The cardiologist who had treated Paul (Bear) Bryant for the past several years said yesterday the recently retired Alabama football coach suffered a slight stroke two years ago and showed symptoms of a mild case of heart failure a year earlier. Bryant's death Wednesday could not be called unexpected, said Dr. William Hill.
"He had a history of heart failure," Hill said by telephone from Tuscaloosa, where hundreds of mourners filed past Bryant's casket, covered with 2,000 red and white carnations, the colors of the Crimson Tide.
Hill said Bryant, 69, also suffered from arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which is a common condition among the elderly. He was hospitalized in 1980 with heart failure, which Hill described as a weakening of the heart muscle, but he was put on medication and returned to coaching in about a week.
Hill said Bryant's stroke two years ago paralyzed him on the right side for about a day, but that the legendary coach was back on the practice field within a week or two.
Meanwhile, police in Tuscaleosa said they expect as many as 10,000 people to gather near the First Methodist Church, where funeral services will be held for Bryant at 10 a.m. today (CST) and along the route of the funeral cortege, which is expected to include about 300 cars and buses.
Following the services in Tuscaloosa, the cortege will travel to Birmingham -- as Bryant's teams did so many Saturdays in the fall -- where Bryant will be buried at Elmwood Cemetery. Graveside services are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Eight members of the 1982 Alabama team will carry Bryant's casket. The entire team and coaching staff will travel in five buses on the 65-mile trip to Birmingham.
Bryant, whose 38-year career record of 323-85-17 made him the winningest coach in the history of college football, died in a Tuscaloosa hospital after a massive heart attack. Hill said a series of chest pains that caused Bryant's admittance to the hospital Tuesday were a warning of the heart attack that eventually took his life. The physician said the stresses of coaching had nothing to do with Bryant's death, which he said was principally brought on by the arterial condition.
A legend in the state of Alabama, Bryant is generally credited by others in his profession as being one of the major factors in the immense growth in popularity of football in the United States.
"The big thing was he could get the maximum from his players," said Kentucky Coach Jerry Claiborne, who played for Bryant at Kentucky and then served as an assistant under Bryant at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama.
"Whoever he had to work with, he could get the most out of them," said Claiborne, a former Maryland coach who two weeks ago presented Bryant with an award at a meeting of the American Football Coaches Association in Los Angeles.
Former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd said, "Wherever he coached, he elevated the standards of both his program and those who had to play against him," according to The Associated Press. "You had to get better to compete with his teams. The success the SEC (Southeastern Conference) has enjoyed in the last 20 years is a credit to Paul."
Among America's coaching elite expected to be in Tuscaloosa for Bryant's funeral today are former coaches Woody Hayes of Ohio State, Darryl Royal of Texas and Frank Broyles of Arkansas, and such active coaches as Jackie Sherrill of Texas A&M, Lou Holtz of Arkansas, Pat Dye of Auburn and John McKay of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, former coach at Southern California.