Book remembers Mississippi football's 'backwoods Bear'

December 18, 2010 6:56:00 PM

Tim Pratt -

 

Robert "Bull" Sullivan has been called the "toughest coach there ever was." 

 

The former East Mississippi Junior College football coach was known to line his players up on the edge of a snake- and alligator-infested pond for drills, order them to attend 2 a.m. practice sessions and play their way through aches and pains that would sideline many opponents.  

 

But Sullivan, who coached at EMJC throughout the 1950s and 1960s, also had a compassionate side, said Kline Shepherd, who played for Sullivan in 1952 at EMJC''s Scooba campus. Shepherd recalls a time when he was injured and on crutches. Sullivan picked his player up and carried him up a flight of stairs, then ordered other players to get him whatever he needed, Shepherd recalled Saturday. 

 

"He was a great man," Shepherd said. 

 

Shepherd and more than a dozen other former EMJC players under Sullivan were at Books-A-Million in Leigh Mall in Columbus on Saturday to sign copies of author Mike Frascogna Jr.''s book on Sullivan, "Bull Cyclone Sullivan and The Lions of Scooba, Mississippi." Frascogna wrote the book about Sullivan based on more than 100 interviews with former players, opponents and family members. The stories give a glimpse into the life and coaching methods of the Alabama native. 

 

"The goal of this (book) was just to bring to people''s attention this ''backwoods Bear,'' which was his nickname," Frascogna said. "This guy was every bit as talented as (former University of Alabama coach Paul) ''Bear'' Bryant, but he was stuck off down in East Mississippi with no media around him. But, as far as being a football genius, he was. He was just as smart as any of the iconic coaches you hear about today from back in that era." 

 

Frascogna, a lawyer, said he had trouble believing many of the stories he heard about Sullivan when he was doing research for two books he wrote with his sons, "Gridiron Gold" and "Y''all vs. Us," but nearly all were verified when he interviewed Sullivan''s former players for the book about the coach.  

 

One story that made it into the book, however, is not true, said Vic Sullivan, Robert''s son. A story about Sullivan''s role in getting the Browns to play a game in Little Rock, Ark., was "just a rumor," Vic Sullivan said Saturday as his father''s former players laughed and exchanged memories. 

 

The book-signing in Columbus was the last on a tour this year which took Frascogna and the former players to events in Starkville, Louisville, Meridian and Jackson, said East Mississippi Community College Director of Development and Alumni Affairs Nick Clark. The book already is sold out, but a second printing is under way and new editions should be available in mid January, Clark said.  

 

"It has been very, very successful," Clark said. "We are extremely proud of the book and the way it has been received by everybody. It has been fantastic."