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On This Date in Sports December 15, 1982

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Longtime Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant announces his retirement. At the time the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 Football with 323 wins. Bryant would coach his final game two weeks later in the Liberty Bowl leading the Crimson Tide to a 21-15 win over Illinois. After coaching his final game, the 69-year old coach quipped he would probably “Croak in a Week”. Sadly, the prediction came true as he died a month later.

Paul “Bear” Bryant was born on September 11, 1913, in Moro Bottom, Arkansas. He earned his famous nickname at the age of 13 when he wrestled a bear at a local carnival. After playing as a receiver at Alabama, Bryant was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the fourth round in the NFL Draft but chose to go into coaching instead. Paul “Bear” Bryant enlisted in the Navy after serving as an assistant coach at Union College, Alabama, and Vanderbilt from 1936-1941. Bryant was offered a chance to be the head coach at Arkansas but turned it down to serve after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Bear did not see any action during the war but helped save some of his crewmates on the USAT Uruguay after the ship collided with an oil tanker. After earning an honorable discharge Bryant coached with the Navy Pre-Flight team in North Carolina. After the war he returned to the college ranks, earning his first head coaching position with Maryland in 1945. Bryant posted a record of 6-2-1 in his only season leading the Terrapins as he clashed with the administration over a suspended player. From Paul “Bear’ Bryant moved on to Kentucky, where he coached eight years, compiling a record of 60-23-6.

Bear Bryant’s next stop was Texas A&M, where he earned a reputation as a hardnosed coach who was tough on his players after leading the Aggies through a grinding training camp in 1954. That season saw Bryant’s team posted a record of 1-9, marking the only losing season of his career. Two years later Texas A&M turned things around completely going 9-0-1. In four seasons at A&M, Bryant had an overall record of 25-14-2.

Paul “Bear” Bryant moved on to his alma mater in 1958, when he was named head coach and athletic director at the University of Alabama. After posting a 5-4-1 record in his first season leading the Crimson Tide, Alabama began a 24-year stretch of excellence making a bowl in every season. This included six National Championships in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978 and 1979. In his final season, Alabama struggled down the stretch losing their last three games in the regular season, including a 23-22 loss to Auburn to finish at 7-4. Paul “Bear” Bryant would go on to lead Alabama in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis against Illinois. The Tide would win the game 21-15 on December 29, 1982. Leading the way was Jeremiah Castille, who was named the game’s MVP by picking off Illinois quarterback Tony Eason three times.

After winning the Liberty Bowl, Paul “Bear” Bryant was asked what he was going to do next. To which he responded, he would probably croak in a week. The comment would prove to be prophetic as he suffered a massive heart attack and died on January 26, 1983. At the time of his retirement, 323 wins were most in the history of college football. Paul “Bear” Bryant’s record in 25 years at Alabama was 232-46-9, while he had an overall record of 323-85-17.