Bulldogs remember Bellard
In this Dec. 31, 1981, file photo, Mississippi State's coach Emory Bellard is carried off the field on the shoulders of his players after their 10-0 victory over Kansas in the Hall of Fame Bowl. Bellard, a former Texas A&M and Mississippi State coach credited with developing the wishbone offense when he was an assistant at Texas, died early Thursday at age 83. (Associated Press file photo)
Emory Bellard may have been considered the father of the wishbone offense in college football.
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For those Mississippi State Bulldogs who had a chance to play for him from 1979-84, Bellard was also a father-figure to them.
Ballard passed away early Thursday morning from complications of Lou Gehrig's disease, otherwise known as ALS, at age 83. He died at a care facility at Georgetown in Central Texas.
Quarterback John Bond, who excelled in running Bellard's offense with the Bulldogs, said he came along at just the right time.
"Without a doubt, he was the father-figure of the program and that's something I truly believe they were looking for and needed at Mississippi State at that time," Bond said. "He certainly did put himself in that role and loved being in that position more than anything.
"He was a great guy and was a player's coach who was so much fun playing for."
Bellard's best season at MSU came in 1980 when it finished with a 9-3 overall record and tied for second in the Southeastern Conference with a 5-1 mark.
During that season, Bellard was a part of what is still considered by most to be the greatest win in the program's history when the Bulldogs upset the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
"You can talk about records and wins with coaches, but here's something nobody knows and that's through my four years at Mississippi State whether you are talking a summer workout, in the fall or winter workout, I missed one practice in my MSU career," Bond said. "That tells you all you need to know about the kind of man he was and how much his players wanted to be around him.
Former MSU athletic director Larry Templeton, who was making his way up through the athletic department during Bellard's coaching tenure in Starkville, could sense the relationship he had with the players.
"He was always what I termed a players' coach," Templeton said. "He didn't care about going to alumni meetings or doing coaches television shows. He just wanted to go to practice and draw up plays."
Templeton also recalled the way Bellard used the word 'partner' to greet people.
Straton Karatassos, associate athletic director for development with the Bulldog Club, was an athletic trainer on Bellard's staff and the two men became close through the years.
Bond and Karatassos called Bellard every year on his birthday.
"He was a good man who meant a lot to this program and did a lot for us," Karatassos said. "From what I can see from just talking to the kids recently is just how he impacted all of our lives."
Karatassos, who is better known as Strat, had an opportunity to see Bellard on a couple of occasions before his passing.
One of the trips he made was with MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin and went with five others to Texas A&M when coach Jackie Sherrill honored Bellard with a special program to benefit the ALS center there.
Although Bellard was in poor health, Karatassos said it was a touching moment.
"It was great to see some of the rewards in this lifetime when he got to see people and talk to him," Karatassos said. "Coach Sherrill was great in this whole deal. He and coach Sherrill had gotten real close during this whole thing. (Sherrill) did so many things to benefit coach Bellard and to benefit the ALS center. The emphasis was all on ALS and Emory."
One of the other players to see Bellard before his passing was Johnie Cooks, who became an All-American linebacker for the Bulldogs in 1981.
Upon learning that Bellard had died, Cooks said it's like losing a member of the family.
"Right before he passed, he still remembered me and his mind was good," Cooks said. "That's the image I'm going to keep because the best part about it was he really cared about us.
"It's somebody you played for and didn't mind running through a wall for because you knew outside of football, he really loves us. That's what you always remember that he really cared about us as people not only as football players."
Cooks knew that was the case even though he was a defensive player and Bellard's emphasis was offense.
It was the influence that Bellard had on Cooks that had the most impact.
"He was a part of our life," Cooks said. "He made me what I am today. He touched me at a critical part of my life when I was leaning the wrong way as far as some of the decisions I was making."
Prior to arriving in Starkville, Bellard had a 48-27 record in seven seasons at Texas A&M. He led the Aggies to three-straight bowl games, including a victory in the 1977 Sun Bowl.
While Templeton was at MSU, he remembered when athletic director Carl Maddox came in to ask his opinion of hiring Bellard to coach the Bulldogs.
"(Maddox) asked what do you think if we can hire Emory Bellard as the football coach?" Templeton recalled. "Certainly we had known of his reputation and success he had at Texas A&M. I said without question he would be one that would excite our fanbase."