One day late in June, Alabama Coach Ray Perkins was being interviewed in his office by a writer—while talking to a rich booster on the telephone, signing letters that would go out to hundreds of Alabama high school football players who had attended his summer camp and advising his oldest son, 19-year-old Tony, to get himself a haircut. And that's nothing when it comes to multiple activities for Perkins.
As 'Bama's coach and athletic director, succeeding the late Bear Bryant, the most revered person in the history of the state, Perkins had already hired, rehired or reassigned 11 football coaches, taken down the tower from which Bryant conducted practice, established a marketing and promotion department headed by a man who fantasizes about things like Nude Cheerleader Day, replaced a play-by-play man who had broadcast Crimson Tide football for 25 years, made a half dozen moves to shake up the athletic administration, supervised the repainting of every seat in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the installation of a new sprinkler system for the baseball facility, ordered new football uniforms (bigger numbers, no names), selected a woman to co-host his twice-weekly statewide TV show—imagine the Bear talking football with a woman—and, oh yes, changed Alabama's traditional wishbone offense to a pro set.
"I admire how Coach Perkins has handled the transition," says Tide Quarterback Walter Lewis. "He told us right off he couldn't be another Coach Bryant and he wouldn't try. He's running everything the way he wants to run it. That's the only thing he could've done."
The straightforward, brusque and at times undiplomatic Perkins isn't one to reflect on the psychological burdens of replacing a legend. He'll keep the Bryant fires burning because he deeply respected the man, but none of this walking-in-a-legend's-shoes musing for him. For instance, he refuses even to contemplate whether his moderate success with the NFL Giants the past four seasons or his being an Alabama alumnus was the more important factor in his landing his job. "That's a speculative question, and I don't speculate" is one of Perkins' favorite replies these days.
But plenty of people are speculating as to whether Perkins' team can regain some of the luster the Tide has lost the last three years. Over that span it lost eight games, tied another and won the SEC title only once, in 1981. Alabama lost seven defensive starters to graduation, its best running back. Paul Ott Carruth, to a knee injury and its driving force for the last quarter-century to a heart attack. But Alabama is still Alabama, and it will continue to attract the cream of the South's football talent, just as it did in 1962, when a former Petal (Miss.) High football star named Ray Perkins arrived in Tuscaloosa. Also, the Tide will still have the SEC's easiest schedule because Georgia and Florida aren't annual opponents. Alabama won't face either one this season, and its nonconference foes include Georgia Tech and Memphis State. Few fans remember that Bryant's record at Alabama against non-conference powers Texas, Southern California, Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma was only 11-12-2. One of Perkins' major goals should be to improve the Tide's performance against topflight non-conference opposition.
Lewis, one of three underclassmen selected by the Bryant family to be a pallbearer at Bear's funeral on Jan. 28, is the key to the offense. After three years of running the wishbone, he'll assuredly have a few difficult moments adjusting to the pro set, but he's a vastly underrated passer. Further, a strong offensive line led by Guard Mike Adcock and Tackle Doug Vickers should help Lewis do whatever he wants. Which is? Perkins and Lewis say they intend to keep the run as the primary ingredient in the Alabama attack. "I'll be happy with 25 passes a game," says Lewis. But with talented receivers like Joey Jones and Jesse Bendross, probably the Tide's best pass-catching duo since Perkins and Dennis Homan, Lewis may be throwing 30 times a game. "Walter is going to thrive in this offense," says Jones. "That's all I ever hear him talk about."
The defense doesn't have as much to talk about. Ken Donahue, Alabama's defensive coordinator since 1964, is one of four Bryant assistants Perkins has retained. Hence, the defense won't change much, except to make greater use of pro-type stunts and pass-rushing routes. "We don't have any superstars, but we have 11 guys who want to get after it," says Defensive Tackle Randy Edwards. "If they don't want to, I'll run them off myself."
That aggressive attitude reflects the tone of Perkins' tenure so far. Whether he comes close to duplicating the success of Bryant, who averaged better than nine wins a season at Alabama, remains to be seen. That's speculative, and Perkins, you'll recall, doesn't speculate.
[Yellow Circle] [Yellow Square] RETURNING STARTER
[Dark Red Circle] [Dark Red Square] RETURNING ALL-AMERICA
[See caption above.]