Paul (Bear) Bryant, whose 322 victories are the most of any coach in the history of college football, retired yesterday. He will be replaced as coach at the University of Alabama by Ray Perkins, 41, coach of the New York Giants and a former all-America split end for the Crimson Tide.
Bill Parcells, the Giants' defensive coordinator, will succeed Perkins as coach of that team.
Bryant, 69, will remain Alabama's athletic director. He said he made his decision to quit coaching following the loss Nov. 13 to Southern Mississippi. The Tide finished with three straight losses for a 7-4 season, its poorest since 1970.
Joab Thomas, president of the university, said he and Byrant had been discussing retirement for about 18 months. Thomas said he was unable to talk Bryant out of it this time.
Said Vince Dooley, coach at top-ranked Georgia, a Southeastern Conference rival: "I know he's been in a dilemma over this. I know that personal pride tells him he wants to stay another year, but at the same time his responsibility for the program and recruiting tells him he needs to let go now. I can see his mind in a gymnastics meet with itself--his personal pride versus his program. It would appear good judgment won out."
Perkins, whose Giants play the Washington Redskins Sunday at RFK Stadium, will finish out the National Football League season. He has agreed to a five-year contract with Alabama, earning an annual base pay of $100,000. Thomas said Perkins will negotiate his own fringe benefits, such as television and radio shows.
"I'm following--repeat, following--the greatest coach in college football," Perkins said at a press conference in East Rutherford, N.J. "It's a great honor to go there . . . Nothing could have, I don't believe, kept me from making this decision."
In 1981, his third season as coach of the Giants, Perkins coached them to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. His four-year record at New York is 23-33.
Bryant, who has a record of 322-85-17 since becoming coach at the University of Maryland in 1945, will conclude his coaching career when Alabama plays Illinois in the Liberty Bowl--Alabama's 24th consecutive bowl appearance--Dec. 29 in Memphis, Tenn. He also coached at Kentucky and Texas A&M. In 25 seasons at Alabama, Bryant's record is 231-46-9, an average of 9.2 victories a season. When Bryant became coach at Alabama in 1958, the team had won four games the previous three seasons.
In the decade after the 1970 season, his teams lost only 13 games. They finished No. 1 in the polls five times and had three perfect seasons. He won his 315th game, breaking Amos Alonzo Stagg's record for victories, in the 1981 regular season's final game, against state rival Auburn. But, as Bryant approached the state's mandatory retirement age of 70, other schools used that against him in recruiting.
"There comes a time in every profession when you have to hang it up and that time has come for me as head football coach at the University of Alabama," Bryant said yesterday.
"We lost two big football games this season that we should have won (the Tide lost to Louisiana State in early November) and we played only four or five games like Bryant-coached teams should play. I've done a poor job of coaching.
"This is my school, my alma mater, and I love it and I love the players. In my opinion they deserve better coaching than they've been getting from me this year and my stepping down is an effort to see that they get better coaching from someone else," Bryant said.
Perkins, who played there with quarterbacks Ken Stabler and Joe Namath, was the most valuable player in the Southeastern Conference in his senior season, 1966. He played five years for the Baltimore Colts before a knee injury ended his career. His only previous college coaching experience was at Mississippi State. He was an assistant coach at New England and San Diego in the NFL.
According to Thomas, Perkins was one of several candidates considered as Bryant's replacement by a five-man search committee headed by the university president. The original list of candidates reportedly included Perkins, Bobby Bowden, the coach at Florida State, and Gene Stallings, an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys. But Perkins was deleted from consideration because the committee thought it could not match his salary with the Giants. According to a source, the Giants were paying him $250,000 to $300,000 annually. Perkins told Bryant he wanted to be considered.
"It's simply something that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," Perkins said. "If it was any place else, any other college team could not lure me from the New York Giants."
Perkins said he was contacted by Thomas last Thursday, was interviewed Sunday, offered the job Monday and accepted it that day. Perkins had three years left on his contract with the Giants.
One reaction to Bryant's retirement was typical.
"There ain't nobody like him," said Bum Phillips, coach of the New Orleans Saints and an assistant to Bryant at Texas A&M in 1957. "He's the John Wayne of the football world. There's a lot of good football coaches, but only one Bear Bryant."