'That guy:' High school coaches remember Pat Dye's legacy
By Ben Thomas | firstname.lastname@example.org
Fred Riley’s first true coaching assignment came in Pat Dye’s second year at Auburn.
Auburn offensive coordinator Jack Crowe asked Riley to be a graduate assistant for the Tigers following Riley’s standout career at North Alabama.
Looking back, Riley describes his spot on the Auburn staff as the “lowest of the low.” It wasn’t too low to be noticed by Dye, however.
“If you were ever one of his guys, you were always one of his guys,” said Riley, the former Davidson High coach and current coach of the semi-pro Fairhope Storm. “It didn’t matter what level you were on or thought you were on. He was going to take care of you.”
Dye died Monday at the age of 80. Riley spent just 10 months around the College Hall of Fame coach, including the 1982 football season. He’s carried the memories and the lessons with him for the rest of his life.
“He was so incredibly tough but also so incredibly fair,” Riley said. “Sometimes people think those two things don’t mix. He was tough on you because he cared about you and loved you, and he wanted you to do better and be successful. He was very fatherly.
“This is not an easy world. It’s a tough-minded world, and sometimes you have to suck it up and fight through the bad things. My parents taught me that. Coach Dye reinforced it. You can be tough, be a person that coached with tough love and, if you do it the right way, people will appreciate you and want to run through a wall for you.”
Though his time with Dye was short in the grand scheme of things, Riley’s stories about the coach are numerous, beginning with his first day at Auburn.
“Before I even got to Auburn, I had gone and gotten a professional hair cut on the way down there,” he said. “The first night, we went to Sewell Hall to eat and coach Dye and coach Crowe called me over to sit with them. The first thing out of coach Dye’s mouth was, ‘Jack, our new GA is going to have to have a haircut.’ I got my first top of the ear haircut in my life. That’s pretty traumatic when you are 23.”
The 1982 season obviously included the milestone 23-22 victory over Alabama at Legion Field, a win that ended the Tide’s nine-year domination in the series. Riley remembered a special moment the day before the game that characterized the type of man he said Dye was off the field as well as on it.
“We got to Legion Field to walk the field the day before the game,” he said. “We are out there in street clothes and I look over and see my dad leaning on the rail. At that time, security wasn’t as tight as it is now. I jog over there and hug his neck because I hadn’t seen him in months.
“When I came back to the team, coach Dye called me over and asked me if that was my dad. I said it was. He said, ‘Tell him to come on down, I want to visit with him.’ Dad didn’t want to go out, but I told him that if he didn’t coach Dye would be mad at me. He finally said OK. My dad and coach Dye walked the length of the field and back the day before the Iron Bowl.”
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What did they talk about?
“I don’t know. I never asked,” Riley said. “I figured if Dad wanted to tell me, he would tell me. They were about the same age, probably had shared some of the same life experiences along the way. But the fact that coach Dye even noticed that a graduate assistant’s dad was over there let alone asking him to come on the field … He was that kind of person.”
Dye was always good with parents, especially recruit’s parents. Greenville’s Alvin Briggs was planning on enlisting in the Marines after high school. Instead, he turned into a key defensive player for Dye’s teams in the mid-1980s.
“Coach used to talk about recruiting the mamas, and that’s exactly what he did,” said Briggs, now associate executive director for the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “He got that from coach (Paul “Bear”) Bryant. I came home from whatever sport I was practicing one day, and he was in the kitchen with my mom eating my food. He spoke to me on the way out of the door. He wasn’t trying to sell Auburn to me. He was selling Auburn to my mom, and he did a heck of a job.
“He was that guy. That’s my coach.”
Briggs saw Dye in moments of great triumph but also moments of agonizing defeat. He said those moments – after tough losses – may have defined Dye as a coach.
“I think he was better after losses then after victories,” Briggs said. “He always talked about how, in difficult times, you had to reach back and give even more, work even harder.”
Briggs agreed with most of the people who have talked about Dye this week that the coach was legendary for his toughness. But he also had a compassionate side. Briggs saw it firsthand in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.
Fullback Gregg Pratt died following an early August practice in 1983.
“Right then, we all saw that caring, loving, sensitive side,” Briggs said. “He was crying along with the other 125 guys in the room as he delivered the information to us. Coach Dye taught us how to be emotional and harness that sadness into hard work and dedication and do the best we could do.”
Above all, Dye preached family.
“I don’t remember a day he wasn’t in the cafeteria that we were in the cafeteria,” Briggs said. “He was in there; his family was in there. It was definitely a family atmosphere, and he always told us how much he loved us even when he was getting on to us. Everything he did and said was done and said with love.”
Hartselle coach Bryan Moore said Dye spoke at his team’s live auctions at both Eufaula and Jasper.
“He did this for free, simply to help a high school he had no affiliation with,” Moore said on social media. “He was truly a great Auburn man.”
Dye’s relationship with high school coaches goes back to his early days at Auburn. UMS-Wright head coach Terry Curtis was an assistant at Murphy High when Dye was hired. He later became head coach at Shaw and Murphy before his current 20-year tenure at UMS.
“He was unbelievable with high school coaches,” said Curtis, who played baseball at Auburn. “And, once he met you, he never forgot you. He liked to come into your school, which you could do more back then than you can now. He liked to come in and watch guys lift weights and those type things. He always thought he could find out more about a guy’s toughness by watching him squat under a bunch of weights then he could anything else.”
Dye and Curtis went on to become friends with Curtis sending multiple athletes to Auburn, including quarterback Pat Washington out of Murphy.
“People talk about Auburn men,” Curtis said. “He will go down as one of the greatest.”