BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - I've always thought of former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings as a cross between Paul "Bear" Bryant and John Wayne. But after talking with him today, perhaps I'll throw in The Terminator. After an incredibly turbulent 12 months that involved the coach suffering two strokes and a massive heart attack, I can picture him resting in a hospital bed and saying to anyone who would listen, "I'll be back!"
And back the coach is - as when I chatted with him on the phone, he had just stepped down from his tractor after mowing hundreds of acres on his Paris, Texas ranch.
"It only took me about eight hours," said the coach, thinking nothing of it.
How tough is man? His strokes cost him his peripheral vision and affected his balance, yet the ever-hopeful Coach Stallings tells me, "I just kind of stumble around and can't see, but I'm doing pretty good." That, my friend, is so Gene Stallings: Seeing the light in the darkness, the positive in the negative, the future in the past. The coach is back to driving, as special mirrors help him as his vision is impaired. He's visiting his cows each and every day because that, he says, is what his late son John Mark liked to do. And he cheerfully answers his cell phone, turning the ringer up as much as he can while putting the phone to his good ear.
Gene Stallings is a former Junction Boy, tough as nails, a former coach who could berate game officials like no other. And that toughness has served him well in his later years, as he visited his former Texas A&M players last fall just days after being treated for his heart attack. He made it to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame dinner this past May because he wanted to be there for his good friend, inductee Jimmy Rane. And he's resumed his speaking schedule, volunteering his time for the military, Downs syndrome children and his beloved universities.
While he's 83 years old, Gene Stallings is not done taking in life. Yes, it's been a long twelve months, but surrounded by his wife Ruth Ann, three daughters and many grandchildren, the toughest of the tough marches on. And for that we can all be grateful.