Ardent Auburn University supporters, like me. are prone from time to time to refer to someone as “an Auburn man.” In a way, it’s a rather mystical description, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. And while there may be some disagreement as to what it is, there is less disagreement about who it is.
And so it is that this week, thousands of people who bleed orange and blue, came to pause and remember the life of perhaps the ultimate Auburn man, former football coach Pat Dye who passed away at age 80. Not lost on any of them was the fact that Dye grew up in Georgia and never attended Auburn.
In a sense, it was Auburn who decided Dye should become one of their own. Dye was hired in early 1981, coached Auburn to four SEC championships in the next 12 years and never left. Along the way he learned that the things Auburn stood for and the things he stood for were one and the same and the relationship only got stronger for the next 38 years.
Dye was the youngest of three boys born into a prominent farming family in Blythe, GA, about 20 miles from Augusta. His mother grew up in Athens, GA, the daughter of a dentist She graduated from the University of Georgia and moved to Blythe to teach school. His father never finished high school. Life on the farm toughened him and competing with two older brothers sharpened his will to win.
Sixty years ago southern college football was a far cry from what it is today. All the players were white, many came from farms and most were not big. Dye was a 200-pound All-American guard and linebacker coached by Wally Butts. After two years of playing in the Canadian football league and two years in the military, Dye was hired by University of Alabama football coach “Bear” Bryant and was on his staff for nine years.
The two men were kindred spirits, both greatly influenced by growling up in the country and being accountable for their own actions. Obviously Bryant was very fond of Dye, no doubt seeing someone who was largely forged by the same forces as he had been growing up in Arkansas..
Dye spent his time well in Tuscaloosa, learning how to manage people, how to motivate players and how to develop a winning culture. All he needed was the right opportunity to make his own mark. He found it in Auburn.
It was no surprise that Auburn and Dye fit each other. At their core. both are country. Auburn became a land-grant institution in 1872, a place devoted to coaxing life from the earth so that people can prosper. And this was Dye, never straying from his roots.in Richmond County, GA.
Probably nothing makes this statement more than Dye’s final wishes. He died on Monday, June 1 and late in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 2 he was laid to rest at the base of an oak on his Macon County farm. He had nurtured the oak from a cutting of one of Auburn’s famous Toomer Corner oaks. He was wrapped in a shroud and placed in the hole. He told friends that his body would fertilize the tree and his spirit would live on.
Like many, I have my own memories of the coach. While living in Opelika 15-20 years ago, I was invited to join a handful of people one morning to have breakfast at Dye’s farm near Notasulga. The specialty that morning was quail. To be honest, I am not overly fond of quail. But being a good guest, I ate one. When Dye asked if I wanted another one I deferred, but did mention that I sure would like some more of the fig preserves he had with the biscuits.
In just a moment he gave me a pint jar of homemade preserves, saying they came from his brother. They were delicious.
We probably too often hear someone say, “They don’t make ’em like that any more.” In Pat Dye’s case, they are correct.