houndstooth head game—not with him, personally, but with Auburn.
Sure, Auburn had just fired him and turned his name into a byword, but having their former coach immediately join the dark side surely would have have miffed the stepchildren across the state.
Or, maybe, Bryant really thought he had some talent. Auburn folks had written a song about his offense for crying out loud, and ol’ Bear had a reputation for signing recruits not really to use them, but just so others couldn’t use them. That’s what you hear at least. Maybe it was something like that — taking him off the market.
Or, maybe, it would have just been Bryant’s attempt at a favor, kind of like what it seemed he had done for Paul Davis.
Most everyone had assumed that Davis, Auburn’s defensive coordinator from ’67-’75, was Shug’s heir apparently. He had the look, the experience; he’d been head coach at Mississippi State 10 years earlier. Instead, Barfield got the nod. When he did, he replaced Davis with this guy and moved him down to offensive backfield coach.
When Barfield got the axe, Davis was going to hang it up. But Bryant called. “Off-campus recruitment coordinator for the University of Alabama” meant he wouldn’t have to go into insurance, meant he could keep building his state retirement. He said yes.
Barfield told me he almost did, too. Or, at least, probably would have had the question — the right question — been put to him.
Here’s part of my interview with Coach last summer. It was at Panera Bread in Auburn. My daughter was with me. My car died in the parking lot. Coach still has family here. He’s a good man. Today is his 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Coach! Party like it’s 1977!
Was going up against Bear Bryant intimidating?
“Well, not really. I wanted to be the one to beat him. I tried. But you really have to do it year-round and get your program up there with them. Now you got another one there at Alabama that’s pretty strong. He can recruit and he can coach. And he’s got a lot of things at his disposal, but you got to give them a lot of credit. And Bryant was sort of in that category. He was a little of the old school, but he he was good. He knew how, besides coaching, he knew how to recruit.”
What was his opinion of you?
“I remember walking to a conference meeting we had in Florida. We came down and our wives were there. We had a meeting early in the morning, and there he was walking along and we walked along and chatted, and I didn’t try to carry the conversation, but I chatted with him about a lot of different things. He actually called me after I got canned.”
“Yeah. I want to make it clear — he didn’t offer me a job, but he indicated that’s what he had in mind. I think that’s when he ended up hiring Paul Davis. He just wanted me to say I would come, no matter what I did, but I wasn’t quite ready to do that. I told Gene Stallings about that one time. He said ‘that would’ve been a great experience for you.’ I said, ‘well, he just didn’t say exactly what it is he wanted me to do.’ I was interested. I went to his hotel room in Montgomery and visited with him. He didn’t come out and say ‘here, I’m offering you this job,’ but anyhow, he was interested.”
How soon after you were fired was this?
“I met him in Montgomery when I was coaching in the Blue-Gray game, afterwards. He called before that, and that shocked me, him calling my house. He never called before. My daughter came running said ‘Dad, Dad, Coach Bryant is on the phone.’ But he was personable.”
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Barry Webne says
I was Sports Editor on the Plainsman in 1979????? Toward the end of Barfield’s tenure, we had a visit from Woody Hayes, who had been fired at Ohio State (sometime in early 1979???). Lee Hayley (then Athletic Director), claimed that he was in Auburn to speak to some high school coaches. I have a feeling they were considering hiring Woody to replace Barfield.
I wonder who could substantiate this??
By the way, I listen to you guys on the radio every day up here in Fort Wayne.
War Eagle – Barry Webne
The War Eagle Reader says
Thanks for the comment, Barry — and for listening! I’ve seen that Hayes story. Thought it was an odd choice — a coach just fired for punching a player speaking to high school coaches about leadership or whatever. I’m sure there had to be some sort of discussion along those lines, at least at some level.