By Jeff Beals
The young upstart and the living legend clashed in battle back in 1979.
It wasn’t on the field of play, rather inside a high school guidance counselor’s office.
The young upstart was Jim Donnan, a brand-new assistant football coach at Kansas State University. The living legend was none other than Paul “Bear” Bryant, who was fresh off winning his fifth National Championship at the University of Alabama.
Both men were recruiting the same star high school football player. Donnan was hoping to lure the kid to Manhattan, Kan., while Bryant wanted him to play in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Donnan had an appointment with the player and the high school football coach and was just about to sit down in a small conference room to begin his pitch. But before he could start, the high school coach nervously shared some news.
“Coach, Alabama just called and said Coach Bryant wants to see this guy, but he doesn’t have an appointment. Would you mind him going before you?”
Whoa. This was an awkward situation. Donnan wanted to make a name for himself in his new coaching career, and Bryant was someone every young coach wanted to impress. Disrespecting the Bear was not good for a young coach’s career. But Donnan had things to do to. He took a deep breath and protested.
“I gotta go somewhere else after this,” Donnan said. I have an appointment with a kid at another school. It’s not my fault that his secretary didn’t make an appointment.”
The high school coach went back to the phone and told Alabama they would need to find a different time to visit. Problem solved. Conflict over, or so it seemed. Just as the conversation was warming up, Bear Bryant walked through the door.
Donnan stood up, shook the Bear’s hand, and said, “Coach, you know I respect you, and I’ve always admired you, but I had an appointment with this young man, and I gotta go to another school after this. I won’t keep him long.”
Bryant wasn’t too happy. After all, this meeting was taking place inside the state of Alabama where most people bowed down and traffic halted whenever the legend passed by. The Bear was not accustomed to waiting.
“Well, that’s okay,” Bryant growled in his famously deep voice, “but doesn’t make any difference. I’m gonna get him anyway.”
Sure enough, Bryant was right. The kid enrolled at Alabama and starred for the Crimson Tide.
Donnan referred to it as a “bitter reality pill.” It’s hard to compete with a living legend, especially in his own back yard. While he lost this battle, Donnan benefited from the experience. He showed confidence. He stood his ground. He didn’t lose face or compromise his pride as a coach.
In the long run, Jim Donnan had a very successful career as a coach. His success never matched Bryant’s, but nobody has had a career like the Bear. Nevertheless, Donnan would go on to become a head coach, leading Marshall University to the Division I-AA National Championship and the University of Georgia to four straight bowl victories. His success landed him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Today, the 66-year-old Donnan works as a television broadcaster and travels the nation speaking about football and leadership. The confidence he showed in the face of the legend 32 years ago has served him well.
Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.
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