Kentucky Football Tales from the Dark Side – Part 2 The End of the Bryant Years


"Bear" Bryant left at the end of the 1954 season, and it wasn’t over anything as silly as a cigarette lighter and a Cadillac, nor was it in a fit of jealousy.

As I kid, I remember my parents and brother (he was six years older than me) talking about the University of Kentucky Athletics Administration and the desire to control Bryant's recruiting slush fund. I am pretty sure that was one of the reasons he left, but not the main reason. There is nothing written about it, so this is speculation on my part. The UKAA back then was filled with basketball people as it always has been; just something for you to think about. Also, if you watch and listen to those who talk about Bryant, the majority are basketball people. Have you ever seen or heard an interview about Bryant's departure with people like Howard Schnellenberger? Just sayin'.

In order to fully understand why Bryant left, you have to go back to the point shaving scandal that Rupp and the university had to endure. To get a feel for that, you should read John Scott's discussion about the point shaving scandal and its aftermath. Be warned that it is quite lengthy, but well worth reading. If you are a true blue UK basketball fan, or even a football fan, it's a part of Kentucky history that you should be familiar with, painful though it is.

Many fans don't want to be bothered with history except for things like all-time wins and national championships, but you have to know the UK story to understand how UK basketball came to be what it is today and how it affected football. You will also see that UK probably was instrumental in giving the NCAA enforcement powers that have led to the mess we see today. Scott makes a pretty strong case that this is so.

January 3, 1952 is a day that should live in infamy for all UK football fans. This date should burn into the soul of every UK football fan because it is the day that put an end to competitive football recruiting for the University of Kentucky for many years.

That day, the University of Kentucky football coach and his team flew home to Lexington from Dallas. Two days before, Bryant's Wildcats had whipped Texas Christian University in the Cotton Bowl..........Yet, rather than issue a triumphant statement over back-to-back victories in New Year's Day bowls, Bryant came home to make a stunning announcement. - Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader

Read more here:

Read more here:

The effects of the actions by UK would be felt through the coaching tenures of Blanton Collier, Charlie Bradshaw and John Ray to varying degrees. Like many, I was under the false belief that the Kentucky Legislature threatened the university and imposed recruiting restrictions. There is no documented evidence to show that was the case.

My brother (now deceased) and I, as adults, spent many, many hours speculating about why Bryant left. I have spent much of my adult lifetime looking for the smoking gun and it became available in this August 22, 2010 Lexington Herald- Leader article by Mark Story. It is clear that the University of Kentucky shot itself in the football foot. And, it did far more damage to the UK football program with little to no effect effect on basketball.

Could Adolph Rupp win with only 5 out of state players? Of course he could. The 1958 basketball national championship roster consisted of 14 players, only Ed Beck (GA) and Dick Howe (IL) were not Kentucky kids.

Let me ask you this: If Kentucky was under the same restrictions today, do you believe the Wildcats would have won national championships in 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012? Do you believe we would have played in the championship game in 1976 and 1997? Imagine the effect those restrictions would have had on John Calipari.

Could Kentucky football win with the same restrictions today? That is a ridiculous question. They couldn't and they didn't even after the recruiting restrictions for football had been loosened. The damage had been done.

Those restrictions created an atmosphere of acceptance of mediocrity: the "Kentucky can't win in the SEC" belief. In those brief instances where we did win, the Kentucky fan base went bonkers with joy, but it never lasted very long for various reasons: the latest was the retirement of Rich Brooks.

Kentucky's football history shows that there are very few coaching changes at UK caused by a lack of winning. While demanding excellence from the basketball program, UK and its fans have always been tolerant of bad football. For me, that's a head scratcher and I've never understood it.

UK hasn't ever based their coaching change decisions solely on the won-lost records.UK fans have been told to cheer for another team if they didn't like the way UK was handling their football program. That was during the Bill Curry - C.M. Newton love fest. Fan support didn't last long after that. UK acts only when the fans quit showing up for games or when NCAA sanctions are imposed.The most recent coaching change is the proof in the pudding.

The cause and effect is about money, not winning or losing. That's what I call "the fannies in seats root cause." Fannies in the seats = revenue. Fewer fannies in the seats = less revenue. After all, UK football had to fund all the other sports and also "donate" to the academic mission. Click on the picture for a larger veiw.


I've not been able to determine when and by how many out of state players were allowed after Bryant left. There was, I believe, a gradual loosening of the restrictions over a period of time, beginning when Collier's tenure was on the decline.

By the time Fran Curci arrived they were obviously lifted completely. There is some evidence that Collier had been given a lighter load, but there isn't any documented evidence of how much change was allowed in recruiting out of state players. The damage was already done and any changes made were not sufficient enough to keep this very good coach. He was fired for his "inability to recruit." Yeah, that's the ticket. No one ever bothered to ask why he couldn't recruit.

Does ANYONE really believe that Bryant would levy these restrictions upon himself? The very idea is ridiculous. The evidence suggests this was an effort by UK president Herman L. Donovan, and probably the UK faculty and the UKAA, by fiat, to destroy UK football as punishment for Braynt's refusal to go with their desires.

The faculty is powerful at any university and they are always notorious for opposing the athletic programs anywhere and everywhere. Even today, we can read or listen on television about how the faculty feels about athletics. They don't like athletics, and never have. If they have to tolerate athletics, then they want the money that comes from athletics to pay for their salaries.

I am convinced that the faculty was a primary player in Donovan's restrictions placed on Rupp and Bryant. Feel free to disagree on this because there is no documentation. My opinion is based on a lifetime of observation and nothing more. My observation is that alumni donate because of the success of the athletic programs, not because professor so-and-so wrote a paper in some obscure scholastic journal.

Plus, it was a way of punishing Bryant for refusing to give up his control of the football money. Can I prove it? No. But, it is the only logical conclusion one can come to. What I find truly amazing about Mark Story's article is that there were no comments from the readers.

So why did Bryant never complain or tell the truth about why he left? It was a different time and men were different than they are today. Burning bridges was not part of an honorable man's makeup. Bryant and even Collier felt obligated to "protect" the architect of such a stupid idea.

If there is blame to be placed, it has to be placed on Donovan; and those restrictions lost Kentucky two of the greatest coaches in football.

Bryant left because of the recruiting restrictions and Collier was fired because he couldn't recruit due to those same restrictions. Both men went on to great heights after they left Kentucky. Bryant became a college football legend and Collier became an NFL legend. The coaching trees of both men are significant to this day.


In my opinion, John Scott should be considered a Kentucky treasure along the same lines as Cawood Ledford and Bill Keightly. I wish someone would do for football what John has done for basketball. For the younger fans among us, I've linked Keightly and Ledford.

Bill Keightly

Cawood Ledford

Unfortunately, you won't find a Wikipedia link to our John Scott, but his Big Blue History website is linked on Wikipedia and is found here.

Next Month: The Blanton Collier years 1955 - 1961

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