Wynne’s Bob Ford: Hall of Famer

In the fall of 1950, the Wynne High School Yellowjackets won their first state title in football. A member of that team was William “Bud” Brooks, a 2005 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame who won the Outland Trophy in 1954 as the best lineman in college football.

Brooks was a guard and defensive tackle at the University of Arkansas and was selected to All-America teams in 1954 by The Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the Walter Camp Foundation.

The center on that 1950 Wynne team was Bob Ford.

“I waited until the last minute to make a decision on where I would go to college,” says Ford, who has practiced law in Wynne for the past four decades. “I looked at the University of Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. I made a visit to the University of Arkansas, but they didn’t take me. I had a friend from Augusta who talked me into going over to Memphis and trying out. He didn’t end up going there. I did.”

Ford’s father worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which meant family members could ride the train for free. One late summer day in 1951, Ford left his home at 5:30 a.m. and caught the train to Memphis.

“Later that day, Coach George Cole from the University of Arkansas knocked on our door and told my mother he wanted to take me to Fayetteville to play football,” Ford says. “She told him it was too late, that I had left for Memphis before daylight.”

Things worked out well. Playing for head coach Ralph Hatley, Ford lettered as a center and end from 1951-54. Following graduation from what was then known as Memphis State College (now the University of Memphis), Ford began a college coaching career that lasted for more than a decade.

After returning to Wynne in 1970 to practice law, he worked as a part-time scout for the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL for another two decades.

In recognition of his accomplishments as a player, coach and scout, Ford will be inducted Feb. 3 into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets for the annual induction banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Ford is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Ford received his bachelor’s degree in 1955 and his master’s degree in 1956 from Memphis. While working on his master’s degree, he helped coach the Memphis freshman team.

Ford was inducted into the Army in June 1956 at Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith. He served in Korea from February 1957 until June 1958, even coaching an Army football team there in 1957.

Ford knew Dr. Eugene Lambert, who had been the head basketball coach at Memphis and Arkansas. Lambert had gone to the University of Alabama in the fall of 1956 to take over the Crimson Tide basketball program.

Ford had a request that summer day in 1958: Would Lambert ask the school’s new football coach, Arkansas native Paul “Bear” Bryant, if he would be interested in letting Ford serve as a graduate assistant coach?

“I wanted to be an assistant at one of three places — Oklahoma, Army or Alabama,” Ford says. “Dr. Lambert asked, and Coach Bryant said for me to give him a call. When I called him, Coach Bryant said to me: ‘You need to come down here. I want to see if you look like a football coach.’ So I drove to Tuscaloosa.”

Bryant agreed to let Ford help out.

“I wasn’t taking any classes,” Ford says. “But I wasn’t a full-time assistant, either. All I wanted to do was coach. I helped out with the centers and linebackers. I also scouted future opponents. At the end of the 1958 season, Coach Bryant told me, ‘I’ll either find a way to pay you here or get you a full-time job somewhere else.'”

Just before Christmas in 1958, Bryant called Ford into his office. Ford was about to head to Arkansas for the holidays.

“He gave me a personal check for $1,000,” Ford says. “He said, ‘I thought this might help before you go back to Wynne.’ He knew I didn’t have a dime to my name.”

Bryant gave Ford a paid position for the 1959 and 1960 seasons at Alabama. The Tide consistently improved in Bryant’s first three years as head coach, going from 5-4-1 in 1958 to 7-2-2 in 1959 to 8-1-2 in 1960.

At the University of Georgia, meanwhile, Wally Butts left coaching in late 1960 to become the school’s athletic director after having compiled a 140-86-9 record as the Bulldogs’ head football coach. His replacement, Johnny Griffith, offered Ford a job paying three times as much as he was making at Alabama. It was an offer Ford couldn’t refuse.

Georgia went 3-7 in 1961. Back at Alabama, the Crimson Tide went 11-0 and won the national championship.

After one year at Georgia, Ford was offered the position of defensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky under new head coach Charlie Bradshaw, who had been an assistant on Bryant’s staff at Alabama from 1959-61.

Ford says he “wasn’t looking to leave Georgia, but Coach Bryant urged me to take the job. He said Charlie needed to quickly put together a staff.”

Ford says the coaching staff at Kentucky was criticized by some people for being too tough on athletes. A number of players quit the team, and the Wildcats went 3-5-2. Though he didn’t agree with the criticism, Ford felt it was a good time to leave coaching. He returned to Wynne and worked during the 1963 season as a Dallas Cowboys scout.

Bradshaw, however, urged Ford to return to Lexington. So Ford was back on the staff for the 1964 and 1965 seasons as the Wildcats went 5-5 and 6-4.

Ford joined Paul Davis’ coaching staff at Mississippi State University for the 1966 season. The Bulldogs went 2-8, and both Davis and athletic director Wade Walker were dismissed in December of that year. Having had enough of the constant moves and pressure that are a part of being a major college football coach, Ford decided to enter law school at Arkansas.

“I first was going to go back to Wynne and scout for the Cowboys again,” he says. “But Coach Broyles allowed me to work my way through law school by coaching the freshmen. I had a wife and three young kids, and we moved into Carlton Terrace on the Arkansas campus. I helped coach the freshmen for three seasons and scouted future opponents.”

FordĀ even scouted Texas prior to the Big Shootout of 1969, which the Longhorns won, 15-14. After obtaining his law degree and moving back to Wynne to practice law in 1970, Ford hooked back up with the Cowboys. For the next two decades, he would find free agents for the team’s director of player personnel, Gil Brandt, and head coach Tom Landry.

“Gil Brandt was a scouting genius,” Ford says.

Ford remained involved with the sport he loves in other ways. In 1971, for instance, he went on a European scouting tour for the Cowboys, finding Austrian kicker Toni Fritsch in the process.

Bryant occasionally would ask Ford to attend Alabama games and act as if he were a scout, reporting back to Bryant on any weaknesses he detected in the Crimson Tide offense, defense or kicking game.

In 1983, Ford was inducted into the University of Memphis M Club Hall of Fame.

“Coach Bryant, Coach Broyles and Coach Landry never stopped helping me,” Ford says. “They were a blessing to me.”

Football — college and professional — is a thread that has run through Bob Ford’s life.

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