Wright Waters: Owes his career to Bryant

wright waters

Wright Waters, executive director of the Football Bowl Association, has more than 40 years experience in college athletics, including 14 years as commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference. He says he owes his start in college athletics to Bear Bryant, who would have turned 100 years old today.

In 1970, I left the University of Alabama to spend a year in Europe living with a favorite uncle. The plan was to find myself. In a funny kind of way, I guess I did because I got bitten by the desire to coach football after helping coach the base team at Bitburg (Germany) AFB with the late Paul Stein.

I returned to Montgomery and shared with my parents my plan for my future. Can’t say they shared my excitement but my father, a medical doctor and an acquaintance of Coach Bryant, made arrangements for me to share my revelation and vision for my future with America’s greatest football coach.

The day came, and I went to Sam Bailey’s office as directed and followed Coach Bailey into see Coach Bryant.

“Coach, this is Dr. Waters’ boy Wright, he wants to visit with you,” Bailey said.

I sat down in a chair that could not have been more than three inches off the floor, stared across a desk that must have been 10 feet high and into the eyes of God. Never have I been so intimidated in my whole life.

“Well, what can I do for you?” Coach Bryant said.

I tried to speak. The words had been rehearsed but they were somewhere between Montgomery and Tuscaloosa.

He moved over to the other chair and asked how are your mama and daddy doing? And suddenly the words came back:

“Coach, I want to learn to coach and I want to do it here at Alabama.”

I was assured that at Alabama all I would get to do was put the balls on the field, but if I really wanted to learn I should go to Livingston, where I wouldn’t just get to coach, I would have to coach.

Coach Bailey came back in the room as if on cue, and Coach told him to call Mickey Andrews and tell him to put this boy to work. Bailey did and that is the way I got started in this silly business.

I saw him 4 more times after that, once at a clinic, twice at USM vs. Bama games and a Florida vs. Alabama game. Charley Pell and I were scheduled to have lunch with him on the Friday after he died on Wednesday. That’s a lunch I have always regretted we didn’t make. By then I was an assistant athletic director at an SEC school and all because a great and generous man took the time to care about someone he didn’t really know. I still wish I had the opportunity to say thank you.

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Rick Cleveland had a remarkably similar experience to that of Wright Waters.

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