Reliving the tradition with Tommy Wilcox

Former Alabama defensive back Tommy Wilcox against Mississippi State in the early 1980’s. Wilcox was a two-time All-American selection in 1981 and 1982. / Bryant Museum

Tommy Wilcox played safety for Alabama under head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant from 1979-82 and was a two-time All-American selection with the Crimson Tide.

Wilcox spoke with Gameday this week about Coach Bryant, this year’s Tide squad and his Alabama career that almost never was.

GameDay: Being from Louisiana, what sold you on going to Alabama?
Tommy Wilcox: Back when I was coming out of school, the in-state choices were Tulane, where my daddy played ball, and LSU. We were brought up to not like LSU because when my dad played at Tulane, LSU beat them every year. Alabama was winning championships, and they had Coach Bryant, and Alabama was the pinnacle of college football back then. When they offered me a scholarship, it was hard to turn down.

GD: You almost left Alabama after your first year. Talk about that.
TW: When you’re in high school, you’re a big fish in a little tank. When I came to Tuscaloosa, I became a little fish in a big fish bowl. I was homesick, and I felt like I just wasn’t making any headway. So, I went back home, and then Coach Bryant came back and got me, and the rest is history. I think he understood. He guaranteed me if I came back up, got on my books and kept working hard like he thought I would, that he thought I could start on defense. That gave me hope that he believed in me and thought enough of me to fly down and spend a couple hours with me.

GD: What is your favorite memory of Coach Bryant?
TW: There were so many. I just think he was a guy that could get the most out of anybody, whether you were a superstar or a walk on. He was the kind of guy that you just wanted to go out and give your very best for. You never wanted to disappoint him, and I think that’s why he could always get players to play beyond what they were capable of playing. He just had that charisma about him. He was tough, but he was fair. He had been so successful, so we knew if we listened to him and he did what he told us to do, then we’d be successful.

GD: Besides winning the national championship, what is your favorite memory playing for Alabama?
TW: Getting a chance to play on the team against Auburn [in 1981] when Coach Bryant broke Coach [Amos] Stagg’s record. We won his 315th game for him. That was pretty special because so many people from around the world were at that game. Everybody that was somebody was at that game. Just the way he handled it with class and to try to get us to not think about him. He made it more of just another football game. He tried to take the pressure off of us. He said he was more concerned about us and beating Auburn and not so much about him. That just showed you the kind of guy he was.

GD: What do you think of this year’s team?
TW: There’s no doubt that they’re a very good football team. They just haven’t been able to get their own identity this year. It’s hard to repeat as national champions any way you look at it, and I think they’ve had that added pressure. I just think all the distractions and injuries have hurt them this year. I don’t think they’ve played to their full potential yet, but I’m hoping in these next two weeks that they’ll be hitting on all cylinders and finding their identity, especially the week we play Auburn. That would be really special, and that would be something they remember the rest of their lives.