A native of Cleveland County, Arkansas, Bryant was known for two things: his signature houndstooth fedora and winning. During his quarter-century tenure at the University of Alabama, Bryant engineered more than three hundred wins for the program, coached the legendary quarterback Joe Namath, and oversaw the integration of UA’s athletic program in the early 1970s. I’d like to argue that many aspects of Bryant’s successful career was owed primarily to one man: Frank Thomas.
Born in 1898 in Muncie, Indiana to Welsh immigrants, it didn’t take long for Frank to make a name for himself. At some point between Frank’s birth and his adolescence, the Thomas family moved to Chicago where young Frank became a standout player on his high school football team. He attended Kalamazoo College for two years where he played football and baseball before being recruited in 1920 by second-year Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne, who went on to be regarded as one of the greatest football coaches of all time.
Having briefly served the University of Georgia as an assistant coach, Thomas took over as head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga beginning in the 1925 season. With a record of twenty-six wins over four seasons, Thomas was offered the position of head coach at the University of Alabama in 1931. During his fifteen-season tenure with the Tide, Thomas amassed more than one hundred wins. This included two undefeated seasons (‘34, ‘45), five SEC Championships (’33, ’34, ’37, ’41, ’45), and two National Championships (‘34, ‘41). Bear Bryant was one of Thomas’s players during the 1934 season and would eventually return to Alabama in 1936 as an assistant coach under Thomas’s leadership.
Unfortunately, Thomas’s career was cut short after the 1946 season. Known for his penchant for cigars, Thomas had begun to suffer the health consequences longtime, heavy smoking often brings. In 1951, he was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame. Three short years later, Thomas died on May 10, 1954 at the age of 55.
Still, he helped cement the winning reputation of University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team, and he served as a memorable mentor for Coach Bryant. And although much has changed on our campus in the years since his passing, I heard a rumor that he never misses a home game.
Almosa Pirela-Jones is a senior majoring in English with a dual minor in creative writing and African-American Studies. Born in Manhattan, she moved to her hometown of Memphis at a young age and graduated from Houston High School in 2013. Almosa serves as the editor-in-chief of Dewpoint Literary Journal and vice president of Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in publishing.