Apologies to Willie Nelson, but my heroes have always been coaches.
To be fair, I grew up dreamin’ of being a sports writer, like my father. Somewhere toward the end of my football career at Louisiana Tech, I made the decision to become a teacher — and a coach.
My father asked me a simple question.
I had two reasons. Having summers off, and the retirement.
We shook his head and laughed. I asked him why he was laughing.
“You are the first person I’ve ever met going into a profession because of the time away — and the retirement.”
Looking back, I realize it was all part of God’s plan for my life, and I loved every minute of it, including the last real football game I coached when my North Caddo Rebels scored 68 points — and lost by four — to Lakeside.
Leaving the ballpark that night, I saw my senior quarterback in the stands, bent over leaning against the rail, looking out at the field at North Caddo’s Sanders-Prudhomme Stadium.
I went to check on him. Thought he may be looking for a sharp object to fall on. I inquired about his mental health.
“Coach, I’m just glad I was a part of this game,” J.B. Walker said. “They will be talking about this game in this town for years.”
I began to coach the next football season at North Caddo before moving into school leadership. We faced Lincoln Prep in an August scrimmage at Grambling State University’s Eddie Robinson Stadium. What a venue for my last coaching assignment! We “won” the scrimmage, although teams don’t really win, or lose, a scrimmage. I didn’t let that fact get in the way of this cowboy riding off in the sunset on a good note.
I met Grambling’s “Coach Rob” only one time. I was going out for a summer workout at Tech and the legendary coach was standing at the top of the stairs and looking out at the skill players who were taking part in 7-on-7 drills.
I introduced myself and told him I was “Jerry Byrd’s son.” He said that dad was one of his favorite writers and that he always said that he wanted my dad or O.K. “Buddy” Davis to write the book about his life when he decided to retire.
As we head toward February, which is Black History Month, I’m reminded of the impact of local black high school coaches who — like Eddie Robinson — have made such a difference, not only in my life, but in the lives of hundreds of students and student-athletes in our community.
As an athlete at C.E. Byrd High School, I was influenced tremendously by my track coach Glen Payne, who was later head football coach at B.T.W., and basketball coach Charles Thrash.
At Tech, Jerry Baldwin and Ed Jackson, were not only great football coaches. They were incredible men of God, who led Tech’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
When I became a high school coach, I had the opportunity to coach against a few legendary figures like Fair Park’s Husher Calhoun in football and Green Oaks track coach Leroy Wesley, who would also ask me how my daughter “C.E. Byrd” was doing.
Going way back, as a sports writer’s son, I can remember Gerald Kimble’s white bucket hat and watching his amazing Green Oaks teams while in the press box at Lee Hedges Stadium doing my elementary school homework.
I am not alone.
Earlier this month, Dr. Lamar Goree, Superintendent of Caddo Parish Public Schools, was able to take part in the dedication of the practice field at his alma mater, Huntington High School.
What made it special was the fact that Dr. Goree was able to honor his high school football coach while at Huntington — Tony Rhodes.
“It was an honor and privilege to be able to recognize the man who spent four years of teaching me not only about football, but also about life,” Dr. Goree posted on Facebook. “He always stressed academics as being critical to growing and he pushed me as much to grow in academics as in athletics.”
This month, I celebrated 26 years in education, and like my quarterback said after my last game as a head coach, “I am just proud to have been a part of this game.”
And proud to have had the opportunity to be coached by, to coach with, and to write about these incredible men who have impacted so many.