Located on the campus of the University of Alabama, the Paul W. Bryant Museum is dedicated to college football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, as well as to the history of the Alabama Crimson Tide football program.
As Bryant approached the then-record of 314 collegiate football victories in 1981, he began looking for a way to honor all the players and coaches who had contributed to his career. His original intent was to place team photographs on the concourse of Coleman Coliseum, the Crimson Tide's basketball arena. However, after discussions with university administrators and former Alabama football players, the concept of a full-fledged museum was formed. A committee of 55, composed of former players, coaches and alumni, was convened in 1983 to plan the museum. During the process, the committee decided that not only the players from Bryant's era but also from the entire history of football at the University of Alabama should be included. The museum was incorporated into a campus expansion plan and located directly across Bryant Drive from Coleman Coliseum near the football complex.
Emily Moore was named the founding director in 1985 and began gathering the museum's collection. Initially, material from the athletic department—coaching films, photographs, trophies, media guides, programs, and many more items—made up the bulk of the collection. Public calls for artifacts and materials produced many more items for the collection as former players and coaches supplied many personal and unique pieces.
The museum was placed initially under the administration of the University Museums System, which includes the Alabama Museum of Natural History and Moundville Archaeological Park. Doug Jones, Executive Director of University Museums, led the building and exhibit design process. Today, the museum is a unit of the university's Academic Affairs division. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including admissions, membership, donations, special projects, and the university.
The building consists of an 8,000-square-foot exhibit hall with an office and storage area of equal size. The entire facility is climate-controlled to protect the holdings. Limestone accented by granite greets the visitor in the museum's lobby.
Jerry G and Associates of Cleveland, Ohio, designed the original exhibits, which are similar to the company's work at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Hall of Honor, based on Bryant's initial concept of honoring his players and coaches, is the first exhibit. In the center of the display is a bronze bust of Bryant sculpted by renowned sports artist Blair Buswell. Beginning with the first team in 1892, the display chronicles the history of football at the University of Alabama, using photographs, video, and memorabilia throughout the timeline. Some of the items displayed include a re-creation of Bryant's office and a Waterford crystal reproduction of his trademark houndstooth hat. Several original paintings depicting great moments in Crimson Tide history are also on display. Temporary exhibits are created to feature events and sports not included in the permanent displays, a few examples of which are Tide players in World War II, Bryant's life before coaching at Alabama, and University of Alabama athletes who participated in the Olympic games.
Opened on October 8, 1988, the museum now averages 40,000 visitors annually. The fall football season is the most popular time for visitors, and spring is dominated by school groups. The summer months attract out-of-state travelers, with family groups constituting the main demographic. Special programs are conducted throughout the year. An educational program called Art with the Experts targets fourth grade students each spring. Sports artists introduce students to the world of sports through art. Other programs offered include sports broadcasting workshops and merit-badge sessions for Scouts. The museum also hosts a tailgate-style reception each year for people who have been named after Bryant; almost 500 such individuals are in the museum's database.
The museum's staff responds to requests for information from a wide range of audiences interested in sports history at the University of Alabama. More than 100 video projects are completed each year using the archives for local and national media. Annually, the staff answers approximately 600 requests for photographs and research from authors, former players' families, and the public. In addition, more than 100 books have been written using the resources of the museum.
The museum staff produces two television shows in cooperation with the Alabama Center for Public Television that air on the campus station, WVUA. Crimson Classics uses archive footage from the museum collection along with interviews of former players, coaches, and media about past Crimson Tide games. An interview show called Crimson Comments highlights noted individuals from the history of football at the University of Alabama.