Dye-Gest: A Personal Saturday to Remember

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about a summer day that he won't soon forget.

Saturday was one of those great days for me that I was hoping would be good and it turned out to be a lot better than that. I got up at 4:30, which is too early. I go to the truck stop every morning to eat breakfast and read the newspaper, but it was too early for that.

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I read a book for about an hour and then went to the truck stop before heading back to work on the farm. That morning we had a group of 18 men out at our place. These guys were all friends while they were Auburn students in the 1980s. They just decided to have a reunion and spend a weekend of fellowship in the summer so they came out to our place and had a great time.

We showed them around the lodge, the farm, the gardens and we told a lot of stories and had a lot of laughs. It was just a group of former students who lived together, ran around together while in college and loved Auburn. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were really a lot of fun.

That afternoon I attended a retirement and 80th birthday party for a long-time friend, Dr. Robert Horne, who taught in Auburn’s school of veterinary medicine for 35 years. He is someone I have known since I came to Auburn in the early 1980s and is a man I have a lot of respect for the work he has done.

It was a fun event and it was great to see that a lot of his former students showed up to honor him and let him know what a major impact he had on their lives.

Dr. Calvin Johnson, the dean of Auburn’s vet school, came out to the event and talked about Dr. Horne, who also served as the dean of the vet school at Tuskegee University after he retired at Auburn.

There couldn’t have been a much better finish to the day than I had at Joe Whitt’s family and friends gathering later that afternoon and evening. He and James Daniels, who were both on my original Auburn staff, have a beautiful place south of Auburn.

All of Joe’s family was there along with James and his wife, Myrtice. Coach Woody McCorvey was there. He went to school with James and Joe at Alabama State.

The thing that meant the most to me was seeing two players I recruited, Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell. It was 1969 when I was at Alabama when I recruited Wilbur and I hadn’t seen him since I left New Orleans in 1972 after we just lost to Notre Dame in the national championship game and I was on my way to take a job as head coach at East Carolina.

Recruiting Wilbur as the first black football player at the University of Alabama was a historical moment for that university, for Wilbur, for me and everybody who was involved in it. He has got impeccable character and he has lived his life like that.

I got to spend a lot of time with Wilbur on Saturday. It is strange that when somebody is such a big part of your life at an early age it doesn’t make any difference how much time goes by until you see them again. That relationship remains and we talked like it had been just last week since we were together, although we are a lot older and both look a lot different.

John Mitchell and James Daniel coached together with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After we played Oklahoma in the Bluebonnet Bowl, Coach Bryant (former Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant) told me, ‘Pat, I want you to take the school plane and go to Mobile tomorrow and recruit John Mitchell.”

We played on New Year’s Eve 1970 and then the next day I was in Mobile recruiting John even though I had never heard of him before, but I went and met John’s family. They had a big New Year’s Day lunch with all of the family including aunts, uncles and cousins. There must have been 25 folks there and we had a great time.

When John came up and met Coach Bryant he decided to come to Alabama and had a great career playing and coaching. He is also a great guy and is the assistant head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Being able to spend time with James and Joe is a big deal to me because of how much they meant both to me and to Auburn University. That relationship with Auburn is especially strong with Joe, who never left.

Joe Whitt joined Pat Dye's Auburn staff in 1981.

When I came to Auburn and was putting my staff together I knew I was going to hire a black coach who was a high school coach from the state of Alabama. I didn’t know which position he would coach, I just knew I was looking for the right man. I interviewed both Joe and James and when I got through with that I knew that I needed to hire both of them, which turned out to be the right decision. Both men became great assets to our program in the 1980s.

James, who coached the offensive line, lived in the dorm for a while and handled discipline with the players. Joe did a great job coaching defense for me and for Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville. Following that he also did a great job with Tigers Unlimited.

The event was a memorable occasion that topped off a special Saturday for me. At my age I probably don’t have too many of those kind of special days left, but having the chance to renew old friendships and memories with people who had a tremendous impact on my life made it a Saturday I will never forget.

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