• 39°

It's speed and strength today, but endurance way back when

By Staff
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
Speed and strength.
More emphasis is placed on speed and strength today than anything else in college football. But back in my day, this wasn't the case.
Way back when, there was very little substituting during games, and most starters played the entire 60 minutes – offense, defense, kick-off, punts, everything.
Because of this, players had to be in very good physical condition, and coaches placed much more importance on endurance drills than strength training. The philosophy was that the team that could still perform in the fourth quarter was likely to be the team that would win.
In those days, there was a lot of truth to that philosophy. Football was simply a game of endurance as much as much as it was a game of running, blocking, tackling and field position.
Coach Bryant was an innovator in the sport of football and because of some of the gadgets he came up with, he caused more rule changes than probably any other coach in college history. He was one of the first to go to "two platoon" football – separate offensive and defensive teams.
But he was the one of the last to change his philosophy about physical conditioning rather than strength training.
Most sports writers and biographers speak of this time as when Coach Bryant was beating much bigger and stronger teams with his skinny, little white boys. The truth is, the entire college game of football was in a transition period and Coach Bryant was playing more players during a game.
I just happened to be at Alabama during this transition period.
When I first arrived at Alabama in the late-1960s, I never saw a weight room. But, I saw plenty of conditioning drills. When I got there I was told by some of the veteran players, "the off-season program was worse than any practice you will ever go through." Of course I didn't believe them, I just thought they were trying to put the scare in a freshman.
They were right, though. It was awful. It is true that more players quit during the off-season program than any other time of year.
Later, after a couple of mediocre years in '69 and '70, I think Coach Bryant began to see change was inevitable. The off-season program in 1970 was mostly strength training with agility drills afterward. The dreadful endurance drills of the past were gone, although there was still conditioning, but nothing of the magnitude in previous years.
The 1971 season was known as the year Alabama went to the wishbone, an offense that proved to be successful in the '70s. But, there were other, behind-the-scenes changes going on, such as the off-season program, that I believed contributed so much to Coach Bryant's success for the remainder of his career.
* Jim Grammer is a guest columnist for The Hartselle Enquirer. If you have comment or question, e-mail nick.johnston@hartselleenquirer.com or call 773-6566.