Athens – Most people around Georgia remember Jim Pyburn as the fiery assistant coach who loyally served Vince Dooley for 16 seasons and was defensive coordinator Erk Russell’s right-hand man.
Loran Smith remembers that, too. But he also remembers the young, athletic Jim Pyburn who was one of the most successful two-sport stars in college athletics. Not only was Pyburn an All-America end at Auburn, but he was one of the best professional baseball prospects of his era.
“Jim was one of the first ‘bonus babies’ of the 1950s,” said Smith, resident sports historian for UGA. “He was given a $48,000 bonus when he was 19 years old in 1955. But what they did back then was they made those guys ride the bench with the major-league club for two years. Consequently, a lot of those guys never made it.”
Pyburn played for three years with the Baltimore Orioles. He left baseball as a .190 career average, according to Smith.
“He never could hit big-league pitching,” Smith said. “He should have been in the minor leagues learning how to play, but that’s not how they did it then.”
Pyburn, 78, passed away Saturday night in Jasper, Ala., after a long illness. Smith said Pyburn suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease late in his life.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Smith said. “He was just such a strong, robust guy. It’s sad to see him go.”
After baseball, Pyburn returned to Auburn to coach, then followed Dooley from Auburn to Georgia. At different times Pyburn coached defensive line, linebackers and secondary with the Bulldogs from 1964-79. He was also the father of former Georgia quarterback Jeff Pyburn (1976-79).
Dooley is out of the country with his wife Barbara and could not be reached for comment.
Born in Fairfield, Ala., Pyburn played football and baseball at Birmingham’s Ensley High School before he became one of the greatest ends in Auburn University history. As a senior was named third team All-American and received more votes on the All-SEC team than any other player. As an Auburn baseball player, Pyburn led the SEC in hitting with a .432 average in 1953 as a third baseman and outfielder. He was inducted into the State of Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
“Jim was a very, very tough competitor,” Smith said. “He was a little bit of a bull in a china shop. Very rambunctious, very animated and a very effective coach. He coached with all the gusto and enthusiasm you could imagine.”
Dooley was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. Jeff Pyburn is currently a practicing attorney in Phoenix, Ariz.
“Jim Pyburn was one of the greatest two-sport athletes in Auburn history and his passing is a sad day for the Auburn family,” Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Pyburn family during their time of grief.”
The funeral will be held Wednesday in Birmingham at Elmwood Cemetery and Chapel, 600 Martin Luther King, Jr. Visitation begins at 3 p.m. EDT.