Pat Dye coached the little things that produced big results.
Former Enterprise High standout Jim Thompson used words like “tough” and “hard-nosed,” when describing the man he played for at Auburn for five years.
But two more words — “fair” and “friend” — are much more enduring and endearing as Thompson talked about Dye, who died Monday morning after a long fight with kidney issues.
“It’s been an emotional day, just thinking back,” said Thompson, a Coffee County Commissioner who played football at Auburn from 1984-88. “I think what Coach Dye meant to my group — and I think he meant it to other groups — was when you got to a college you’re an 18-year-old kid.
“Coach Dye wanted to stress that he wants to make us better men, better fathers, better workers long after you leave Auburn University. I feel that he has done that with thousands and thousands of former football players.”
What Dye accomplished in a short period of time was beyond impressive.
“I think he came in ’81. I was a ninth- or 10th-grader in high school,” Thompson recalled. “My older brother was recruited by Coach (Doug) Barfield to Auburn, but he ended up going to Tennessee. At that time, Auburn was not very good.”
That changed with the arrival of Dye and a number of talented players he recruited and developed.
“One of my teammates actually sent me a YouTube that somebody put together that goes through about 10 years of Coach Dye with his speeches after games,” Thompson said.
“It’s pretty good. He was a tough, hard-nosed, role model, head coach. I’m sure there’ll be hundreds and hundreds of former football players at his memorial.”
That turnaround came as Dye stamped his signature toughness and worth ethic into the program. Thompson recalled wondering where the “Recruiter” Pat Dye went when “Coach” Pat Dye greeted first-year players.
“It was difficult,” he admitted. “During the recruiting process you’re on this pedestal. The first day out there, I weigh 225 pounds and I’m going against defensive linemen that weigh 260 and 270. It was an eye-opening experience.”
But Thompson was a worker — and Dye loved and respected players who handled their business.
“The first couple years, I didn’t see the fun side of him too often,” the player said.
“But my junior and senior year, me and a couple others were able to go over to his farm and go fishing on a day off or during the summer. He was a normal, down-to-earth guy away from football. He loved the outdoors. He loved hunting and fishing.”
The former player said a buddy had his wedding at Dye’s barn.
“We were up there and he came in. Of course, he wasn’t dressed for the wedding, he had on blue jeans. He just wanted to say hey to everybody and ‘Enjoy yourself’ and he went on to his house,” he said.
Thompson said Dye became a friend. His coach always wanted to know what he was doing, how his family was doing, how his parents were doing.
“Coach Dye was very good friends with my mom and dad through the recruiting process,” he said.
“My younger brother was at Auburn behind me for five years, so for 10 years my parents saw Coach Dye every football season. My mom passed away February was a year ago and Coach Dye called me on the phone. He sent my dad a letter.”
Thompson’s wife, Bev, was a teacher at Enterprise High School and the former player got the legendary coach to speak to the Quarterback Club on a Friday.
“He got done speaking and he said, ‘Don’t your wife teach here?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘I want to go see her.’
“So we walked down to her classroom and she’s teaching honors 10th-grade English and he walks in and talks to the class about Harper Lee for about 15 minutes. My wife asked the class if anybody knew who this was. I think one kid did, because they were so young.”
Thompson last talked to Dye about 4-5 weeks ago on the phone. He and Bev built a barn house and she wanted some of his iconic Japanese maples.
“I actually called him again two weeks ago and he didn’t answer,” he said. “That’s when he started getting ill. I can still buy some trees from his company, but I really wanted to spend a couple of hours with him walking and looking at the trees. I regret not going the day that I talked to him 4-5 weeks ago.”
With memories flooding back, Thompson was grateful to have played for the legend.
“You look back on these lessons when you’re 18-22 and this guy’s screaming at you back when you practiced four and five hours a day, and you fast forward to this,” he said. “You realize, he really had a plan for us being successful people after football.”
Dye’s plans had a way of working. Thompson said one of his lasting contributions was moving the Iron Bowl to Auburn — a move that enhanced the series and made it better for both teams.
“In 1982, 1983, he made the statement he was going to get the Iron Bowl in Auburn,” Thompson said. “I just hate it was the year after I graduated, but in 1989 Alabama came to Auburn.
“I don’t think you can put a price tag on that financially, for what it’s meant for the Auburn community, and I don’t think you can put a price tag on it for what it means to Tuscaloosa. I think that’s one of his legacies that will live on forever. I don’t see the game going back to a neutral site ever again.”
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