The article was originally published in Portico Magazine in November 2010.
By Jack Mallette | Photos by Thomas Beck
Some men, especially athletes and coaches, are simply larger-than-life. Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant come to mind. Yet even for Bear Bryant, one nickname was enough to encompass the character of the man, to tell us who he was.
No so for Robert Victor “Bull” Sullivan, coach of the East Mississippi Junior College Lions football team from 1950-1969.
Bull Cyclone Sullivan and the Lions of Scooba, Mississippi, the new book by Jacksonians Mike Frascogna and his sons Marty and X.M. Frascogna, III (M3), at last tells the full story of the man Sports Illustrated writer Frank DeFord called The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.
“He was a supreme character of a man,” asserts Mike Frascogna, “so much larger-than-life that he needed three nicknames: ‘Bull,’ ‘Cyclone,’ and ‘Shotgun.’
The latest book by Frascogna and sons follows their two earlier works chronicling Mississippi football history, Gridiron Gold and Y’all vs. Us.
“In researching Gridiron Gold, we interviewed 136 current and former football coaches in Mississippi. One name kept popping up so often, we started keeping track of the stories and legends surrounding Bull Sullivan. It became a ‘story teller multiplier.’ It got to the point we would meet and ask each other what new Bull Sullivan stories we’d heard the day before. At some point we realized we had another book in the works.”
This newest 188-page hardback has been given, appropriately, five stars by some who rate such works. Five stars is a recurring theme throughout the story of Bull Cyclone Sullivan.
“A lot of coaches who started in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s were veterans returning from combat,” says Frascogna, “so it became a basis for a lot of their motivations, and influenced their coaching methods. Coach Sullivan was extremely patriotic. He had five stars put on the East Mississippi jerseys, right above the numbers.”
For a time, no one knew what the five stars symbolized.
“The story finally came out that Coach Sullivan had been on Okinawa during World War II. He and five other U.S. Marines were trapped and had to dig into a hillside. They fought the Japanese for over 24 hours, until their ammunition finally gave out. Then it was hand-to-hand combat. One by one, his five buddies were all killed. Bull fought on, alone, his only weapon the shovel he dug the foxhole with. When he walked off that hill the sole survivor, there were scores of dead Japanese around him. He never forgot the friends he had to leave there on that hillside, and it influenced how he prepared his players. You see, he was not just coaching football, he was preparing young men to go to war.”
Bull Cyclone Sullivan’s tenure at East Mississippi came to an abrupt end when he butted heads with EMCC President “Stumpy” Harbour in 1969. Against the wishes of many at the school, and nearly all his former players, he was fired.
“He wrote a letter begging not to be let go,” says Frascogna. “He told them that football was his life, that if he was fired, he would die. After being fired by East Mississippi, he sold insurance and did sports commentary for a radio talk show in Columbus, but within a year he died of a heart attack.”
His supporters swore to get even. Within two years, Harbour was gone from EMCC as well.
Fans of the Frascogna and their stories will be pleased to hear that there are several more books in the works, including follow-ups to their popular Gridiron Gold and Y’all vs. Us. But, “There will never be another Bull Cyclone Sullivan,” insists Mike Frascogna.
- This article was originally published in the November 2010 edition of Portico magazine.
- Authors: Mike Frascogna, III; Mike Frascogna, Jr.; and Marty frascogna
- Cover: Bull Cyclone Sullivan and the Lions of Scooba, Mississippi.