Don Salls, now 91 years old, played fullback and defensive back for Alabama from 1940-42. / Bryant Museum

Don Salls played fullback and defensive back for Alabama from 1940-42. After serving in World War II, he became the winningest football coach at Jacksonville State after coaching 18 years at the school.

Salls is one of the players featured in a book that will be released this weekend about Alabama players in WWII titled, “When Winning was Everything”. Salls, along with 12 other Crimson Tide players that fought in WWII, will be honored during Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.

GameDay: Besides winning the national championship, what is your favorite memory from when you were playing for the Crimson Tide?
Don Salls: I was cutting out, off the tackle, and I cut left instead of cutting right. [Coach Frank Thomas] hollered, ‘Salls! That may be the way they do it in New York, but you’re in Tuscaloosa now!’ I was tickled to death to know that he knew my name and knew where I was from. I just grinned all over and went back to the scrimmage and kept on going. That’s the only thing Coach Thomas ever said to me.

GD: What was Frank Thomas like?
DS: He was about my size; he was little. I’m sure they looked at me and wondered how I played, and I looked at him and wondered how he had played. But, he was a great player at Notre Dame, and as a coach he was a very detailed person. He was very quiet. Most of his assistant coaches, they would talk to you or say something to you about what you were doing, but Coach Thomas seldom said anything.

GD: You didn’t play Auburn when you were at Alabama. What was the biggest game of the year back then?
DS: Tennessee was the big game for us. That was the Auburn-Alabama game of today. I was fortunate one year, in 1941, I think we won 9-6 (actually 9-2), and I scored the only touchdown, which was great.

GD: Looking back, are you shocked at the way the game of football has evolved since you played?
DS: Oh, yeah. It’s so fast and so quick. And, of course, it’s a passing game and we were mostly running. We didn’t have the people the size that they do now, these linemen that are 300-plus pounds. A fullback might have been big at 200, and I weighed about 169 or 170. The size and speed of today’s football is just amazing.

GD: How much do you miss playing football for Alabama?
DS: I went into the service as soon as I graduated and then came back and got my masters at the University of Alabama. So, I’ve always come back here. Then, I went to Jacksonville State for [18 years]. So, I was right in the thick of coaching for 18 years after I left here, so football has been mostly my life. When I finally retired after 18 years of coaching, I thought it was my time to turn it over to somebody else.