Nov. 27, 2006
It is with heavy hearts that we report to you the loss of one of
Baylor's most admired and respected former football coaches. Coach
John Bridgers passed away Friday of congestive heart failure. Coach
Bridgers was loved by many of the young men who played for him, and he
had a lasting impact on all of them. He will be dearly missed.
Services will be Wednesday morning at 10:00 A.M. at St. John's
Episcopal Cathedral in Albuquerque, NM. It has come to our attention
that Don Trull and Lawrence Elkins will be attending the funeral.
Side Note: Last spring, I was fortunate to be invited by Bill
Ferguson (FB, '63-'65) to join a group of players from Coach Bridgers'
era for breakfast in Dallas. These men get together periodically and
have remained close through the years. During the breakfast, a phone
call was made to Coach Bridgers and each former player attending the
breakfast took time to speak to the coach. As I listened, I was
touched by how these men expressed their feelings of appreciation to
the coach for the positive influence he had on their lives. I never
knew Coach Bridgers personally, but it became obvious to me that day
that he was special.
Below is an article about Bridgers written yesterday by Waco
Tribune-Herald sports editor Kim Gorum.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
By Kim Gorum
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Former Baylor coach John Bridgers, an innovator who brought the
pro-style passing game to college football and helped break down the
Southwest Conference's color barrier, has died. Bridgers, 84, died
Friday of congestive heart failure in Albuquerque, N.M., said his son,
Don Bridgers. "He had a good life," Don Bridgers said Saturday night.
"He did the thing he really, really loved, which was to coach young
men and teach them how to be not just good players but good people."
Bridgers came to Baylor in 1959 to replace the ousted Sam Boyd, and
led the Bears to three bowl games in his first five seasons. After two
years as a defensive assistant in Baltimore, he installed the Colts'
wide-open passing game at Baylor, helping make All-Americans of
quarterback Don Trull and receiver Lawrence Elkins after a
record-breaking 1963 season. In the Bears' 1966 season opener against
Syracuse at Baylor Stadium, Bridgers sent in John Hill Westbrook,
making the sophomore running back the first black athlete to play for
a Southwest Conference school. Bridgers was pushed out after posting
a 49-53-1 mark (31-37-1 SWC) in 10 seasons at Baylor, but Don Bridgers
said there was no bitterness. "Our formative years as a family were
in Waco, and we all thought the highlight of his life was to coach
there," he said. "I remember going to the dining hall for lunch every
Sunday after church and talking about who was hurt and who was okay.
We kind of felt like the players were part of our family. I so clearly
remember those times and how much of dad's heart went into the Baylor
Bridgers spent a year on Chuck Noll's first Pittsburgh Steelers staff,
where he urged the coach to consider drafting a player he'd recruited
at Baylor - a quarterback named Terry Bradshaw. Noll was reluctant at
first, Don Bridgers said. "But then other teams started showing
interest, and he changed his mind and followed dad's advice," he said.
The Steelers took Bradshaw with the first overall pick in the 1970
draft and won four Super Bowls in the next decade. That intuition
about who could become an outstanding player was one of his father's
great strengths, Don Bridgers said. "Of course, it had to be in the
old SWC," he said, "because Texas got everybody they wanted, Arkansas
was next, and so on. Dad had to find those 180-pound guys who could
play, and he did a remarkable job of it."
Bridgers left Pittsburgh for an assistant's job at South Carolina,
then became athletic director at Florida State in the early 1970s. He
inherited a $1 million athletic deficit, but turned the program around
with the single most important hire in school history, convincing
fellow Alabama native Bobby Bowden to leave West Virginia for
Tallahassee. Taking over struggling athletic programs and daunting
jobs was a theme in Bridgers' career. He left Florida State for New
Mexico in 1979, after major NCAA infractions had surfaced in the
basketball program under Norm Ellenberger, prompting an FBI
investigation into transcript-rigging.
Bridgers began his career as an assistant coach at the University of
the South in Sewanee, Tenn., (1947-51); was head coach for the First
Cavalry Division Artillery Team in Hokkaido, Japan (1952) and was head
football and track coach at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Services will
be Wednesday morning at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Albuquerque.