“Sometimes, I still wonder what it would have been like to play for Bear Bryant,” Kidd said Wednesday. “I had a lot of respect for him. But I loved baseball, and (Bryant) said I couldn’t play (at UK).”
Had Georgia Tech not had such a rigorous math requirement, Kidd might have left the state of Kentucky to play college football for legendary Tech coach Bobby Dodd.
“Coach Dodd wanted me to go to a prep school in Chattanooga to improve my standing in math,” Kidd recalls. “I said the heck with that.”
Eastern Kentucky was more than willing to let Kidd play football and baseball. It had no issue with Kidd’s math background, either.
So, in the fall of 1950, began an association between Kidd and EKU that has never ended.
As an Eastern athlete, Kidd became a “Little All-American” as a football quarterback. In baseball, he became a star center fielder.
More enduring, Kidd, now 85, became synonymous with EKU in an iconic tenure as the school’s football coach. From 1964 through 2002, Kidd led the Colonels to 314 wins that included I-AA (now FCS) national championships in 1979 and ’82.
This weekend, in a gesture of appreciation funded largely by the coach’s former players, Eastern will unveil a larger-than-life statue of Kidd that will stand in the north end zone of Roy Kidd Stadium.
“From where the statue will stand, Coach Kidd will be looking over his team, the Colonels, forever,” says Rick Sang, a former EKU player who spearheaded the fundraising that made the statue possible.
The bronze statue, the work of Dr. John B. Savage Jr., an orthopedic surgeon in Canton, N.Y., who moonlights as a sculptor, will stand more than 6 feet tall and be displayed atop a granite stand. In excess of $60,000 was raised to make the project possible, Sang says.
In 2015, Middle Tennessee State University erected a statue in honor of its longtime former football coach Boots Donnelly — one of Kidd’s great coaching rivals.
That did not go unnoticed in the Eastern football community. On July 2, 2015, on the Facebook page of EKU’s Worn Cleat Club — the alumni organization of ex-Colonels football players — former Eastern assistant Doug Carter posted, “It’s time we have a statue of Coach Kidd. Somewhere inside or outside the stadium.”
Sang, a wide receiver and punter on Kidd’s 1979 national championship team, took up the cause. On the Worn Cleat Club Facebook page, he wrote that casting a life-sized bronze statue would be in the $60,000 range. He pledged $500 toward that figure and challenged 119 other former Eastern football players and/or coaches to match.
Almost immediately, Carter and seven others did. And the effort was up and running.
In August 2015, Sang emailed EKU President Michael T. Benson asking for “permission and guidance” on the statue idea.
“The very next day, (EKU Athletics Director) Stephen Lochmueller emailed me and asked me to call him,” Sang said. “I called him, and he was as enthusiastic as the rest of us. He was already making plans. He wanted this project done immediately.”
Says Lochmueller: “With all respect to Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky, Roy Kidd, in his heyday at Eastern, was Mr. Football in this state.”
Through conducting summer camps for kickers, Sang had become a business associate of legendary NFL punter Ray Guy. Savage, the surgeon and sculptor, created the trophy that became the Ray Guy Award, now presented annually to college football’s top punter.
“Rick Sang has been a good friend of mine ever since we kind of worked on the Ray Guy statue and project,” Savage says. “When he found out about the need for a statue at EKU, I guess I popped into his mind.”
Savage, 66, says he worked from an amalgamation of pictures of Kidd from his coaching days. “Probably 100 pictures I looked at,” he said. “I never had the opportunity to have (Kidd) pose, but with him being a little older, the idea was to have representation of him as a younger man during the days of his coaching.”
Initially, Savage said he made a small model in clay of the statue he envisioned.
“They decided they liked that,” Savage said. “I said, ‘Well, we need to make sure because when you work on a big (statue), it’s like building a house. You can’t change too much very easily once you are under way.’”
Savage said he worked on the statue for about a year at his home studio in New York. With some time off from performing surgeries, he then transported it to Atlanta in his native Georgia to finish.
Sang picked up the finished clay model in a trailer and drove it to Sarasota, Fla., where it was cast into the bronze statue the public will see this weekend.
On Saturday at 3 p.m., three hours before Coach Mark Elder’s Colonels play their 2017 home opener against Tennessee Tech, the Roy Kidd statue will be unveiled. There is already talk of a second phase of fundraising to make possible a wall behind the statue that would have the names of every player who played for Kidd at Eastern.
Kidd is wrapping his head around the idea of a larger-than-life statue of him standing on the campus that was the focus of so much of his life.
“Isn’t that something?” he says.