Bryne Diehl emerged from tiny Oakman and claimed a national championship for Alabama on the biggest stage
Words: Terrell Manasco | Images: Blakeney Clouse
If Bryne Diehl learned one thing at the University of Alabama, it was that you don’t keep Gene Stallings waiting.
An Oakman native who played for the Crimson Tide in the early 1990s, Bryne says Stallings held an unwavering disdain and contempt for tardiness and would not tolerate it—from anyone.
During a visit to Washington D.C., the team waited to meet President Bill Clinton, who was running late. Stallings, who was scheduled to be in Montgomery later, repeatedly checked his watch.
“He beelines to the Secret Service guy and says, ‘Hey man, where’s the President?’” Bryne recalls.
The agent’s explanation that a prior engagement delayed the president did not sit well with a fuming Stallings. “He said, ‘We’ve got a prior engagement too. You tell the President if he ain’t down here in ten minutes, I’m taking my team back to Alabama,’” Bryne said. “The Secret Service guy goes, ‘You’re giving the President of the United States ten minutes to get down here?’ Coach said, ‘I was, but now he’s got nine.’”
In the late 1980s, Bryne was a kicker and quarterback at Oakman High under Coach Hosea Collins. After graduation, he chose to forego a beach trip with his class and headed to the University of Alabama. “I finished high school and moved into college the same night,” Bryne says.
A highlight at Alabama was New Year’s Day 1993, when the Crimson Tide faced off against the Miami Hurricanes, both teams undefeated, in the 1992 Sugar Bowl. That night, the Tide intercepted three passes by Hurricanes quarterback Gino Torretta, returning one for a touchdown, and rushed for 267 yards. Although Miami was the favorite to win, Alabama claimed the 1992 National Championship with a final score of 34-13.
“That was actually my first year to start,” Bryne says. “We were pretty much a run-oriented team back then. The ball didn’t see much air unless it was on special teams.”
Held at the Louisiana Superdome, the game could have been at Bryant-Denny Stadium, based on the overwhelming support from Tide fans. Whether that actually contributed to the final score is debatable, but it certainly didn’t hurt team morale. “I don’t remember what the Superdome holds but it was probably 80-20 Alabama to Miami,” Bryne recalls. “I remember seeing a little Miami section and the rest was crimson and white. We did pretty good for somebody that didn’t have a chance.”
Today, Bryne still holds Gene Stallings in high regard, calling him a “very good man.” When Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado in 2011, which coincided with an Alabama alumni players reunion, Stallings used the opportunity to help. “Coach said, ‘We’re not going to do just Stallings people, we are going to invite the whole A-Club to our reunion, and we are going to clean up,’” Bryne recalls. “Coach had machines and chainsaws and trucks, so we all went down there and worked for hours. That’s the kind of guy he is. He wants to help people and he always has.”
In 1996, Bryne moved to the Big Apple after being drafted by the New York Giants. He was later cut, but got a shot with the Indianapolis Colts a year later. “(Michael) Proctor was a senior so they wanted to do us as a package deal,” Bryne says. “They had already signed Proctor and were going to sign me. Then I got put on the European draft list, the only punter on the list. I said, ‘You know what, I’m done with it.’”
Bryne graduated from Alabama in 1995, but still keeps in touch with his former team. He spoke with Coach Stallings, now 84, about a month ago and communicates with Dabo Swinney, now head coach at Clemson University, on a regular basis.
“I’m very happy for him,” Bryne says of Swinney. “He’s doing a heckuva job down there. Dabo is as genuine a person as you’d ever know. He’s a little more laid back about being on time, but he is probably the 21stcentury Gene Stallings.”
It’s been a few moons since Bryne torpedoed the pigskin down a 100-yard field. He’s now with Graybar Electric, one of the largest electrical distributors in the United States, a job that requires his head more than his feet. “It takes brains and I don’t have a lot of that, to be honest with you,” he jokes.
Life is good for Bryne these days. He is the father of two sons: Cade, 17, and Rhett, 7. His wife of 22 years, Kelly, is a breast cancer survivor. “We’ve had a little bit of sickness here and there,” he admits, “but she’s doing great.”
Bryne has been fortunate to play on a national championship football team, he’s traveled all over the country, met U.S. presidents, and made dozens of new friends.
What was his favorite part of being at Alabama? “It was really the whole experience, meeting people from different areas, different walks of life, different cultures,” Bryne says. “We’re all family, regardless of age. It was a blessing that I got to do it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.” 78