Bryant Museum

It’s difficult to determine most important hire or signee in Alabama athletics

Case can be made that Dr. George Denny had most positive impact on Alabama football

I left my office late in the afternoon one day last week and on the drive home listened to Mark Packer’s sports radio program on Sirius Radio. Since Jack Arute’s departure from Sirius, Packer is the most informed and the most entertaining of the hosts on the college football channel.


Packer fills in the slow news days with what he calls “goofball questions,” inviting his listeners to participate with their answers.


I’m not sure I got the exact wording of the goofball question the day I listened because I came in late, but the gist of it seemed to be to judge the most important hire and/or the most important recruit for the sake of athletics at one’s favorite school. As Packer intimated, it is almost an impossible question to answer because there are so many right answers.


I could just imagine the angst in the Alabama camp: Paul Bryant or Nick Saban? That may be the reason that during the time I listened, I did not hear a call from an Alabama supporter.


Alabama has four coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame – Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bryant, and Gene Stallings -- and will have a fifth the day that Saban is eligible.


Had I been inclined to call the show, my answer would have sated the Bryant-Saban controversy.


George Hutchinson Denny left the presidency of Washington & Lee University in 1912 to be president of The University of Alabama, which he found to be in bad financial shape. By 1932 he had increased the size of the student body by 700 per cent, tripled the number of PhD professors, added numerous buildings and schools (including the College of Commerce and Business Administration), and was supportive of the fraternities and sororities and growth of female students.


He promised that athletics would not overshadow academics, but his many contributions on the educational side paled in comparison to the amount of national attention generated by the football program he fostered.


He started the ball rolling with his hire of Xen Scott as football coach. When Scott’s health failed, Denny brought in Wallace Wade, who would win three national championships in his seven-year career. When Wade announced his resignation, Denny replaced him with Notre Dame graduate Frank Thomas. Under both Wade and Thomas, Bama made its mark with Rose Bowl victories.


Among the many fine football players signed by Thomas was an end from Arkansas, Paul Bryant.


After his playing career, Bryant became a coach, and a well-known coach at that with head coaching jobs at Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. Bryant returned to Alabama as head coach in 1958 and in his 25-year career added six national championships to the Crimson Tide trophy case.


As head coach, Bryant signed a quarterback from Dozier, Alabama, Mal Moore. Moore would be primarily a backup to the likes of Joe Namath as a player, but he became an excellent assistant coach for Bryant and later under Gene Stallings, when another national championship was added. When Moore left the field, he moved into administration, and eventually became athletics director, and hired Nick Saban. To date, that has resulted in four more national championships.


And it began with Dr. George Hutchinson Denny, who shares the name of Bama’s football stadium with Bryant.


If this was a two-part goofball question and also wanted to know the most important athlete signed, I would suggest Wendell Hudson. Hudson was Alabama’s first African-American scholarshipped athlete who was signed to the basketball program by C.M. Newton in 1969.


Not only was Hudson a fine player who helped rekindle Crimson Tide championship performance, he was an oustanding person who was a natural conduit for understanding as Alabama began desegregation of its athletics program. Hudson lived in Bryant Hall, where all football and basketball players were housed and fed.


Hudson was the first of hundreds of African-American athletes who have been the backbone of the Alabama football and basketball programs.

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