Pat Dye’s football coaching career reached its pinnacle at Auburn University and that’s the way he should be remembered, wearing the blue cap with the Auburn logo and building a program that was, for much of the 1980’s, atop the Southeastern Conference, supplanting Alabama which had sat upon that throne for most of the previous two decades.
As Dye climbed to those heights, however, a significant portion of the path passed through Tuscaloosa. Dye served eight years as an Alabama assistant under Paul “Bear” Bryant, observing and learning as young coaches do, marking himself for success in a way that Bryant recognized.
Eventually, the time came for Dye to take over his own programs, at East Carolina and Wyoming for brief stops and then at Auburn for over a decade. That decade was monumental, as Bryant passed away, and the balance changed, the pendulum swinging back and forth again and again. There probably hasn’t been a time in Alabama-Auburn relations when things were “friendly” among the fan bases. It’s a rivalry, after all. But the 1980’s and early ‘90’s seemed to have a little more straight vitriol than you have today. For one thing, it was a time of change, from Alabama to Auburn and then back again beginning in 1990. No one likes change when they are on top. Second, recruiting was different, not simply because Bo Jackson, who lived an hour away from Tuscaloosa ended up winning a Heisman Trophy at Auburn. There were more in-state, head-to-head recruitments (and only occasional out-of-state participants) and they got bitter sometimes, with neither side backing down.
But through it all, among the coaches — Perkins, Stallings and Dye certainly (Bill Curry could never get traction against Dye) — there was respect.
On a telephone call from his Texas ranch today, Stalllings reminisced about his relationship with Dye which spanned more than 50 years.
“I was so sorry to hear about Pat,” Stallings said. “He actually followed me on the staff at Alabama. I left for the Texas A&M job and Coach Bryant hired Pat to take my place.
So I knew him before we were head coaches and I’ve been his friend ever since.
“When he was (head coach) at Auburn and I was at Alabama, on the field or recruiting, we never had one cross word between us.
“After that, we were both on the board of Great Southern Wood for more than 20 years, so we saw each other pretty often. He was always friendly.
“My regret is that he retired when he did (in 1992) because I think he had several good years of coaching in him.”
The time to discuss the circumstances surrounding Dye’s decision is past, water that has long since flowed under the bridge. This is the time to discuss his achievements as a coach and as a unifier of Auburn’s entire base. Even Alabama fans have come to have an acceptance — grudging, perhaps, but real — that he was part or a memorable era of college football in this state.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt