But all of that happened after he was turned down for the coaching job at Southwest Louisiana Institute.
The year was 1937. T.F. Wilbanks, then the SLI coach, had been fired after a dismal season with only two wins, and the choice for a new coach had come down to two men: Johnny L. Cain or the young Bryant, who was seeking his first job as a college coach.
The late J.C. (Dutch) Reinhardt, who was involved with the school’s athletic program in several capacities over a long career, reminisced some years ago about sitting around a wooden table drinking coffee with SLI Athletic Director Bob Brown and Bryant.
“(Bear) was in high school coaching at the time,” Dutch recalled. “He asked about the school, its growth, and the athletic program. The following week, Johnny Cain came in. He was from Alabama, too. He was a halfback and left-footed kicker and had been a member of their Rose Bowl team.”
The more experienced Cain got the job and coached until 1941, when World War II claimed his attention, returning in 1946 for one more year. He compiled a record of 33 wins, 19 losses and 5 ties as a head coach.
Bryant’s tenure as a head coach lasted a little longer. When he retired he had 323 career victories. None of them, unfortunately, were at SLI.
In the first week of the 1951collegiate football season, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame were underdogs to the Indiana Hoosiers. But the legendary Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy unveiled a new formation that befuddled Indiana’s defense and Notre Dame won the game 48 to 6.
Leahy had already coached Notre Dame to four national titles and was one of the most respected coaches in America, so people believed him when he said he invented the “I” formation, in which members of the backfield lined up one behind the other, and that the formation was brand new.
That really hacked off Raymond Rodriguez, who coached in Abbeville from 1944 through 1948.
He fired off a letter to Leahy making it clear that the formation might be new to Notre Dame but not to Abbeville.
According to newspaper reports of the day, “The staunch sportsman (Rodriguez) who now manages a restaurant in Abbeville declared that he originated the formation in 1944 with an Abbeville Wildcat team. He called it the Indian formation, but said it is identical to the one Leahy was credited with as ‘brand new.’”
“Naturally I think it is a good formation,” Rodriguez told Leahy, “and I am proud to see it used widely, but I think credit should go where credit is due, even if it isn’t in big-time football.”
I don’t think Leahy ever shared the letter or Rodriguez’s claim with the national sports writers.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.