Gene Stallings (1935- ) was a football player and coach who is best known as the head football coach at the University of Alabama who led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season and national championship in 1992. A protégé of coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, Stallings played football at Texas A&M under Bryant and followed him to Alabama in 1958, rising to the position of assistant head coach while there. During his career in football, Stallings served as head coach at Texas A&M and also with the National Football League (NFL) Cardinals franchise, and was an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
Eugene Clifton Stallings was born on March 2, 1935, in Paris, Texas, to Eugene E. and Nellie Moye Stallings and was one of three siblings. A standout athlete at Paris High School, Stallings was captain of the football team his senior year. He chose to attend Texas A&M after being recruited to play end. Following Stallings' freshman year, Bryant was hired as head coach to improve the football program. He moved the team to an adjunct Texas A&M campus in the remote town of Junction for pre-season training. Strenuous practices in the 100-degree heat prompted players to quit the team in droves; Stallings was one of fewer than three dozen players, out of approximately 100 or so, who remained. The group became known as "The Junction Boys."
The Texas A&M Aggies went on to a dismal 1-9 record in 1954 but quickly improved. In 1956, Stallings' senior season, the team went 9-0-1 and captured the Southwest Conference Championship for the first time since 1939. Stallings was captain of the squad and earned All-Southwest Conference honors for his efforts. He graduated from Texas A&M in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in physical education and soon after married Ruth Ann Jack, who had been the homecoming queen at Paris High School when he played there. The couple would have six children. Stallings then took a position at Texas A&M as a graduate assistant coach on the football team for one year.
In 1958, Stallings joined Bryant at the University of Alabama as a defensive assistant coach. He eventually moved up to head defensive coach and to assistant head coach in 1963. During Stallings' time under Bryant, Alabama won national championships in 1961 and 1964. He also co-wrote Bryant's 1960 book on football strategy, Building a Championship Football Team, which Stallings revised and updated for re-release as Bear Bryant on Winning Football in 1983.
In December 1964, at the age of 29, Stallings was named head football coach of Texas A&M and became the school's athletic director the following year. The team struggled for several seasons, but in 1967 the Aggies finished the regular season with a 10-7 victory over rival University of Texas to claim the Southwest Conference Championship, the first since 1956 under Bryant. The Aggies then faced Alabama in the 1968 Cotton Bowl and won 20-16, after which Bryant hoisted his former player and assistant in the air at midfield. That game would be the high point of Stallings career as the Aggies' head coach, however, as Texas A&M posted losing records for the next four seasons. Stallings was fired in 1971.
Stallings was hired as a secondary coach for the Dallas Cowboys in 1972. He remained with the organization for 14 seasons, which included a Super Bowl championship in 1977. During his tenure in Dallas, Stallings declined an offer as head coach for the professional United States Football League Birmingham Stallions in 1983. In 1986, Stallings was tapped to be head coach of the NFL's struggling St. Louis Cardinals. Following three losing seasons and on the verge of another in 1989, Stallings told the team that he did not want his contract renewed and was promptly fired mid-season.
Despite Stallings's mediocre record as a head coach, in January 1990 the University of Alabama hired Stallings as its head football coach after the departure of Bill Curry. Following Bryant's retirement in 1982, Alabama had been unable to find a replacement embraced by fans; Stallings, who had been recommended for the job by Bryant, had been passed over on two previous occasions. But with a personal and professional style that mirrored mentor Bryant's stern countenance, gruff voice, and emphasis on defensive play, Stallings was warmly welcomed in Tuscaloosa. In his first season, Stallings led the Crimson Tide to a 7-5 record and ended four-year losing streaks to rivals the University of Tennessee and Auburn University. Alabama rebounded to an 11-1 record in 1991, losing only to the University of Florida.
Stallings and his 1992 Alabama team went undefeated through the regular season and avenged the previous year's Florida defeat 28-21 in the Southeastern Conference's (SEC) first championship game. The victory pitted Alabama against heavily favored University of Miami in the 1993 Sugar Bowl. Alabama routed the top-ranked Hurricanes 34-13 and claimed the consensus national championship, the first for the program since Bryant's final title in 1979. Stallings earned honors as coach of the year from six different ranking organizations.
Alabama went 9-3-1 in 1993, but revelations of a player's ineligibility emerged late in the year, and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) actions eventually forced Alabama to forfeit nine games, leaving the Tide with a 1-12 official record. In 1994, Stallings led the Crimson Tide to another undefeated regular season but once again lost the SEC Championship Game to Florida 24-23, dashing hopes for another national championship. The team finished the season by beating Ohio State University in the Citrus Bowl and earned a 12-1 record.
The 1995 season resulted in a disappointing 8-3 record and no bowl game because of NCAA sanctions. The next year, Stallings and the Tide won seven straight games in the first two months of the season but then lost two of its next three games. After a 24-23 victory over Auburn earned Alabama the SEC Western Division title, Stallings stunned Alabama supporters by announcing his resignation, largely driven by the tension from the NCAA sanctions and the hiring of a new athletic director as part of the fallout from the eligibility scandal. Two weeks later, Florida once again defeated Alabama in the 1996 SEC Championship Game, but Stallings' last game as coach was a 17-14 victory over the University of Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
During his head coaching career at Alabama, Stallings led the Crimson Tide to four seasons of 10 or more wins, four conference division titles, one SEC championship, and one national championship. Although he led the Crimson Tide to 70 wins in his seven seasons as head coach, his official overall record stands at 62-25-0 (.713) as the result of NCAA sanctions. His overall career record as a college football head coach is 89-70-1 (.559) and 23-34-1 as a NFL head coach (.405).
In retirement, Stallings has remained active as a motivational speaker and participates on various boards. In 2005, Stallings was appointed to the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. During his six-year tenure, Stallings supported the proposal that Texas A&M leave the Big XII Conference to become a member of the SEC; Texas A&M made that move on July 1, 2012.
As a result of caring for their son John Mark (usually called Johnny), who was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect, Stallings and his wife became active in promoting awareness about the needs of developmentally disabled individuals. In 1997, Stallings co-wrote a book with author Sally Cook, Another Season, detailing the family's challenges in raising Johnny. During Stallings's time as Alabama head coach, Johnny was well known to fans as a greeter at the Paul W. Bryant Museum.
A statue of Stallings stands in the Walk of Champions outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium along with the statues of four other
national championship-winning coaches. Another statue of Stallings with Johnny, who died in 2008, is located outside the Faulkner
University stadium in Montgomery, Montgomery County, where the football field is named in honor of John Mark. The University of Alabama's Stallings Center is home to the Rise
Program for young children with disabilities. Stallings was inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982, the
Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010. He is also a member of the
Gator Bowl and Cotton Bowl halls of fame. Stallings and his wife reside in Powderly, Texas.
Dent, Jim. The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Championship Team. New York: Thomas Dunn Books, 1999.
Stallings, Gene, and Sally Cook. Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1997.
Stallings, Gene. Passing the Torch: Gene Stallings' 70 Victories at Alabama. Birmingham, Ala.: Pachyderm Press, 1997.
C. J. Schexnayder
Published April 5, 2013
Last updated April 12, 2013