May 30, 2017


The Toughest Coach There Ever Was (Frank Deford, APRIL 30, 1984, Spoorts Illustrated)

Robert Victor Sullivan, whom you've surely never heard of, was the toughest coach of them all. He was so tough he had to have two tough nicknames, Bull and Cyclone, and his name was usually recorded this way: coach Bob "Bull" "Cyclone" Sullivan or coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan. Also, at times he was known as Big Bob or Shotgun. He was the most unique of men, andyet he remains utterly representative of a time that has vanished, from the gridiron and from these United States.

Coach Bob "Bull" (Cyclone) Sullivan was a legend in his place. That place was Scooba, Miss, in Kemper County, hard by the Alabama line, hard to the rear of everywhere else. He was the football coach there, for East Mississippi Junior College, ruling this, his dominion, for most of the '50s and '60s with a passing attack that was a quarter century ahead of its time and a kind of discipline that was on its last legs. He was the very paradigm of that singular American figure, the coach--corch as they say in backwater Dixie--who loved his boys as he dominated them, drove off the weak and molded the survivors, making the game of football an equivalency test for life.

Bull Cyclone had spent his own years struggling through a hungry country childhood, getting wounded and killing in close combat as a Marine and then coming home to raise a family and till a tiny plot of American soil he had fought for. Once that would have meant working 40 acres with a mule and a plow. What Bull Cyclone turned was a parcel of earth 100 yards long and about half as wide, scratching out boys as his crop. "There are two reasons people play football," Bull Cyclone was heard to declare. "One is love of the game. The other is out of fear. I like the second reason a helluva lot better."

Randall Bradberry, who is now the football coach at East Mississippi--most people just call it Scooba--was a quarterback there in 1967. One day a Buckeye jet trainer from the nearby Meridian Naval Auxiliary Air Station went out of control. The pilot bailed out, and the empty plane winged in dead over the campus, missing the boys' dorm by 40 feet before plowing into the ground, miraculously doing no damage to edifice or person, except for muddying N.J. Smith, an agriculture teacher, whose outdoor laboratory--"Mr. Smith's pasture"--abutted the football practice field. But what a God-awful noise! Bradberry heard the jet skim over and then explode. "The only thing that crossed through my mind was that the Russians were attacking us," he recalls, "and that they had decided they had to go after Corch Sullivan first. I mean that."

Except possibly for the story about how he made his team scrimmage in a pond full of man-eating alligators, none of the tales about Sullivan have been exaggerated. "I mean, everything you hear is true," says Joe Bradshaw, who played guard for him in the early '50s. Bull Cyclone did sometimes run scrimmages in the pond, except the only gator certified to have been in it was an itty-bitty one the coach's family had brought back from Florida as a souvenir. And maybe it did grow up.

Posted by at May 30, 2017 5:23 AM