The Legend of Bull Sullivan

Practically nobody outside East Mississippi knows about or remembers Coach Bull Sullivan. He’s one of those legendary figures you hear about in hushed, reverent tones from the elders of the community. In my area, there are still a number of people around who played for him…such as one of my uncles, my high school principal/football coach, another coach from school, and the daddies of a few of my old school mates. His assistant coach of many years was a cousin of my dad’s. In fact, I have one of his old playbooks in my possession.

Sports Illustrated ran an article on the man–at the time, the longest article ever devoted in SI–back in 1984 by Frank Deford entitled, “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was”. This is pretty much the truth. I wish football were still like this…cry babies like Terrell Owens (T.O.? More like B.O., if you ask me) would never have made it past high school if the sport were still dominated by real men of genius such as this. I would like to share this one on this site, as well as keep it archived here. I didn’t post it with permission, but I figure after twenty years since its printing date, it’s not that critical an issue.

I highly recommend that you read this article, “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was”.


This on-again, off-again, would-be commentator proves that attitudes are contagious, and that some can even kill. To this end, every written word is weighed carefully to ensure the precise delivery of the author's intent while inflicting blunt force trauma to the psyche of the reader.

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58 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    Our local newspaper, The Kemper County Messenger, has a “Looking Back” section that reprints from its archives news items dating back to as far as fifty years. In this week’s (April 8, 2010) edition, the following was the lead item, from April 6, 1950:

    Coach Bob Sullivan, formerly assistant coach at the University of Oregon, has accepted the position of head coach at East Mississippi Junior College.

    Coach Sullivan was born in Aliceville, Ala. After graduation from Aliceville High School, he entered Union University, Jackson, Tenn. After two years there Coach Sullivan’s college career was interrupted by the war. He entered the Marines and served two and [a] half years. After his discharge from the Marines he entered the University of Nevada and finished his college days.

    After college Coach Sullivan played professional football. After two years of this he accepted a coaching position at the University of Oregon. From there he came to us.

  2. Dan Walker says:

    I’m a football history fan with a particular appreciation for coaches who have, or had, the nerve to try formations and approaches which few others had the courage to attempt — obviously Coach Sullivan was an innovative coach. I’m also a bit of a nut about tactics, formations, play diagrams, etc.

    So – if anyone reading the comments on this thread has any old playbooks, play diagram-cards, or simply recollections of interesting or unorthodox plays devised by Coach Sullivan, I welcome hearing from you directly. Also, if you’re in a position to photocopy any printed materials you have, do let me know; I’d gladly pre-pay you for any photocopying and postage expense to send me photocopies of those playbooks or other materials.

    Feel free to fire off a line to me at moc.oohaynull@modeerflf; I’d appreciate hearing from you.

    Dan Walker
    (Tallahassee, FL)

  3. Hank Springer says:

    I could add, maybe just a little, to the story of this magnificent man, but why would I want to interfere in an accurate and well written history. GOD has Bull now and the thanks of those of us who shared him.

  4. JD Green says:

    My dad Paul Green played for Coach Bull No doubt he had a profound effect. The new book is out I received it yesterday my dad mailed it to me. Even though I had to get up at 4am this morning for work I read till way past midnight. I coach youth football in Texas and I always share the SI article with my fellow coaches. I don’t have the right words but his Family should know that Coach Bull Sullivan’s story has touched way more lives than just those that were privleged to have played for him. Heres a link to the book

  5. JD Thompson says:

    Dad played for Bull in the ’56 season. Grew up hearing magnificent stories of Coach Sullivan’s tactics. He once got so mad at his defense he took the team to a local pond, lined the D up in the pond and said, “When you stop the offense from getting wet, we will call it a day.”

  6. Kyle Patterson, grandson of Ernest and MaryAgnes Sturat says:

    My uncle played for Bull! My grandparents lived in Wahalik (SP) just down the road from scuba! Ive heard all the stories from pushing the team bus after a loss, or making the team swim in a lake w an alligator in it!! We need that kind of toughness at Florida this yr. 2010

  7. Waylon Temple says:

    Mike Townsend, Kells Parker and myself (Waylon Temple) graduated from West Lauderdale High School in 1966 and the three of us recieved scholarships to play football for Coach Bull Sullivan. Mike Townsend went on to make All-State his sophmore year. Kells made the All-State Team and played at Jackson Memorial Stadium with Elwin James from Meridian and then played at East Mississippi Junior College under Coach Sullivan. I’m sorry to say that Kells and myself quit after playing about 6 games into the season. Something, I regret to this day. Glenn Frazier (my cousin) had also played under Coach Sullivan along with Bill Bulkner. The book acurately describes the Bull! He was the meanest coach I ever played for. He demanded your respect and you gave him the respect he deserved. Thanks to Ike Ethridge and Coach Keys Currie I was given the opportunity to play basketball on a scholarship at EMCC. Thanks to the great men who were such an influence on our lives!

  8. BG hOLMES says:

    I was a senior at Foley [AL] High School in the March 1950. We had a good football team and somehow Coach Sullivan learned of me and three of my fellow seniors. He invited us for a week of sring practice with the EMJC team. We arrived in an old truck on Sunday afternoon. As soon as we got there Coach had us in full pads on the football field. We worked with the team all week and on Saturday we played a game against Bethel College up in Tennessee. Along the way our bus stopped to let off some other high school players who I guess did not make the cut. Anyway, I played mostly nose tackle in that game even though I thought I was a wide receiver and DE. We bear Bethel [a 4 year college] about 4 tds. We went back to Scooba and Sunday as we were leaving Coach Sullivan said you boys have scholarships if you come back in the fall. He then reched in his pocket and gave us $20. for gas money. I did not go back but two of my teammates did. I thought Coach S. was an outstanding man and a fair bit firm coach.

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