Posted on February 11, 2011 at 8:16 AM
Monday, Aug 1 at 9:12 PM
Tony Franklin was at work Thursday when he received an e-mail informing him that Emory Bellard, his football coach at Texas A&M, had died.
Although Franklin knew Bellard’s health had deteriorated badly since being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease last September, he took the news of his passing hard.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Franklin, a record-setting place-kicker who played on Bellard’s last four Aggies teams. “It brought tears to my eyes immediately. Coach Bellard was one of the greatest influences on my life and I loved him dearly.”
Franklin, who has lived in San Antonio since retiring from pro football in the late 1980s, could have been speaking for the hundreds of players Bellard coached during a career defined by the deep bond he forged with them and by his passion for the game.
Bellard gained fame after he introduced the wishbone offense as an assistant to Darrell Royal at Texas in 1968 and was a legendary high school coach, but he always had a special place in his heart for A&M.
“He was an awesome, awesome man and a great coach,” said David Brothers, a Judson High School assistant coach who played running back at A&M from 1976-79 after starring at Seguin High. “He cared deeply about his players.
“It didn’t matter when you called him. He was going to be there for you. He will be truly missed. Today is a sad day.”
Bellard, who led Breckenridge and San Angelo Central high schools to state championships before joining Royal’s staff at Texas in 1967, died Thursday morning at a care facility in Georgetown. He was 83.
Franklin and other former A&M players from the San Antonio area recalled the dignity Bellard consistently demonstrated on and off the field.
“He truly was one of the classiest individuals I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Franklin said. “When you look up the word ‘class’ in the dictionary, you’ll find his picture by it. He was a gentleman, one of the nicest, most personable men you’d ever want to meet.
“At the same time, he had a dogged determination and had a steel edge. But all he wanted was what was best for his players.”
Former Seguin linebacker Kevin Monk, who played at A&M from 1974-77 and lives in San Antonio, attended a tribute to Bellard last October at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.
“I walked up to him and was amazed when he called me by name,” Monk said. “Even though he was older and was sick, his mind was still top notch. It was just like he was the same person who had recruited me, but that’s just the kind of man he was.”
Bellard played a key role in one of UT’s greatest eras after he devised the wishbone offense. The Longhorns opened the 1968 season with a tie against Houston and a loss to Texas Tech before setting sail on a 30-game winning streak that netted them two national titles.
Bellard left UT for A&M in 1972 and coached the Aggies until resigning under pressure six games into the 1978 season. A&M started the season 4-0 but consecutive losses to Houston and Baylor turned key boosters against Bellard, whose decision to step down stunned his players.
The Aggies went 48-27 under Bellard and won a share of the Southwest Conference title in 1975, when they finished 10-2. A&M went 10-2 again in 1976.
Warren head football coach Bryan Dausin, a 1978 Roosevelt High School graduate, recalled being recruited by Bellard.
“He really recruited my mother,” Dausin said with a chuckle. “He really impressed her when he visited our home. He was a real gentleman.”
Dausin expressed regret that he didn’t complete his college career under Bellard, who went on to a seven-year stint at Mississippi State after leaving A&M.
“We felt like he got a bum deal,” Dausin said. “It was a real shock when he left A&M. As a freshman, you don’t see that coming. His leaving really had an effect on the players for a few years after that.”
Dausin described Bellard as a “player’s coach” and master motivator.
“He always saw the good in everybody and was very optimistic,” Dausin said. “He commanded respect and had a presence.”
Yes, he did.