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Marvin Bass

 

Article Provided by The Gamecock Newspaper
Alex Riley
Sports Editor

Posted: 7/6/05

Shake Marvin Bass's hand and you'll notice two things: a firm hand shake mixed with a hearty smile and a huge NFC Championship ring from the Atlanta Falcons. Once you sit down and talk to him, you realize if anyone deserves that ring, he does.

Bass was a long-time coach in the world of football and one who has left a lasting impression on the men he coached during his time. Simply put, Marvin Bass is a "players' coach."


In fact, if you looked up the term "players' coach" in the dictionary, Bass's picture would probably be next to it. Long-time friend and former USC sportscaster Bob Fulton called Bass a "man's man."

Fulton wrote in his autobiography, "Hi Everybody! This is Bob Fulton," that "Marvin didn't go down as a coaching legend, and not many do, but he had a rewarding career as a coach on several levels, and he is remembered at Carolina, and by me, as a man of integrity and compassion. The world of sports needs more like him."


After graduating from William and Mary, the Detroit Lions drafted the Virginia native but he decided playing wasn't for him. Instead, his long journey as a coach began right where it had started - with his alma mater.

Eventually, Bass made his way south, coaching at North Carolina before being asked to be an assistant at South Carolina.

"It was '55 as an assistant coach under Warren Giese," Bass said. "I enjoyed it because Warren, I thought, was a very intelligent person. He knew football. I enjoyed the people here right away. I guess I was attracted more to South Carolina by the wonderful people when I first came."

Bass's personality fit right in with the Palmetto State's atmosphere, so much that in 1961 the university offered Bass the job as head coach of the Gamecocks.

From 1961 to 1965, Bass coached USC to a 17-29-4 record. Not all that impressive, right? His 3-2 record against Clemson, more importantly Tiger legend Frank Howard, makes him one of a handful coaches to leave USC with a winning record against the Tigers.

"I enjoyed coaching against Frank Howard because it was either black or white with him. There was no in between," Bass said. "You knew where you stood with him. I enjoyed that friendship very much."

In fact, it was Bass who coached the legendary 1963 Clemson game when Sigma Nu fraternity members attempted a rouge by pretending to be the Clemson football team.

"It was the year this fraternity came and asked me if they could put on this exhibition," Bass said. "The team came out and impersonated the Clemson team. They were dressed up in these uniforms with Clemson colors and went through all the warm-up motions. They even had this scrawny cow out on the field. It looked like it was on its last leg."

While his numbers from USC don't seem all that impressive, his list of successful players is.

The first big name to come out of the Bass era was defensive back Bobby Bryant. Bryant, a seventh round pick for the Vikings in 1967, was a Bass recruit and leader on the Gamecock team. After a career that included a spot on an All-ACC roster, Bryant became of a staple of the Minnesota defense, which became known as the Purple People Eaters.

"Bobby Bryant was a very intelligent player, a hard worker and very loyal," Bass said. "He hardly ever made a mistake on the field. He inspired people with his work habits. He was probably one of the better defensive backs, even in the NFL. A self-made player, I would say."

Billy Gambrell had arguably the most successful career under Bass, including being named the 1962 ACC Player of the Year. Though not selected in the draft, Gambrell played with the Detroit Lions from 1963-69.

"Billy Gambrell was one of the finest athletes I've ever been around," Bass said. "Billy was a very likable person. He loved to play the game. He had exceptional abilities. He was just a natural athlete."

"I loved the guy, I really do. In fact he named the dog after me. He named it Coach Bass. Which I accepted as a complement."

But the most famous of his recruits is former NFL head coach Dan Reeves. Reeves became one of Carolina's all-time great quarterbacks, known for his accuracy and his running abilities. Reeves finished his career in 1964 as the passing leader with 2,579 yards and 16 touchdowns. Over 40 years later, Reeves is still in 12th place on the all-time list.

After a seven-year stint as a running back in the NFL, Reeves became one of the most respected coaches in the league. Reeves guided the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons to a total of four division championships. All the while, Bass was by his side. Everywhere Reeves went, except his a short period with the Giants, Bass was his special assistant.

"Dan was such an intellectual player, he has such a great football mind," Bass said. "The finest I've ever experienced in football."

After leaving Carolina, Bass spent his coaching career all across the United States and Canada, coaching in several leagues on different levels, finally ending up with Reeves at Denver and Atlanta to finish out his storied career.

While his career led him throughout the country, Bass remembers a distinct moment during a match-up with his former employer North Carolina.

"I coached at North Carolina for one year, then I went back to William and Mary where I came from," Bass said. "We were playing North Carolina that year in Chapel Hill. So, we go down there and play them in a 7-6 ball game. They won the game. After the game, the Carolina players came across the field and took me off the field on their shoulders. That was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had."

That kind of recognition earned him a spot in the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and most recently made him a recipient of the Silver Crescent, South Carolina's highest honor for civil service.

"The thing that still gets me is the recognition I still get from former players," Bass said. "That's the thing that kept me into coaching. I've never seen a group of players, they were such a great group."

"When they had the thing at the State House for me, there was about 40-something players that came in tribute. It was just like you were a part of each other. That was the thing that thrilled me most about it," Bass said.