Firing & Death

As Sullivan’s teams piled up victories and attracted fans, Sullivan himself became more popular and powerful on the school campus. He was named dean of men, and had the 1953 yearbook dedicated in his honor. Though not technically the top ranking official at the school, Sullivan was widely recognized by students as the final authority on campus. As a former Marine drill instructor, Sullivan was accustomed to barking orders and receiving immediate compliance. He therefore did not hesitate directing such orders towards players, students, staff members, or even his own boss, college president are a harbor

 

Lester Smith  

It’s a little bit obvious that that Coach Sullivan was the big man on campus. I think everybody pretty much recognized that he was the big man on campus,

 

Charlie Studdard 

Even students that we’re not associated with football program. We’re still associated coach Solomon because he was the Dean of men.

 

Ernest Moore

Bullroom roost. I mean, he had more power than president. He really did. What Bull said and what Bull did that’s what was

 

 

Because he was the school, Coach Sullivan was the school.

 

Lance Eiland

I was even not a person who took orders very well. He expected you to take his own. There’s the way we do. You don’t like it too bad. President Harbor, if you don’t like it too bad.

 

Gael Sullivan

I mean, Mr. Harbor, didn’t like Daddy for a thousand reasons.

 

Bill Pearson

Harper comes strolling through the door. And he would just run in his mouth and Coach Sullivan turned him, spun him around, grabbed him by the collar in the seat of his britches and carried him out the door, dumped him out there and said “nobody talked my boy, talk to me like I get it for my boys.”

 

Narrator 

Scuba’s geographic isolation oftentimes delayed the advance of political and social issues on its campus. Though integration had directly impacted the state of Mississippi in 1962. East Mississippi junior college remained an all-white campus in 1967. When word broke that the NAACP had plans to bring integration to the schools doorstep via student by the name of Sylvester Harris. Sullivan immediately intervened.

 

Gael Sullivan

It was in the late 60s, I think when we knew immigration was coming, but we just wasn’t we weren’t sure when. And the n double ACP had alerted daddy to the fact that they were sending the first black student to scuba and daddy signed Sylvester as a football player.  Even if your best didn’t get a scholarship, he was still coming to school because they would pay for it. I think daddy just decided if we’re gonna have a black student on this campus, I wanted to be under my thumb. And I want him to do as well as he possibly can. So he signed him and Sylvester was so brave to do it.

 

“Little” Vic Sullivan

And it worked because he did after a couple of weeks to the other players accepted him and then he started getting along better. And by that the rest of the student body fell, right.

 

Gael Sullivan 

because he believed with all of his heart that he would have a much better chance of surviving and maybe fitting in and not being totally miserable. If he was a football player. He wasn’t a great football player. He was a decent one.

 

“Little” Vic Sullivan

If he wasn’t good enough, my team you didn’t might think he never showed any partiality that he did what I think he so just a little bit.

 

Gael Sullivan 

We even were threatened to have a cross burn in our yard but that never happened. But one of daddy’s friends who was on the board of supervisors offered him $500 to not sign Sylvester and back then that was a fortune. And, of course daddy it hurt him deeply that this man would ask him about the $500. Football season came Sylvester was on the field. It was he was there. It was a done deal and that meant other black students were going to be coming.

 

Narrator 

By the spring of 1969 Sullivan, practically unilaterally ruled the scuba campus. In addition, the team he would feel that fall was absolutely loaded and represented his best shot at the junior Rose Bowl since quarterback bill Buckner broke his jaw in the infamous Jones game of 1964. With the campus abuzz about the upcoming season, even Sullivan had trouble maintaining his typically bulletproof poker face.

 

“Little” Vic Sullivan

He never bragged about how good he was gonna be. But that year he told Mama, “it’s gonna be like a poker game this year and I’m gonna have a royal flush”

 

Charlie Studdard

during our spring practice of 1969. I think after two or three practices, Coach Sullivan felt like the 1969 season was going to be really special.

 

Terry Brown

That was what he called a Dream Team. He said he had the royal flush, all the elements had come together.

 

Johnny Fisher

We had returning quarterbacks, we had, we had wide receivers, we had a good defense that was going to be coming back,

 

Johnny Fisher

I was gonna be an answer Potter that we have a speed inside and outside. And he had probably his best defensive team ever had. So

 

Paul Green

everybody was thinking, you know, 69, we’re going to be the year you know, we were gonna win at all, we weren’t gonna lose any game

 

might have been the season that that would that he would finally want a state championship.

 

Terry Brown

And he was excited about it, his brain training, and he kept talking to us about it, you know, what we can do? What we can’t do, you know, the things that we’re going to accomplish? You know, we’re going to pass a Dana this next year, you know, if y’all will just stick with me and listen and, and do the right things and be the right people. We’re going to Pasadena and we were all excited about that.

 

And you know, what was so strange is that he knew that, and we knew that, but the rest of the league. When we went into the 69 season, we were picked to finish dead last. So we had a surprise.

 

Narrator 

In the months leading up to the highly anticipated 1969 season. Sullivan’s relationship with college president ra stumpy harbor reached a tipping point, though harbor probably had cause to terminate Sullivan on numerous occasions in the past, he never did. Some speculate this was due to his own cowardice, while others say his desire to act was blocked by Sullivan supporters on the school board. Whatever the reason, Sullivan’s role in the integration of the school a year earlier, caused this dynamic to change.

 

Terry Brown

All of a sudden, you know we get out of school for summer break, and we hear that Bull has been fired

 

Paul Green

when I got the word that Coach Sullivan has been fired? I couldn’t believe it. You know, it’s just how could it happen? You know, my first question is How could? How could somebody fire Bull, so it was just, I just didn’t think it could happen. And when it did, it just it

 

Charlie Box

when I found out coach got fired, I really couldn’t believe it. Because he was such an integral part of that school. I mean, he had given his whole life to it.

 

Charlie Studdard

He actually was terminated before the end of the school year. Because I was down there and remembered the night they had their board meeting. And you know, it was the first time that I really, that I really ever experienced politics in that particular setting.

 

Charlie Box

In fact I was one of the people that was down there that night to try to get into the board meeting to speak on his behalf and they wouldn’t let us in. And just about every coach in that district was down there. It was probably 100 people outside the building. It was it’s almost a wonder that we didn’t break the door down at that time and to go in and defend it.

 

Charlie Studdard

N o question in our minds that Coach Sullivan had been set up. The Board of Trustees had low hedge stacked the deck against against him in that when many of his supporters weren’t able to come to the meeting, they had the meeting. And they terminated him. They gave him no opportunity or anyone else an opportunity to speak on his behalf, and it was all trumped up. Then the decision was made before the board every minute.

 

Little Vic Sullivan

So couldn’t go to the board meeting but he could present a letter to him and he mom would you know he would type the letters to mom and she would type them out and but he told her when he was dictating the letter said, Tell me if they fire me. I won’t. I won’t leave six months. Cause mama said babe I cannot type that. I can’t do it. So they said we’ll change it to I won’t live very long.

 

Dick Mcspadden

I was not surprised that Harbor was the one that had caused him to be terminated, because I knew that he resented him even when I was there. I’m surprised. I don’t know how it lasted as long as it did. But I think for one thing that he was extremely jealous of him. I think he’s scared to death of him.

 

Louie Spinks

Because really Coach Sullivan was East Mississippi Junior College. They were I know I had a lot of guys call me about after that happened, you know? That way you know we need to go down and hang out. Sour sucker,

 

Bill Pearson

you know, It’s like a small army with players that would have died for Coach Sullivan. So

 

Charlie Temkovitz

anybody ever played for him, You know, they were so dedicated to him because they loved him so much, even though he was hard, intense. And was very demanding. You loved him.

 

Royce Sullivan

I remember the day that Ross and I were working at Camp Rock Brook and Megan, and the camp directors Jr. and Lucy asked us to come to their office. And they told us that they had been fired. Well, it was devastating. You know, we weren’t there to help. I had signed on for another camp that happened after that. So I knew that my family was packing up all of our belongings, and I wasn’t there to help because I had this job. And the first time I went home to our new home, I didn’t know how to get there. I had to call on the phone and say, Hi, I’m in Columbus, how do I get home?

 

Charlie Studdard

We found out that coach Kilpatrick was gonna be our coach, we really didn’t know anything about him. And so there was a lot of anxiety about what kind of offense he was gonna run. And who in the world could take Coach Sullivan’s place.

 

Terry Brown

And we had decided that we’re not going back. You know, they have really messed us up. And, you know, we have we bled red blood for this, and we’re just not gonna go back heck with, we’ll find something else to do.

 

Paul Green

 They were probably like me, they were trying to make up their mind where they were gonna come back and play or sit out that year.

 

Terry Brown

Well, Bull found out about that, and he called me. He said, I want you to know one thing I’ve heard that you’re talking about not going back. He said, I’m gonna get you and drag your ass back out there. He said, You’re going back and you’re going to play ball. And he said, y’all can still win this thing. And I was scared not to go back. I did not think he would have come.

 

Paul Green

They were hard men. They really show up. Without Bull there, they’re just like it took part of my heart with him and when he they fired him, it just. I didn’t have that feeling where I was invincible

 

Charlie Studdard

First ball game of the 1969 season was against Gulf Coast Community College. And they were pre-season ranked number one in the country and we were not expected to, to win win many ball games in our division, much less in the state, much less in the country.

 

Terry Brown

All of us were warming up on the sideline, getting ready to go. And we look walking across the hill in the field on then bull walk in. And all of us sophomores went straight to it. You know, and, and he pretty emotional.

 

Charlie Studdard

And we beat him 10-7 and it was a defensive struggle of coach Solomon had been there. You know, where to score 30 points.

 

Terry Brown

We had a good team, we had a great team. But all we had to Royal Flash on the ball.

 

Charlie Studdard

So we’re adding a three game winning streak. And we went to Holmes, Community College and Goodman, Mississippi, and they beat us 10 to seven. And it was a worst feeling in the world.

 

Paul Green

If bulls Sullivan had been coaching, we would have been blowing team ladder to stadium we wouldn’t been winning 10 seven, losing 10 to seven.

 

Charlie Studdard

And you know, we couldn’t understand why. Why couldn’t we score more than 10. But seven points. It was it was very disappointing and very disheartening.

 

Johnny Fisher

And we are setting ourselves up on a 10 sound guy that we should have won.

 

Paul Green

I figured we could just go 21 more points and gain him coaching that offense that we had.

 

Charlie Studdard

And we felt like those of us who had played for Coach Sullivan who who had been around him, we not only let coach Kilpatrick down but we let coach Solomon down as well.

 

Gael Sullivan

And then when they got lost the one game they lost. He was really sad about that because he knew he had a winning season. And he was sorry for the players that they had lost that one game

 

Terry Brown

and we’ve never lost, it would have been awkward. I’ve got nothing against Coach gilpatrick but coach Gilpatrick was out to build his legacy and it wasn’t with us, it was with bull. Everything was not the same

 

Gael Sullivan

the next September when the butterflies were going south and everybody was going to the football fields to practice. He didn’t have a feel. It was devastating to the whole family because dad was our Family, I don’t know whether it’s just that Mississippi upbringing. But our whole world revolved around daddy. Coach Sullivan

 

Royce Sullivan

It was so devastating. It was devastating to all of us, which made it harder on him. We had all established our lives, we loves scuba. I moved there we were in the second grade, I was in the second semester of the second grade. And so my whole childhood, you know, we’d never known anything else. And and I think the devastation, just the, the shock of it is How can this be happening? It makes my got gut in and not even now.

 

Langston Rogers

And, and it really, it really tore coach up. You wouldn’t know. You know, outwardly, he was fine and jolly, and life and carrying own but but it really hurt him deeply.

 

Royce Sullivan

Football was a part of him. And a large part of him. And all of a sudden he couldn’t do it anymore.

 

Bobbie Sullivan

The sadness, there was a sadness about him that I had. I knew he was trying to hide. Even as that age, I knew he is not happy being out of football. No matter what he’s doing, or how successful he is at it. There’s, there’s, he can’t do this. He’s got to get back into football. And as a kid, I knew that.

 

Gael Sullivan

So I know he had some shattering moments with my mother, but he tried to shield the kids from it. But he would sit on that front porch for hours,

 

Little Vic Sullivan

He would be sitting there. And you could tell he was just thinking about what he would be doing if he could be out there on that field. And it just got doing couldn’t talk about it.

 

Bobby Morgan

And I forget one day, one of the first ball games that I played in, we wrote down on a bus down to Colin and and we were all on that illipe Lena bus and beaten up. He got us off and said the reason I’m here is because I love you boys. And I love the fact that you love to play football. And he said, you know, and that was his life.

 

Bill Pearson

It broke his heart. At that time, I was a regional director with fidelity life insurance company, and we dealt in talking to college seniors and graduate students. And and so you know, how hard Coach Sullivan work in the college market with our company.

 

Langston Rogers

He was just out of his element. And it’s just really sad that the way things ended.

 

Jimmy Kibe

And he came to my house one day. And he says, I won’t say his manager gonna come in and talk to you. yeah go on in coach.

 

Lance Eiland

You know, it was hard for me to accept the fact that he was having an issue. I really didn’t want to see it that way. Because I didn’t I didn’t know him in that way. As a person said in Asia. (17:57)

 

Jimmy Kibe

My daughter had just turned three years old. She was toddling around there. And he got her in his lap. And he got to talk. And he got to draw on little bunnies and stuff on her hand with pink pencil I made with a ballpoint. And he just you could just tell that he had it in him that, you know, you may have never seen it on the football field, but out in public your soft heart for people.

 

Bobbie Sullivan

I had been in Tulsa three weeks teaching. And for some, I always call on the weekend. But for some unknown reason, I just chose that day to call. Daddy answer the phone and we laughed and talk he asked me if I had spanked anybody, you know, because back then you still could. And I was telling him some of the neat stuff that was going on. And we talked maybe 15 minutes, and he said, Bobby, I got to go I’ve got to go to a rotary or nightclub. He was speaking somewhere. And he said let me get Mama. That conversation with him was so special because it was the last one I ever had with him.

 

Gael Sullivan

Ross and I had been out running errands and we drove up and her mother either screaming or crying. It was so loud. We weren’t sure what it was but it scared us to death.

 

Bobbie Sullivan

That’s something we never heard in our lives. Mother was just for kids. You get used to everything. And we just broke at a run.

 

Gael Sullivan

So we went running into the bathroom where he had been, he had his boxer shorts on and he had been shaving and he had just splashed some brute cologne on his face and had the heart attack.

 

Bobbie Sullivan

But I rode with him in the ambulance. And so when then when we got there, the doctor came out and told me he had died.

 

 

 

Royce Sulluvan

I really don’t remember a lot of it. I wish just trying to deal with the fact that he was not going to be there anymore when I needed help or support or guidance.

 

Bill Buckner

When I heard that he had passed away, it was like losing a parent to me. I mean, I just broke down and well, that day, because he was that important.

 

Charlie Studdard

He was just a colossal figure. And it was it was devastating to know that he had passed in such a way that without much fanfare and had died, I believe of a broken heart. \

 

Terry Brown

And he was going to be hired back. He was gonna we need I knew the board members. I knew several of them, and they were going to fire harbor and hire Bull back, but he never lived to say that.

 

Bulldog Coggins

Oh, the funeral, that was as Oh, God said one day he said it was slow  walking and sad singing in that day when Coach Sullivan died because he was young, you know, at then, you know, we thought he was old but we look back now. He wouldn’t. Yeah, he’s 51 years old.

 

Gale Sullivan

That you know, there were just people, standing in line standing outside, so many people couldn’t get in.

 

Bobbie Sullivan

And I mean, we’re just looking at on this sea of enormous man, and many of their wives, you know, players and coaches and their wives. And it was just overwhelming. I remember making personal eye contact with a couple of players that kind of got me through it.

 

Gael Sullivan

Bailey Brown, who was my hero. He was the first one I saw that had come to the funeral. He and his wife and I collapsed when I saw coach Brown. And he just hugged me and hug me.

 

Rick Farr 

I told my wife I said at any moment, I thought he was gonna get out of that casket and come back when it didn’t happen.

 

Royce Sullivan 

I remember during the service, Mark Killam saying “how great thou art” which was daddy’s favorite spiritual song. And when it gets to the part about the Rolling Thunder, it thundered and this huge boom occurred right during that part of the song.

 

Bobbie Sullivan

That was something that was very emotional for people. I vividly remember people just starting to look around at each other like, Do you hear that? is this happening? It can this be because it was during that song?

 

Gael Sullivan

But a good friend of mine owned a flower shop and she said that they borrowed flowers from surrounding communities. They cut up every potted plant they had that there were so many requests for flowers that they literally the florist in Columbus just ran out

 

“Little” Vic Sullivan

with his grave set, they’ve lowered him down in the ground. And they didn’t want me to stay but after no more

 

Bobbie Sullivan

help go remote (22:36). I looked back and Vic started the shovel putting the dirt back onto the grave after we were starting to leave and men just lined up to the shovel and

 

“Little” Vic Sullivan

Somebody, a rose had fallen off of the roof and landed right there. Somebody said I said let me get it up. I said no that’s where it needs to be.