Inside the Vault: The Paul W. Bryant Collection”

Sep 30, 2013

Don Noble's Book Review for “Inside the Vault: The Paul W. Bryant Collection” by Taylor Watson; Foreword by Ken Gaddy

“Inside the Vault: The Paul W. Bryant Collection”

Author: Taylor Watson; Foreword by Ken Gaddy

Publisher: The Paul W. Bryant Museum

Pages: 122

Price: $29.95 (Cloth)

(Available at the Museum and online at

September 11 marked the centennial of Paul W. Bryant, born in 1913 on farmland called Moro Bottom seven miles outside Fordyce, Arkansas. To mark that centennial and celebrate the life and achievements of Coach Bryant, the Bryant Museum generated a number of events and productions. The Museum teamed with The UA Center for Public Television and Radio to produce “Mama Called,” a one-hour documentary of the career of Coach Bryant. This documentary has played on WVUA and will surely be aired several more times.

At the museum itself a special exhibit has been organized focusing on the life and career of Paul Bryant, adding objects usually not seen, from “The Vault.”

For those who tour the exhibit, this volume will serve as a permanent memento; for those who cannot get to the Museum this book will be a pretty good substitute.

This volume, 122 pages long, is short on text and long on photographs, which is how it was designed. The pictures, in color and black-and-white, large and small, tell the story.

Arranged chronologically, the sections begin with “The Early Days.” There is a family portrait— Bryant had 11 siblings—taken in front of the house that had neither electricity nor running water. The family sold vegetables in town. Although this book is not intended as a psychological study, it is pretty clear that after success in high school football and at UA showed Bryant a possible path out and up, motivation would not be a problem.

At Alabama Bryant met and married a campus beauty, Mary Harmon Black. There is a lovely “Corolla” picture of Mrs. Bryant but also, of special interest to old English professors, photos of some notes she took from a lecture on Francis Bacon’s “Essays” and the life and works of John Bunyan, author of “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

As one might expect, the volume is rich in photos of Bryant in team pictures, from Fordyce to the 1970s as player and then coach. There are many photos of different trophies, especially bowl trophies, game day tickets, game programs, posters, signed footballs, all evocative of the moment, from early days at UA to Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M and back here again.

In the World War II section there are photos of Bryant in uniform and an unusual photo of his Navy dress whites.

The bulk of the book is understandably of the years 1958 on.

The photographer, Teresa Golson, has done a nice job of capturing details, especially of the national championship rings. In these shots we can see what is on the sides: Denny Chimes on one side; SEC champion on the other.

Among the many photos are some surprises. Along with a great many hound’s tooth hats, one finds a shot of an X-ray of Joe Namath’s knee.

As one would expect, Bryant was photographed innumerable times, but also sat for artists. A bust by Blair Buswell and portraits by Leroy Nieman, Willie Logan and Tom McDonald are reproduced here and the cover is a fine mixed media portrait by Alaina Enslen.

The volume closes with a photo of The Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian award, given to Bryant posthumously by President Ronald Reagan.

This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio. Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark” and the editor of “A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama.”