Two coaches had major impact on Tide's Duncan
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
He played on three SEC championship football teams, one of which was a National Championship team. In spite of those accomplishments, Conley Duncan's memories of his college playing days focus on two of the coaches he played under.
Duncan, who graduated from Morgan County High school in 1971, played at Alabama for the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant. Duncan's position coach at Alabama would later become an Auburn legend, Pat Dye.
Those two coaches had a major impact on Duncan. Most of the recollections of his playing days focus on these two men.
"Coach Bryant was considered one of the greatest coaches in the country," Duncan said. "That's what made me want to go to Alabama-Paul Bryant.
"When you're 18 or 19, you're not mature enough to know everything that's going on," Duncan said. "At the time I didn't realize how big a legend he would become. But looking back on it now, I realize how fortunate I was to play for the man."
Duncan played at Alabama from 1972-75, earning letterman status his final three seasons.
Duncan was named All-SEC and honorable mention All-American following his senior season.
The accomplishment he cherishes the most from his playing days is being part of the 1973 UPI National Championship team. Duncan still wears his national title ring with pride three decades later.
The title was somewhat tainted by a 24-23 loss to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve.
In those days the UPI awarded its title as soon as the regular season ended. The Irish took home the AP national title with the win and the game also changed the way the UPI picked its champion.
The next season the UPI, now the ESPN-USA Today poll, joined the AP in awarding its title after all the bowl games had been played.
"That was a disappointment," Duncan said of the loss. "Coach Bryant always said four or five plays will decide every game and Notre Dame made those plays. They had a good game plan and it worked.
"It was the first time I ever sat down and cried after losing a ball game.
"We all expected to win and with Coach Bryant, you just expected him to win all the big ball games."
The loss also brought about mixed emotions for Duncan when he recalls his high school playing days.
"When I was at Morgan County High School, I really loved our fight song," Duncan said. "It used to really fire me up.
"But, I didn't know it was also Notre Dame's fight song, until that night in the Sugar Bowl.
"Now when I hear it I can't help but think about some bad memories."
Duncan feels his first encounter with Dye put him on the road to being a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide.
"All the linebackers were there going through warm ups," Duncan said. "Coach Dye came up to me and asked me my name. I told him.
"Then he looked me up and down and told me I was really small. Then he asked what position do I play.
"It hurt my feelings that he had to ask me. That really motivated me to play the way that would catch his attention."
Duncan recalls that Dye would join in with the players during practice if things were not going according to plan.
"He'd get in there and show you how to take on blockers," Duncan said. "He would explain things a time or two and then show you physically how it's done.
"When that didn't work he got in your face if you needed it. He grabbed my facemask a time or two."
"I think he was a great coach. He made you a better football player. He demanded that you get better. He was very hard nosed.
"He was such a great motivator. When he took the Auburn job I need he would be a success."
Duncan's first meeting with Bryant was nothing short of intimidating for the then high school senior.
"During the 1971 season, Coach Bryant came to my house to recruit me," Duncan said. "He took my family out to the Shangri -La restaurant in Decatur. I practiced my listening skills that night.
"I mean this was "Bear" Bryan,t and he was talking to my mother and I over dinner. I was just in awe.
"I didn't know what to say or if I should even speak at all. If he had asked me to jog to Tuscaloosa that night and sign my scholarship, I think I could have done it."