Before Rich Wingo became an Alabama Representative or a star middle linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, he learned some valuable lessons playing for coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama.
Wingo recently appeared on the 1819 News podcast, where he talked about what it was like to play for the legendary coach and how things have changed for players in college football.
"I wanted to be a part of something special," Wingo said about attending Alabama instead of Notre Dame. "Coach Bryant said if I wanted to be a part of something, work hard, pay a price, I was welcome. And if I didn't, he'd put me on a plane and send me home."
Wingo came to the University of Alabama in the late 1970s. There he met his wife of 42 years and had four successful seasons with the Crimson Tide. But things nearly went a different direction when Wingo was cut from the team his junior year.
"Coach Bryant, I don't think he liked me too much. He kicked me off the team," Wingo said. "I met him in his office that night after practice. He told me he thought I was a good player — I thought he was a good coach — but he just wasn't sure if he wanted me on his team. Broke my heart, crushed me. He told me that I was satisfied and content with where I was, and he said, 'I want people around me that are sold out, all in, committed.' And he said, 'Rich, you're not.'"
The next day, Wingo said Bryant let him come back on the team, and from that point on, Wingo committed fully to being the best player he could be.
"I was the first person on the field, the last to leave, the one that was in every drill, gave it everything they had… I came from a place of content to committed. It's because [Bryant] cared enough about me to push me to take me to a place that I didn't want to go… The seven years I played at Green Bay, I would always look back on that. And that was the difference in my football and probably my life as far as effort. So coach Bryant had a huge impact on my life."
Wingo speculated that if the same thing happened to him in today's collegiate athlete climate, he might have taken the easy way out and transferred rather than put in the effort.
"I would've had my nose in the air, and I would have gone to the [transfer] portal. I would have just given up and missed the greatest lesson that I could have learned," he said.
Ringo pointed out how hard it can be for coaches to give the "tough love" players need when they can easily transfer to another team.
"One thing I do worry about today, with everything that is going on just this year, I couldn't imagine being a coach today," he said.
"If I get on this player because he desperately needs someone to tough love him and make him do things that he doesn't want to do … he's going to the portal. He's going to transfer tomorrow. He's being paid. He can leave whenever he wants to leave. I'm sorry, but when I was 18, 19 years old, I was very immature… We do stupid things, and we don't like being told what to do at that age. I couldn't imagine coaching today. I would think it's extremely difficult."
"When I was there, we lived in a dorm. They paid for our food. They paid for our education. We felt blessed that we were getting a free education," he added. "We had to work for it. We worked extremely hard. There's a price to be paid, but what an honor. Today I feel like young people feel entitled because they're made to feel entitled … If you really love someone, the greatest thing, the best thing you can do is love them, and sometimes that means making them do things they don't want to do. That's the beauty of sport."
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