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Review: Career in Crisis: Paul "Bear" Bryant and the 1971 Season of Change

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Career in Crisis: Paul "Bear" Bryant and the 1971 Season of Change

This is the second book I've reviewed about Paul "Bear" Bryant. The other --- ""Bear - The Legendary Life of Coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant" -- is an excellent book for Tide fans about Bryant's life told in playwright fashion. "Career In Crisis" focuses on the 1971 Alabama football season and two important changes that occurred at that time - the change to the Wishbone offense and integration of blacks into Alabama football.

In 1969 and 1970, Alabama's record was 6-5 and 6-5-1 respectively, relatively poor seasons under Bryant. In 1969, Bryan considered a move to the professional ranks with the Miami Dolphins but decided to return to the Crimson Tide. At the same time, several changes were occurring in society. The civil rights movement was in full swing throughout the South, although moving more slowly in Alabama. 1969 would see Bryant sued (along with other 'Bama officials) by the Afro-American Student Association for their failure to recruit black football players.

"Career In Crisis" does a good job of putting you into the context of the times to better understand the racial tension in that was occurring In Alabama during the '69-'71 years. The book allows for some excuses for Bryant - "He was not the governor of Alabama, only a football coach" - but doesn't shy away from or explain away as to why Alabama was so slow with regards to integration. A popular concept is that Bryant wanted to recruit blacks after getting destroyed by USC in 1970, but "Career In Crisis" explains that Bryant had already begun the process and it wasn't as reactionary as people think.

The 1971 season saw Bryant implement a new offensive strategy called the "Wishbone". The book details his meeting with Texas head coach Darrell Royal and how the entire Alabama team kept the new offense a secret until springing it upon USC in the season's first game. USC was unprepared for the Wishbone although it sounded more like USC thought that Alabama would be a pushover and an easy win since they'd beaten them soundly the season before. Each game is detailed throughout the 1971 season. Detailed are the week's preparation along with stories about individual players. Each game is summarized and reasons for the loss or win are examined.

Alabama won the SEC, beating Auburn soundly at the end of the season, and then played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the national championship in 1971, losing 38-6. There are plenty of reasons given for the loss, and it is surprising to learn that the loss still bothers some of the players after 30 years.

This one is for Alabama Crimson Tide fans. The heavy detail regarding the '71 football season makes it difficult to consider the book as one for all football fans, although the historical content of how Bryant dealt with integration and how Bryant handled his football season throughout a season make for interesting reading.

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