December 16, 2010 8:06:00 AM
Mike Frascogna, Jr. didn''t believe the stories.
But the more people Frascogna talked with as part of his research it became difficult to deny that coach Robert "Bull/Cyclone" Sullivan was a man who was ahead of his time.
So once Frascogna and his sons, Mike III and Marty, finished working on two books about high school football in the state of Mississippi, they focused their attention on Sullivan, the longtime football coach at East Mississippi Junior College.
What they found through hundreds of interviews with Sullivan''s former players at EMJC is the stories had to be true.
The Frascognas chronicle those stories and the success Sullivan had as coach at EMJC in their book "Bull Cyclone Sullivan and The Lions of Scooba, Mississippi." Mike Frascogna will be at the Books-a-Million in Leigh Mall in Columbus at 1 p.m. Saturday to sign copies of the book. All former EMJC football players and those associated with the football program are invited to attend the event.
"He was extremely loved by his family," Frascogna said of Sullivan. "He had a very close family. His wife, Virginia, and his children were a very close-knit family, and he was a loving, caring father for his children and a loving husband for his wife. That really came through interviewing his players and family members. That was a side most people never encountered."
Sullivan coached at EMJC from 1950-52 and from 1956-68. He produced 31 All-Americans, including All-America quarterbacks for five consecutive seasons. Including some wins that were later forfeited, Sullivan''s career record stands around 83-74-4. He guided the Lions to six state runner-up finishes, including four consecutive second-place showings (1961-64) during which the Lions put together a four-year composite mark of 35-9-1 in the Mississippi junior college ranks.
More than 200 of his players became coaches, passing on his legacy to new generations of athletes. Sullivan, who passed away in 1970, is a member of the NJCAA Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Community & Junior College Sports Hall of Fame, and the EMCC Sports Hall of Fame.
Frascogna said the side people saw of Sullivan was the "outlandish" and "colorful" one in which he earned a reputation for pushing his players hard. He also was acknowledged as being ahead of his time for running an offense that threw the football 40 to 50 times a game as opposed to the more traditional running approaches most teams in that era used.
Frascogna and his sons also learned Sullivan, who held a master''s degree from Mississippi State, was an excellent instructor who taught anthropology and sociology at EMJC.
In doing research for the books "Gridiron Gold" and "Y''all Vs. Us", Frascogna heard different versions of stories repeated over and over. He quickly lost his cynicism about a man he came to consider a football genius.
"(Columbus'') Billy Brewer (who was a head football coach at the University of Mississippi) in "Gridiron Gold" pretty much said Bull Sullivan was a football genius and that he was ahead of his time," Frascogna said.
Frascogna credits Nick Clark, the director of development at EMCC, for helping him arrange interviews with so many of Sullivan''s players. He said he and his sons visited Scooba four times and spent the hours-long sessions talking with as many of Sullivan''s former players who returned to the school.
What they discovered was a coach who was a "teddy bear" of a man off the field and who was loved by his players. Frascogna said the goal in writing the book was to focus on the most colorful stories and the best moments to capture the essence of Sullivan''s life and the time he coached.
That time was much different than today.
As a result, Sullivan was able to do things he wouldn''t be allowed to do today, including having players report for scrimmages in a pond filled with alligators and snakes, having players practice at 2 a.m., and having players find a ride back to school if they played poorly during a game.
Despite those tactics, former player and coach Bill Buckner, who is director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said, "Coach was brilliant. He was the best instructor I could have ever had to condition me for life. Everyone who played for Coach Sullivan would die for him."
Frank Deford chronicled those sentiments in a famous article in Sports Illustrated called "The Toughest Coach There Ever Was." The story appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1984, and was believed to be the longest story that appeared in the magazine. (Efforts to determine if the story still holds that distinction were unsuccessful in time for this edition.)
"This book was a lot of fun," Frascogna said. "With Bull Sullivan, we were able to focus on one person and tell the stories surrounding him and what made this person so unique at his point in time during football history. He is so colorful that we could not make up many of the stories. They had to be true because they are so outlandish."
Frascogna, who is a lawyer with his sons with Frascogna Courtney PLLC in Jackson, also will have copies of a third book, "Gridiron Glory," available to be signed Saturday. "Gridiron Glory", a companion to "Gridiron Gold", is coffee table book that uses photographs from the early 1900s to today to tell the story of the uniqueness of high school football in the state of Mississippi.
He and his sons are working on a fifth book, "Mississippi JUCOs: The toughest football league in America", which is due to be published next year.
The book about Sullivan already has been well received. It has sold out of stores in Jackson and in Meridian, where Frascogna has held other signings. He said the publisher, the Mississippi Sports Council, already has approved a second printing. Unfortunately, those books won''t hit the bookshelves until after the holiday season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.