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.
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 program."
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.