Alabama legend Gene Stallings reflects on friends Pat Dye and Johnny Majors
ATHENS — Gene Stallings took time Wednesday to share his feelings on two men he was once hired to beat, revealing friendships that pre-dated rivalries.
Stallings, 85, coached at Alabama from 1990-1996, overlapping with former Auburn coach Pat Dye (1981-1992) and former Tennessee coach John Majors (1977-1992).
Dye passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80 years old, and Majors died on Wednesday at 85.
Iron Bowl Friendship
“Pat Dye and I have been friends for a long time, let me tell you two or three things about Pat,” Stallings, who still lives on his ranch in Paris, Texas, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We competed against each other in games and also recruiting, and we never had a cross word.
“Pat always conducted himself as a gentlemen. He was very competitive, his teams played well.”
Stallings and Dye served together on the board for Great Southern Wood for more than 20 years. The two had gone on a hunting trip together last year with former UGA quarterback and head coach Ray Goff.
Dye replaced Stallings on Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama coaching staff as an assistant in 1965. Stallings left the staff to become head coach at Texas A&M, before his 14 years on Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys’ coaching staff (1972-85).
Stallings returned to the SEC as the Tide’s head coach in 1990 after a stint as the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals head coach in the NFL.
By then, Dye had taken over as Auburn’s head coach (1981) after stints at East Carolina (1974-79) and Wyoming (1980) and put the Tigers’ program “on the marquee.”
Dye had, in fact, changed the course of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. The Tigers had won four straight over Alabama for the first time in almost 30 years before Stallings snapped the streak his first year back in Tuscaloosa.
Dye, also acting as Auburn athletic director, also persuaded the Tigers’ boosters to playing the “Iron Bowl” in Auburn rather than Birmingham where the game had traditionally been played dating back to 1904.
“That had been done before I got back, but if it were up to me, I’m not sure I would have changed it,” Stallings told DawgNation, asked about going to a home-and-home.
“I think it was a good thing they changed it. But when Pat retired (1992), we were still playing the game (in Alabama home years) in Birmingham.”
Third Saturday Handshake
Alabama was also playing its home games against Tennessee in Birmingham, rather than Tuscaloosa, when Stallings coached the Tide to the 1992 national championship.
Alabama had to get through Majors and the Vols in Knoxville that season, gutting out a 17-10 win in a rivalry Stallings said was at times more fierce than Auburn, despite his friendship with Majors.
“Johnny was an assistant coach at (Mississippi State), when I was coaching at Alabama,” Stallings recalled. “We would meet together in Nashville and we would recruit, and then we’d meet together and have dinner that night.
“I’ve always loved and appreciated Johnny Majors. One of the things he did, he raised his grandson. Johnny took the grandson and raised him like he was is and I always appreciated Johnny for that.”
Stallings’ family priorities have been well documented. He authored the book “Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son.” The writing is about Stallings’ relationship with his late son, John Mark, who was born with Down syndrome and a hear defect.
But on the football field, Stallings, Dye and Majors were all business.
“When the game gets started, you don’t worry about who is coach on the other side of the field, you get ready for the team, not the coach,” Stallings said. “When my team played Coach Bryant, I loved Coach Bryant, but when the game got underway, it was Texas A&M playing against Alabama.
“It was the same thing with Johnny. We were friends, and I showed him respect.”
The Tennessee game, like the Auburn game, was historically a big deal and many still feel the same way.
“Coach Bryant, he had rather beat Tennessee than Auburn in those early years,” said Stallings, who played for Bryant at Texas A&M before serving as an assistant under him. “I know things have a tendency to change, but he really got the team ready to play Tennessee. Auburn was not a great team in those years, and then Pat (Dye) put them on the marquee.
“But before that, we’d get ready for Tennessee two weeks before the game.
“If you’re going to be accepted at the University of Alabama, you have to beat Tennessee, you have to beat Auburn, and eventually you have to win the national championship.”
Stallings went 3-0 at Alabama against Dye and Majors some three decades ago en route to joining them in the College Football Hall of Fame. On Wednesday, he mourned losing both of them.
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