A lot was made out of how hard it was for Joe B. Hall to follow the legendary Adolph Rupp as basketball coach at the University of Kentucky in 1972 — and rightfully so.
By the time Rupp retired, he had amassed a record 876 victories and had led the Wildcats to four NCAA championships.
Nothing Hall could do — including winning a national championship in 1978 — was going to upstage the Baron.
The same could be said for Blanton Collier, who succeeded Paul “Bear” Bryant as UK’s football coach in the early 1950s — but Collier’s attributes at the helm of he Wildcats and elsewhere deserve further scrutiny and, in fact, appreciation.
Bryant coached eight seasons at Kentucky, leading the Cats to an 11-1 record in 1950, including a 13-7 victory over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. All told, Bryant’s Kentucky teams went 60-23-5, but UK was firmly entrenched as a “basketball school” and no matter how much Bryant won, he seemed to be forever trumped by Rupp, whose teams won three NCAA championships over the same period.
So, somewhat reluctantly, Bryant departed Lexington, spent four seasons solidifying his craft at Texas A&M and then became the most legendary coach in the history of college football at Alabama, where his Crimson Tide teams won or shared six national championships between 1958-83.
Collier, far less charismatic than Bryant, assumed the UK helm in 1954 and stayed on through 1961 — carving out a record of 41-36-3.
Even though Collier never led Kentucky to a bowl game, he had the distinction of leading the Wildcats to a 5-2-1 record against Southeastern Conference arch-rival Tennessee, which, curiously, fashioned a 5-1-2 record over Bryant’s eight UK teams.
Collier is also responsible for assembling what is generally regarded as the greatest coaching staff in UK football history. The 1959 Wildcat staff featured Collier and assistants Ed Rutledge, Howard Schnellenberger, Ermal Allen, Don Shula, John North, Bob Cummings and Bill Arnsparger.
Shula, as head coach, led the Miami Dolphins to a perfect 17-0 season in 1972, which included a 14-7 conquest of the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. Arnsparger was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator. Schnellenberger led Miami to the 1983 national championship, including a memorable Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska. North coached the New Orleans Saints from 1973-75, and Allen was a Dallas Cowboys assistant under Tom Landry from 1962-83.
Collier left UK following the 1961 season and, after one season as an assistant for the Cleveland Browns, succeeded another legend — Paul Brown, the literal namesake of the team, which despite having the best running back in the history of the NFL, Jim Brown, had not played for an NFL championship since 1957.
Collier had previously been a Browns assistant from 1946-53, following a 16-season tenure as head coach at Kentucky’s Paris High School and a two-year stint as an assistant at Great Lakes Navy.
In Collier’s’s second season at the helm of the Browns, Cleveland upset Shula’s Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the 1964 NFL championship game. Collier continued to have success with the Browns, who later lost NFL title games against Baltimore (1968) and Minnesota (1969). He went 76-34-2 in eight seasons before being replaced by Nick Skorich in 1970.
Collier was mild mannered, unassuming and outstanding at what he did. All these years later, he deserves recognition as an integral part of the Kentucky football program.