Legendary college football coach Bear Bryant valued perseverance above everything else. He pushed his players further than they realized they could go…and then pushed them some more. He wanted his players equipped to perseverance through the season’s toughest games and through life’s toughest times.
Throughout his 38 seasons as a head coach, Bryant instilled these two lessons again and again:
1- You’re capable of much more than you think you are.
2- One of the worst things you can do in life is quit.
Bear Bryant despised the idea of quitting.
“The first time you quit, it’s hard,” Bryant once said. “The second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don’t even have to think about it.”
Bear Bryant was convinced that perseverance was the key to success both on and off the football field…
“After a practice in training camp,” recalls linebacker Darwin Holt, “Coach would say, ‘Evidently some of you think it’s too tough out here. Some of your buddies have already left and they never even said goodbye. Life is not easy. If you think this is tough, just wait until you get out in the world. Your wife is eight months pregnant, you’re behind on your mortgage, and now you have to come home and tell the wife you’ve lost your job. Your buddies would quit on the wife and baby, but you guys won’t.’ It was his way of telling us to be tough and stick it out.”
Steve Bowman remembers Bryant’s constant reminders to hang in there, stick it out, and persevere.
“I still hear Coach’s voice today,” Bowman said. “And he’s saying, ‘Don’t give up. Stay with it. When life gets tough on you, what are you going to do, fold up and quit?’ Coach taught us that life is not handed to you. He really instilled that in us.”
Steve Mott, an early 1980s center, recalls similar Bryant wisdom, but with real-life consequences.
“Coach was famous for that message to us about losing your job, your dog bites you, and your wife runs off,” Mott said. “Well, I lost my business in my late forties and had to start over again. I thought about Coach every day through that ordeal.”
Pat Raines, a center on the 1971 SEC championship team, said, “Playing football for Coach Bryant was almost a spiritual experience for me. His one statement still rolls through my mind: ‘Being tired makes cowards of us all.’ Every day in my life there is something I’ve got to press through and get done. Those lessons on perseverance from Coach Bryant will stick with me forever.”
Wes Neighbors, a redshirted freshman on Bryant’s last team, added, “With Coach, it was not just about football. He’d tell us, ‘If you make it through four years at Alabama, you’ll never quit anything in life. That’s a promise.’ Alabama football was about never quitting.”
— Pat Williams, from his book (with Tommy Fords) Bear Bryant on Leadership
Bear Bryant’s lessons in perseverance led his teams to six National Championships and 13 SEC titles. More importantly, these lessons led his players through life’s most challenging situations.
We could all use a lot more of grit and perseverance these days.
As the Bear Bryant character in my book, Think Like a Warrior, put it: “You want to know the secret to success in life? Here it is: make the decision to never, never, never, NEVER give up on your goals and dreams. Simple as that.”