THERE IS ROOM to argue about what makes a great coach, or how someone becomes "a legend in his own time," but there is no question that Paul W. Bryant, the Bear of Alabama, was both. Mr. Bryant, who died Wednesday in Tuscaloosa at the age of 69, not only won more games than any other coach in the history of college football, but also became, as one of his coach disciples, Bum Phillips, commented, "the John Wayne of football."

The voice, the walk, the face and the famous houndstooth check hat helped make him an institution, of course, but he knew more than a little something special about the game and about inspiring the best in the young men he fielded. They said so at the time, and the tributes we are hearing today from graduates of the School of Bear are too moving not to be from their hearts.

If there was one aspect of his profession and high standing that he was slow to recognize, it was that a great team should be recruited from all the talent, no matter a student's race. But when he did, he did it all- out, with candor and with a fairness and attention to all players. "Times have changed," he said, "and I've matured and changed. People are people, and they can't be treated by the color of their skin."

And this fall, Mr. Bryant decided that in fairness to all his young men, they deserved better coaching than he could give them anymore. That was it, and the man who never had a losing season retired with a 323-85-17 record, and with the fondest farewell any bear ever had--and deserved.