Tony DeMeo

Bear Bryant on Leadership by Pat Williams

One of the most iconic leaders in the history of sport was the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. Coach Bryant turned around four college football programs and influenced the sport of college football as much as anyone ever has. So I’ve read as much as I could get my hands on about The Bear. I reviewed a great biography about Coach Bryant by Allen Barra earlier on this website. This may be the best bio on Coach Bryant that I have read.

What attracted me specifically to this book was that it was written by an exceptional leader. Pat Williams is an outstanding leader in his own right so getting his perspective on Coach Bryant was interesting to me. Pat Williams has been a sports exec for over 40 years including being the GM of the Orlando Magic, the 76ERs, the Hawks & the Bulls. So Pat must know the trials and tribulations of being a leader.
One of the great moments in Bryant’s career was in 1971. He had already won 3 National Championships and successfully turned around four football programs but after two subpar years Bear adopted Darrell Royal’s Wishbone Offense. Running the “Bone, Bear went 97 – 11 in his last 9 seasons and won 3 more National Championships. This demonstrates that Bear was not above change despite his previous success and he could put his ego on a shelf and learn from another coach. To me this speaks volumes of the confidence and security of Bear Bryant.

Williams goes into other aspects of Coach Bryant’s leadership style. Bear had great vision of what a winning football program looked like. He focused on the big picture, he knew what he wanted and knew how to get it. Coach Bryant could also communicate his vision not only to his players and assistant coaches but also to the administration, the faculty and the entire student body. From there his vision spread to alumni and fans throughout the nation. His communication skills made his programs special and garnered them tremendous support. I believe communicating his vision is what made Coach Bryant such a great recruiter. He could infuse his passion and energy into others.

Bear was a great motivator and was not opposed to the use of fear as a motivator. Players feared Coach Bryant’s wrath. He would single out one guy to get the attention of the team. He suspended superstars Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler sending the message no one is bigger than the rules. Bear was tough but always left a path to get a second chance. He also was a master at using the depth chart as a motivator. Coach Bryant demanded constant improvement, so his teams always got better as the year went on.

Coach Bryant believed in hard work. He demanded it from himself and from those around him. He passed the value of a strong work ethic onto his assistant coaches and his players. As a result his players usually enjoyed great success after leaving Coach’s program.

Bear Bryant also believed in the “Character Counts” mantra. He preached: honesty and integrity and the importance of taking responsibility. One of his famous lessons is “Give credit and take blame”. This is one thing I learned early in my career after listening to Coach Bryant at a Coaching Clinic in Elmsford, NY and I made this one of my coaching principles.

Pat Williams has done an excellent job examining and summarizing the Leadership Principles of a coaching icon. Paul “Bear” Bryant was more than a football coach; he was a symbol of a tough, hard- working man who came from little, gave much and became a great leader. This is an easy to read book that I recommend to coaches, business leaders, teachers or anyone that is interested in the principles of leadership.