WARD PELL: Memories of Alabama and Florida

Charley Pell, former Gator Coach and Alabama player under Bear Bryant, has a long history between both programs. Ward Pell, Charley's wife, shares with us her memories of Alabama and Florida in light of this weekend's big game.

Ward Pell-

Alabama vs. Florida - to all true red-blooded American football fans, a great Saturday with two of the finest football programs in the country battling for a SEC victory.

From a personal view, it is a meeting of two universities with so many ties to the Charley Pell family. Both universities represent extremely special people who have had such a tremendous influence on our lives.

If not for Coach Paul [Bear] Bryant's belief in a 169-pound player, with one year of high school ball under his belt, Charley would have never had an opportunity to wear the coveted Crimson and white jersey, much less graduate from the Capstone.

Upon completion of his playing days, Charley was called into Coach Bryant's office for a meeting. During that meeting, Coach Bryant informed Charley that his future was in coaching! As with most meetings with Coach Bryant, the outcome of that one meeting had an impact on many lives and schools who were touched by Charley Pell.

After one season as a student assistant, Charley was hired by Coach Charlie Bradshaw as his defensive line coach (age 24) at the University of Kentucky. Because of Coach Bryant, Coach Bradshaw, Martha (his wife and my mentor) Charley and I met, married and the rest is history.

The Alabama and the Florida Staffs have a Charley Pell influence. Alabama's defensive Coordinator, Joe Kines and his wife, Rubye gained our love, loyalty, friendship and respect when they joined us in 1970 at Jacksonville State University, and later went with us to Clemson and Florida. As Joe went to other schools, have always pulled for his teams, with the exception of one, and then I pulled for his position players to do well.

Charlie Strong, Florida's Co-Defensive Coordinator was with us at Florida. As a young graduate assistant, Charlie showed he had the ability to become the fine coach he is today. I am so delighted that Coach Meyer recognized his talents and retained him at Florida.

In our years of coaching, we only faced Alabama once, and what an encounter!! 1979 just happened to be the worst on the field year we had ever experienced. Off the field, we were having such a rewarding time, creating the Gator Nation, fund raising, building new facilities and making lifelong friends in Florida. We had inherited a team which had not enjoyed success in many years. There were some fine young men and then there were 26 who were removed from the team prior to the opening game.

Coach Bryant and the Tide came storming into Gainesville! After giving us the worst beating of Charley's coaching career (41-0), Coach Bryant and Charley hugged in midfield. Charley said, "Coach, either you all are the greatest team in the nation, or we aren't worth a flip." To which Coach Bryant responded, "Son, you all ain't worth a flip." As it turned out, both coaches were correct. Alabama's 1979 team went on to win the National Championship and Charley felt that the 2nd team could most likely have won the National title, certainly the SEC.

Most of the family has deep roots at Alabama. Chas, oldest son, and his wife, Betsy both graduated from Alabama. Chas not only received his academic degree, but he also has a degree as a obsessive Fan, a trait he has passed on to the grandchildren, Anne and Buddy. The first complete sentence they issued was "Touchdown - Bama, Roll Tide! An English Major will dispute that being a complete sentence, but in Chas' home, as well as all homes of Bama fans, that is a most complete sentence.

Our daughter, Sloan who graduated from UAH married Kevin Farrell, whose father, Maury, was a legend at Alabama as the statistician during the Coach Bryant era.

We have the framed depth chart of the 1961 team at home. As you know, with age, members of various teams become far greater than in reality. While Charley was ill, so many of the teammates came to visit and as one can imagine the tales of the playing days were awesome and of course they all harassed each other about who was the better at which position, etc. Just as the tales got really tall, Charley just pointed to the wall and the all-truth-speaking depth chart.

Since our departure from the University of Florida, we have always wished the Gators well, but did not have any involvement with the program since the last of our recruits were finished. Have loved seeing them on TV, but did not have the emotional attachment that one has when you know the folks on the field and sidelines.

I thought this encounter would be a great ballgame, where I would pull for two defensive coordinators, and enjoy the game. WRONG!

When Florida was searching for a new coach, I told a friend that I hoped they would give this fine coach at Utah an opportunity to interview. From having been in Utah for some auctions, I had chatted with several Utes fans and they praised Coach Meyer. Later as the season began, I started following the Utes season and was genuinely impressed with the manner in which his players played and the way he handled himself on the sidelines.

Not only has Coach Meyer brought the Gator nation together, but he has a No. 1 fan in me! He has encouraged our former players to participate in the program and made them feel a part of his program. Earlier in the summer, Coach Meyer called me to chat. I was so appreciative that he and Shelly have issued me an invitation to be their guest at a game!

With all the wonderful friends we have in Alabama and Florida, I am of the opinion, we should have the tie system back for this game!

Saturday, while two special schools are kicking off, I am going to be at a really important football game. Our 10 year old grandson, Buddy, will be kicking off at Crestline Village, wearing his Pops' and Dad's high school number (31) and looking like a small replica of Charley Pell on the field.

This Saturday, as all Tide Fans and Gators are enjoying the festivities, we ask that you put two of Charley's former teammates, Gary Martin and Mike Hopper in your thoughts and prayers. They are now battling cancer, and knowing that battle so well, I hope you will join our family as we pray for them and their families.


*Ward Pell is a great, great lady. I have the opportunity to see her on a regular basis as she is employed by my father as was Charley the last five years of his life. Ward has the opportunity to travel the country as project manager for National Auction Group (based in Gadsden, Ala.) and with the experience as a former coach's wife, she never meets a stranger.

Working in the summers as an intern for the company, I was always anxious to hear Charley's stories. If he drove to Tuscaloosa to watch football practice, I always made sure I was along for the ride.

The day of Charley's funeral is one I will never forget. To see so many former players, coaches and teammates arrive in Gadsden was truly remarkable. I was responsible for driving a shuttle bus to and from the airport for countless number of people from Clemson and Florida including Ben Hill Griffin.

Speakers at the funeral included Joe Kines-Alabama Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, Dwayne Dixon-former Florida great under Coach Pell, Joe Bostic-former player at Clemson for Coach Pell and Mike Little-former player at Jacksonville State for Coach Pell.

Jimmy Smothers of the Gadsden Times named it one of the 10 biggest sporting events of the year.

When Charley was hired at Florida, Steve Spurrier wanted a job as Offensive Coordinator. Charley told Spurrier if he wants to be a coach at Florida, he needs to get a HC job somewhere and then come back to Florida. Charley hired Mike Shanahan (Head Coach of Denver Broncos). Mickey Andrews was an All-American at Alabama-Charley's Defensive Coordinator (Current FSU Defensive Coordinator).

As one recently stated on a message board, "Give 'em Hell Pell!"

-Andrew Bone

There is a Charley Pell charity golf tournament in Tuscaloosa on Friday and a lot former players and coaches are expected to participate. Ward Pell attends every year. For information on the tournament:

Charley Pell Memorial Golf Tournament
Friday, September 30
Luncheon 11:00 am - Tee-Off 12:30 pm
Ol' Colony Golf Course - Tuscaloosa
$125 per person - 4 man scramble For information call Andy at Ol' Colony - 205-562-3201

Fightin Gators Top Stories