The instant you meet Kermit Kendrick, you know he’s a former football player. The solid build and heavy jaw mark him as one who would probably look just as natural now in a Crimson Tide uniform as he did 30 years ago, when he wore No. 27 as a defensive back.
That love of football started at an early age. Enthralled by the televised Dec. 31, 1973, matchup between Alabama and Notre Dame, 6-year-old Kendrick announced to his mother that he was going to play football for Alabama under Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. He remembers that game to this day.
“Most Alabama fans remember that third-and-18 play when Notre Dame’s quarterback completed that first down pass that sealed the game for Notre Dame. Back then, the national championship was decided in the regular season, and Alabama had already won it. But this bowl game win made them, you might say, co-national champions. I was emotional over that loss, but I made up my mind then and there I was going to play for Alabama.”
Years later, in 1986, Kendrick was on the Alabama team himself when Alabama played Notre Dame again. Alabama won that game, which marked Alabama’s first ever win against the Fighting Irish.
“That win was a full-circle moment for me,” Kendrick says. “It was a high point in my personal life because I had set and obtained a childhood dream. That win was also a high point in the history of Alabama football.”
Bear Bryant had retired a few years before Kendrick started at Alabama. However, he did have the privilege of playing under winning coaches – Ray Perkins in 1985 and 1986 and Bill Curry in 1987 and 1988.
“They were able to extend the great Alabama winning tradition started under Coach Bryant,” Kendrick says.
Both were winning coaches, but each had his own style. “Under Coach Perkins we learned to be professional in everything we did. He did not have a lot of rules, but one rule he did have was don’t embarrass yourself, don’t embarrass your family, and don’t embarrass the University of Alabama.”
Bill Curry took over as head coach in 1987. Kendrick remembers a major topic of conversation in the college football world that year was whether or not college players should actually be paid. “Coach Curry told us that the day may come when college players would be paid, but until then the deal is education for play, and it was up to us to obtain the world class education part of the deal by graduating.”
Kendrick also remembers advice from Larry New, one of Coach Curry’s assistants. “Whenever things were not going good for us in a game, Coach New would exclaim, ‘Keep playing until something good happens.’ That advice has become a mantra for me – keep working hard and smart until something good happens.”
Kendrick remembers the 1986 season as the toughest of his four years, when Alabama played Florida, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, all tough SEC opponents. In that same year, they played Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State. “But that was fun. That’s why young men come to Alabama to play football, to play great competition. I was fortunate to play with and against some of the greatest players to have ever played football.”
Under Bill Curry, Alabama began winning streaks against Tennessee that lasted until 1995 and against Penn State that lasted until 1990. “Coach Curry had a three-game winning streak against a Joe Paterno-coached Penn State team, who was already a legend in coaching.”
Curry emphasized mental toughness. “I remember a game against Kentucky, and we were behind. Our defensive leader, Derrick Thomas, told us in the huddle, ‘We are Alabama, we don’t lose to Kentucky.’ And when they (Kentucky) broke their huddle, he told them too. We won the game in the last seconds of the game. That was a great moment.
Kendrick’s football prowess earned him All SEC Performer honors in 1987 and All- American status in 1988. For his natural leadership qualities, he was awarded the first Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award, named after one of the first black players at the University of Alabama who went on to professional career with the New Orleans Saints before beginning a successful college and professional football coaching career.
Kermit Kendrick was a successful scholar as well as a great football player, graduating in 1990. With his accounting degree, he quickly got an offer from Merrill Lynch, where he went to work as a Series 7 financial adviser. He returned to his alma mater a few years later to accept the post of compliance officer for the university’s athletic department.
He wanted something more, though, and in 1997 at the age of 30 enrolled at the university’s law school. Those leadership qualities shined through in the corridors of the law school as they did on the gridiron, with Kendrick receiving the Jerome Hoffman Leadership Award.
Burr & Forman, one of Alabama’s top five law firms, snatched him up soon after graduation, where he has practiced for over 17 years.
At Burr & Forman’s Birmingham office, Kendrick serves as part of the firm’s transportation group, representing railroads and other private businesses on the defense side. It’s a varied practice. “I get contract disputes, business torts and all types of litigation.”
He says he uses lessons learned on the football field every day in his practice.
“I’m a litigator, so preparation is everything. Preparation and execution is everything in football. You prepare and prepare, then you execute that plan. Some plans are better than others, and sometimes you execute better than at other times. In football, you plan and execute in one-week intervals for the game. But in a lawsuit, you plan and execute in what can be a two-year interval.
“Sometimes during the litigation of a case, things don’t go your way,” he adds. “I can still hear Coach New’s voice telling me to keep working until something good happens. I try to follow that advice.”
A featured attorney from the SEC College Football Special Issue.