cover image The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant

The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant

Allen Barra, . . Norton, $26.95 (546pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05982-3

This meticulous, fascinating look at the life of the legendary "Bear" Bryant (1913–1983), longtime head football coach of the University of Alabama's fearsome "Crimson Tide," will further enhance the reputation of Barra (Clearing the Bases ) as one of America's finest sportswriters. It begins with a powerful and unsentimental view of Bryant's difficult childhood in Moro Bottom, Ark., an area Barra describes as "the reality of which Al Capp's Dogpatch, the home of L'il Abner, was the hideous caricature." It ends with a moving description of Bryant's death, just 27 days after his final game and retirement, and the three-mile-long funeral procession viewed by an estimated quarter of a million people. In between, Barra covers Bryant's rise as a cultural and sports icon whose influence helped transform college football "from a game with a large cult following into the most lucrative spectator sport in the world." Among the many incidents Barra deftly explores are Bryant's hesitancy—followed by his thoroughness—in integrating the Alabama team (in 1971), and his visionary use of televised games in the early 1960s—which he accomplished with ABC sports broadcasting superstar Roone Arledge, then a 29-year-old rookie—to establish himself and his team (including flamboyant players such as Joe Namath) in the minds of a national sports audience. Throughout, Barra illuminates the complexities of what he sees as Bryant's legacies: "his intensity and will to win and his unshakable belief that these qualities, when applied to a higher purpose, can make you a better person." Photos. Agent, Jay Mandel. (Sept.)