Alabama Basketball Faced a Challenging Choice in the Wake of Coach Bryant’s Death
On January 26, 1983 the world lost an icon in the college football world. Paul "Bear" Bryant, just three weeks after stepping down as the head coach of the University of Alabama, was hospitalized due to poor health and just days later he passed away.
The University of Alabama and the community of Crimson Tide fans was rocked to its core after losing such a prominent figure. After all, Bryant led the Crimson Tide for 24 seasons and won six national championships.
The entire state and southeast was shaken after Bryant's passing, but what was the right response from the other Alabama athletic programs?
The men's basketball team was facing a national televised game against Larry Famer's top ranked UCLA Bruins, what would honor Bryant's legacy the most?
Head coach Wimp Sanderson was in his third season leading the Tide's basketball program. On Thursday Sanderson spent time on Inside the Locker Room remembering his perspective of Bryant's final days and the steps he followed to ensure his program treated the moment with its proper magnitude.
"Coach Bryant walked through the double doors and came to my office on that Sunday afternoon before he passed away on Tuesday or Wednesday. We had a good visit, personally and it was the first time he'd ever been in my office. If I needed anything from Coach Bryant I went into his.
I got on the elevator and went on down. I found out he got sick over at one of his friend's house on Monday night. They put him in the hospital on Monday night or early Tuesday. Probably died on Wednesday morning."
They came down to the floor and told me they were fixing to announce that Coach Bryant had passed away. So I called our squad in, we stopped practice and went in. I went to the telephone and called Paul Jr. and asked Paul Jr. what he thought about me having to leave the next day to go to play UCLA who was number one in the country and the answer was, 'Papa would have wanted you to play'."
I told this story when I introduced one of our teams. The game was a big game because we were pretty good and the funeral was on television. They took the body through Centerville. They went to Birmingham, they didn't come straight from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. They went down the side roads through the little towns. People held up American flags and different Alabama stuff. It was a very, very touching scene."
He passed away unexpectedly. I think he was a little bit lost as to what he wanted to do with himself to start with. His teams had not been good. When he walked through those doors on Sunday afternoon and kept coming, I was at the water fountain getting a drink. He sat down with me and started talking about how he mishandled Snake Stabler."
I got a chair and pulled up in front of him. He told me something about the flea flicker play that Georgia did on a lateral that beat them in Athens one time. It was a very, very interesting few minutes in there. Because if I needed to talk to Coach Bryant I went down to Coach Bryant's office and knocked on the door. He always came with those glasses down on his nose. He was always good to me, if I asked him to call a kid for me, he would always do it. I would go down on Monday and ask him what the kid said and he would tell me. I didn't ask him to call many but I asked him to call two or three."
Sanderson ended up leading the basketball program to a victory at UCLA. The 1982-83 squad ultimately went 20-12 and was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, leaving the victory over the Bruins as the high-water mark of the season.