Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A.L.: The players' friend

     Two memorable moments in A.L. Williams' early years as head football coach at Shreveport's Woodlawn High School:
     -- January, 1967: Trey Prather -- Henry Lee Prather III -- comes back to the Woodlawn athletics dressing room, having just dropped out of LSU and enlisting in the Marine Corps. The Class AAA All-State quarterback of 1964, a rarely used backup at LSU in the 1966 season, asks to speak to Coach Williams.
     They go into the trainers' room next to the coaches' office. Trey sits on the training table, where he so often had had his ankles taped and been treated for injuries. He breaks down in tears.
      "I made a mistake," he tells Coach Williams. "I should have listen to you guys [the coaches]. LSU wasn't the right place for me."
       But it was too late; he was on his way to Marines' boot camp, on his way eventually to the Vietnam War.
        "We would have done anything for him," Coach Williams remembers. "We would have helped him transfer anywhere he wanted to go. It was such a sad moment. If we'd have known ..."
        -- The night of Dec. 6, 1968, State Fair Stadium, Shreveport: Woodlawn has just won its first (and only) state football championship and thousands are on the field celebrating. It is probably the shining moment of Williams' coaching career, and he is being congratulated from all sides.
        Suddenly, he is face to face with Marilyn and Lee Prather, Trey's parents. It is almost a calendar year after Trey's death in Vietnam. Marilyn and Lee are crying.
         "This was Trey's dream," one of them blurts. "He would have been so happy."
         "That put it in perspective," Coach Williams remembers. "I was so high, so elated. And then to see them. It just showed that football is just a game, no matter how big the victory.  It could never make up for what we lost when we lost Trey."
         He was always the players' best friend. Whether he was fishing with Terry Bradshaw, making Joe Ferguson almost a part of his family (practically Amy and Kay's big brother), engaging Ken Liberto in dragon-fly snagging on the practice field, demonstrating how to field punts properly and return them with great success, guiding running backs and defensive backs and later quarterbacks on prep techniques, drilling QBs and receivers on the intricacies of the passing game, or just counseling kids on life itself, we knew we could count on Albert Lawrence Williams Jr.
         It's been that way for the 50 years I've known him. He always had time, too, for a young (and now old) manager/statistician/sportswriter. He always had time for the media, period, no matter how big the game ahead.
         If you had a dollar for every minute Coach Williams and I have spent talking in person or on the phone, we could clear the national debt. It's been that kind of friendship.
        We might not have gotten the world's problems solved, but we gave it a lot of effort.
Sarah and A.L. Williams
        Nah, mostly we told stories. Few people can tell stories in greater details from any of the past six or seven decades than A.L., and I've been known to have some lengthy conversations myself.
         "You know how A.L. can go on and on," Sarah Williams said to me recently. She was laughing, and so was I. Sarah knows; she's been his sweetheart dating to when he was a star athlete at Fair Park in the early 1950s and she was at that other school across town. Yes, it's been a Fair Park/Byrd marriage, and it's worked fairly well for, oh, a lifetime.
          And if Sarah and A.L. are at a reunion -- and they are at many these days -- you know they are among those at the center of attention, with Coach spinning his stories.
           Most people know A.L. Williams for his football coaching career, his work with quarterbacks, his frequent appearances at coaching clinics talking offense. You also should know his love for Sarah, his daughters and their spouses and especially the four grandkids; his love for fishing, and visiting, and these days being a spectator at Ruston High or La. Tech games.

Coach A.L. Williams and the one-time kid
who has been his friend for 50 years.
          Those of us who are familiar, though, can tell you how much of a star athlete he was back in the '50s. Maybe never the star on his team, but one of those outstanding players -- and a great team guy.
          That's why, as a coach, the team, the school and the kids -- and not the coaching staff -- were always his top priority. I've known few people who ran a cleaner, more efficient, more successful  program than A.L. Williams. He was well-respected and, besides, he was a darned nice guy. Yes, I'm prejudiced.
          There's a lot more to tell -- of course, there is -- and so this is going to be a two-parter.
         Next: Why A.L. should be Fame-ous.


  1. From Maxie Hays: Very nicely put, Nico. Coach Williams is one of the nicest people that I know. A fine Christian man.

  2. From Rod Chandler: Coach Williams is a leader among all men and an example for all of us who walked the halls of that once-proud Castle on Wyngate Blvd. His honesty, integrity and knowledge of life and football were handed down to all who know him, directly and indirectly. As we who know him continue to push on through the years, Coach Williams and his family continue to be immortal and someone to whom we can always thank for the memories and blessings they passed our way.

  3. From Louis Bonnette: I enjoyed your story on A. L.... He was a class act. ... It was great working with him when he was at Northwestern State. ... We would always get together at our conference meetings and at other times. ... Still see him at the Hall of Fame induction.

  4. From Cincy Marrus: Made me cry! I adored Trey, as so many of us did!!

  5. From Bill Smith: Coach is the very meaning of a man. One of the finest people I have ever known.

  6. From Bruce McMellon: I am enjoying all of your blogs, but this one stands with the best. Coach Williams and Sarah made a HUGE difference in my life, and continue to do so today. Thank you for writing what I wish I had been able to express.

  7. From Jim McLain: Great blog on A.L. He is one of my favorites, too. Talked with him via telephone extensively when I was doing Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame research on Joe Ferguson couple of months back. You'll never have a friend as true and loyal as A.L. Williams.

  8. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: Great blog about Coach Williams. He and Sarah are two of the finest individuals I've ever known. How many lives they have enriched is countless. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on them.

  9. From Liz Sachs Piker (Louisiana Tech, 1963): I have known many La. Tech football players because of my father's love of La. Tech and the game itself! I cannot tell you how many times we climbed the hill up the Barnett Springs Road from Westwood Hills to watch practice at the old stadium under Coach Aillet! A.L. was there and one of the nicest people I ever met! He was most admired by my father, Dr. H.J. Sachs! Please give A.L. and his lovely wife my best wishes!