Former North Alabama football coach Bobby Wallace worked on Pat Dye’s staff for eight years after the legendary Auburn coach gave him his start in the profession.
Wallace, who was Dye's assistant at East Carolina, Wyoming and Auburn, said on Monday that he had kept up with the health of Dye over the last few weeks, as he was struggling with kidney issues and was diagnosed with COVID-19 during his stay in a local hospital.
When he heard the news of his passing Monday afternoon, the first emotion was, of course, sadness, but Wallace was appreciative of his relationship.
“Coach Dye was wonderful to me,” Wallace said. “He took care of me. Hopefully, I did a good job. He gave me my first opportunity, I sure owe him a lot for that. Not just giving me the opportunity, but turning out (to) learn so much from him.”
Wallace, who is revered as a legendary coach for UNA football for his time as head coach in the ‘90s as well as from 2012-2016, said he developed a lot of the same coaching philosophies Dye had, which he learned from legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
In 1977, Dye called Wallace one night during the summer to offer him a position as a defensive backs coach for East Carolina.
Wallace remembers the conversation not resembling much of an interview, but rather Dye telling him he would pay him $12,000 a year. If he did a good job, he’d get a raise and could stay, if he didn’t, he would have to leave.
At 22 years old, Wallace admits he had no clue who Pat Dye was, nor where East Carolina was.
“So basically, I went on blind faith,” Wallace said.
Wallace apparently did a good enough job. He followed Dye to Wyoming and then Auburn, where as a 26-year-old, he thought he was “mighty young to be a SEC defensive backs coach.”
“(I) learned a lot, and it was a phenomenal experience,” Wallace said. “I had been in coaching long enough to not be fascinated with just the fact that I was coaching college football but to be able to actually learn and watch.”
While at Auburn, Wallace was there with Dye when the Tigers beat Alabama in 1982, two seasons after Auburn didn’t win a SEC game. He was there three years later when Auburn won the SEC and beat Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
Although Miami beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to leap the Tigers and be crowned national champions, the team was named the champions by the New York Times. Last summer, members of the staff and players from the team got together at Dye’s farm to celebrate and receive their rings from that season.
"I’m just so thankful that was done last summer so Coach Dye could enjoy it,” Wallace said. “And he did enjoy it, he was dancing and he looked good, it just shows you how things can change in just a short year.”
After leaving Auburn, Wallace came to Florence two years later to be the head coach. He said he and Dye would see each other on several occasions and had the chance to talk and catch up.
One moment from his time at Auburn encapsulates Wallace’s feelings on today’s news.
Wallace, who recruited the Birmingham area, had done well, with the most significant signee being Bo Jackson. He said he remembers splitting most signings with Alabama, something the Auburn program hadn’t done before.
But what Wallace remembers most was gearing up for a recruiting visit to see former Auburn player Arthur Johnson, who at the time was at Thompson High. The visit turned out to be the same day as Bryant's death. Dye was close with Bryant from his time as an Alabama assistant.
“It’s very difficult,” Wallace said. “Coach Dye went on through that visit with his heart feeling like my heart is now. … I’m just privileged to be a part of that association.”