Tuesday, September 22, 2009

J.W. Salley is much more than a football coach...

I've been so busy this month, and I've really missed blogging and spending time with my blogosphere friends. Hopefully, things will ease up a little as we slide into the last quarter of the calendar year...

There is an issue I would like to cover though. Tonight at my former high school (now a middle school), the newly renovated football field will be dedicated to a local legend...Coach J.W. Salley. Coach Salley already has a park bearing his name in my home town, but it's only fitting that the field where he won so many football games as the head coach from the mid 1950's until 1979 while coaching the Church Hill Panthers also wears his name.

I've never met a person with a bad thing to say about Coach Salley. Although he was a hard man to please on the practice field and in a game, he had a knack for finding a way to get 'just a little bit more' out of every situation. He was hardest of all on himself...never shying away from saying he'd messed up and doubling his effort to correct a mistake. He lived and breathed football, but more importantly, he coached young people in the importance of character and honor in the game of life.

There are so many stories about Coach Salley that a blog could be dedicated to just telling them all...and never run out of material. Beloved, respected and admired. He was like another grandfather to me (and so many others). During my sophomore year, Coach Salley would get me to ride with him during a Study Hall period down to a local convenience store where he would give me money to buy his daily paper and a soda 'if I wanted it.' It was a daily ritual and an invaluable part of my education that year. During the short drive in his baby blue VW Rabbit, he would usually ask a leading question to harvest a response and take in what I had to say. I would carefully measure my words because I didn't want to sound foolish in front of him. Not that he would ever be judgemental or degrading...it just wasn't his style. The following discussions were priceless tidbits and some I remember vividly to this day.

On one particular day during a Thursday football practice on the soon to be J.W. Salley field, I noticed he kept looking at me throughout the practice. Needless to say, I became very uncomfortable and started mentally indexing what he could possibly know that I had done. There was no doubt something had been done at some point, but what did HE know. Near the end of practice, he walked over to where I was playing with the second team defense, put his arm around me and simply said, 'Your dad played on the first football team I coached here and you'll play on the last. Your dad was a tough fellow...very tough.' (hard swallow) That was it. He walked away.

When Church Hill High School consolidated with Surgoinsville High School in 1980 to form a new comprehensive high school, Coach Salley left the football coaching profession and became the principal of the new Church Hill Middle School. I had a different head coach my last two years of high school. He had an unenviable task of filling the shoes of a living legend. That new high school, my alma mater, is 30 years old this year. Not once has the new school experienced the lasting success that Coach Salley had for so many years. It's been almost like a lasting curse that has hung over the program despite a number of both talented coaches and players through the years. I played on the first two teams, and I've been the radio voice for that team for 16 of the 30 years. If I had the proverbial dollar for every time I've heard, 'It just ain't like it was under Coach Salley...' this blog would be coming to you from the North Shore of Hawaii.

Congratulations Coach Salley and thank you for being so much more than just a football coach. I hope you greatly enjoy this evening as much as a lot of the people coming to watch you finally get the honor you deserve.

Oh and never forget...when you throw the football only three things can happen...and two of them are bad. Priceless stuff Coach....priceless stuff.

Side note: Tomorrow will be the first Guest Blogger Wednesday on Tony C Today. Be sure to check it out.


Dave said...

Great post Tony. It's amazing the difference a great coach can make in your life. I, unfortunately, didn't have a football coach like this, but my son does and it's made a real difference in his life.

Tracy said...

Coaches really can impact those they coach dramatically. I look over the years at the various coaches my 3 sons have had and there are major differences among them!

It's great to read about a man such as this one was; someone who positively impacted those young men he coached.