Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The man who reminds me to be humble

      My senior year in high school, near the end of basketball season, Shreveport Journal sports writer Jerry Byrd wrote a column about a Woodlawn team manager. Not sure why he chose me, but it was quite an honor.
      It was in the paper on the afternoon of a school day. Throughout the next day, kids and teachers at school who had seen it commented on it, or congratulated me.
Jerry Adams at Woodlawn
in the early 1960s
      As I headed into the foyer of the Woodlawn gym at about 2 p.m., headed for basketball practice, someone was waiting for me. As I rounded the corner to the hallway toward the dressing room -- right by the classroom/film room (Woodlawn athletes will remember where) -- Coach Jerry Adams grabbed me.
       He backed me against a wall and then, with no one around, said, sternly: "That was a nice story, and you deserved it,  but don't let this go to your head. Just be the same person you've been. Take care of your business!"
       Lesson never forgotten.
       Jerry Adams has been my conscience ever since. He's in his 80s now, living a good life in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., surrounded by a large, loving family, and we talk a few times a year.
       Because if I've got questions about football, but more importantly, about life, Coach Adams still has answers. I'm still listening.
       He is one of those half-dozen people I trust most to give me honest assessments of what's going on that I'm concerned about. He is one of the most sensible people I know.
      He inspired the title of my blog -- see the first post (Here's the idea, Jan. 29, 2012) --  with the statue of the little knight that was on his desk at Woodlawn and also led to the patch he had put on the Knights' baseball uniforms (he sent me a leftover one). 
      He knows my family; I know his. We've been on trips together; we've been guests at Coach and Miss Pat's nice old home in Lawrenceburg several times. Coach and I have sat up into the middle of the night watching football, and mostly just exchanging ideas of coaches and programs.
       He's a willing story teller, and a good one -- much like our old friend, James Farrar, who passed away last year. Adams might not be as funny as Farrar -- few are -- but he has all sorts of stories from the old days. He often starts those with "I'll never forget ... " But he's as studied about current times as he needs to be, and he has an IPad now, so don't think of him as entirely old-school.
       He does, however, think old-school worked well. He, like me, thinks no one knew football better or were better teachers than Coach Joe Aillet at Louisiana Tech and Lee Hedges.
       He was Woodlawn's "fire-up" coach in football, the assistant in charge of the defensive line and linebackers, the de facto defensive coordinator through the 1960s on Woodlawn's first, great, coaching staff headed by Lee Hedges. It was Adams' first coaching job.
        He was the school's first baseball coach, too, and while he wasn't a baseball man per se -- didn't really deal with all the nuances and techniques of the game -- he was a good strategist. More importantly, he worked his players hard, he expected a lot ... and he was tremendously fun to play for. 
         While Fair Park's tremendous teams dominated the area in the early and mid 1960s, no team gave the Indians more trouble than Woodlawn. When Fair Park went 44-4-1 and won the state championship in 1963, two of the four losses were to Woodlawn. In a three-year period when the Indians were absolutely dominant, Woodlawn won four games against them.
       But it was football that ruled Woodlawn, and it was Adams' defenses that were so critical to Woodlawn being the winningest Class AAA team in Louisiana in the '60s. Five district championships, three district runner-ups and one glorious state championship (1968) with the "Big Red" defense giving all-time QB star Joe Ferguson and the offense a huge assist.
        He wasn't a psychology major, but he could've been. I call him Dr. Adams because he worked on people's heads as much as he demanded physical effort. When the Woodlawn teams needed a good "talking to," Adams was usually the one doing the talking.
         I can hear him now on the practice field: "You've got to want it!" Or "show us some pride, people." Or jokingly referring to the "B" team or young players as the "rinky dinks." Or encouraging his troops by yelling, "Let's go, girls" (it wouldn't be politically correct today.)
         But Adams, like offensive line coach Billy Joe Adcox, was a stickler for proper technique. Adams taught defenders how to get off double-team blocks, how to read and react to the offense, how to teach linebackers to shoot gaps, how to slant them through those gaps.              
         He demanded dedication and effort. All the Woodlawn coaches did, but they had kids willing to provide it.
          Adams was the motivator on paper, too -- with written reminders on the dressing room walls, with his yearly "Will this man be smiling Saturday morning?" letter every year before the game against Bossier -- a picture of a widely smiling Lee Hedges (who was a serious guy), then switched to A.L. Williams when he became head coach in 1966.
         The Knights never lost to Bossier for nine years in a row; every year the letter grew longer, the previous year's letter and score added on.
        Privately, the Woodlawn coaches sometimes called him "Jack Adams" because the LSU assistant coach recruiting the area -- who we won't name -- called him that (he couldn't remember Jerry).
        Privately, the Woodlawn kids called him "Mr. Clean." Well, he looked like the cartoon character in the TV ads ... the bald head and all. BUT we didn't dare call him that to his face. We just said "yes, sir" and "no, sir." You didn't mess much with Coach Adams.
         But he would mess with you. Can't tell you how many times I would leave after practice, be practically out the door, and he'd yell, "Hey, Nico." I came back, and he'd say, "See ya."
          And he'd always kid me and my dad about our "synagogue pass," his way of saying we always managed to get into games without paying.
         He could be a sight sometimes, with his forehead scabbed, sometimes bleeding, after a demonstration on the practice field. You think we were laughing at him? Yeah, right.
         But he and Coach Williams would banter almost every day while taping ankles in the training room, and it was Adams who was most tender when dealing with player injuries.
         I remember him on out-of-town baseball or basketball trips (he was the B team coach for my years at Woodlawn) driving the school bus and singing, "Have you ever been 'a-fishin' on a bright and sunny day ..." and telling us that if the hood of the car on the corner in the bend of Highway 80 in Gibsland was up, it meant moonshine was available at the house there. 
         He was fun, but he was serious about winning. On one trip to Cotton Valley, a Class B school, our baseball team got beat. Players weren't all that quiet on the ride home.
         When we turned to go into the neighborhood by Woodlawn, he called me up to the front of the bus and said, "Here's my keys; you know where the lights are (it was the first year Woodlawn had lights on the football practice field/track). When we stop, go turn them on."
          I did as I was told. The team stayed on the bus for a little talk by Coach Adams. Then the players headed for the track, and spent the next 20 minutes running it.
          You also didn't mess around much when Coach Adams was involved.
          Next: Legendary coaches were Adams' football foundation


  1. From Dr. Richard Leach: Great blog, Nico. I have thought about Coach Adams through the years. From having learned under his tutelage as a linebacker and an outfielder, ridden many miles with him, and having had him "get in my face," I too bear the imprint of his influence.

    1. Charlotte Hudson EwingFebruary 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      He was one of my favorites too! The bantering did not exclude the girls; he was "into" building character with all students.

  2. From Maxie Hays: I went to Tech with Jerry and he was all that you said he was and then some. Great person, great coach.

  3. From Paul Waldon: Nico, I really enjoyed reading your article about you and Coach Adams. It brought back some old and very fond memories. Thanks.

  4. From Lynn Chance: Nico, not being a "jock," I didn't get to know Coach Adams like all of you did. Thanks for this insight into a man that I greatly feared.

  5. From Roger Poole: A man I will never forget.

  6. "Fire Up" Coach . . . I like it!

  7. From Joe Ferguson: You are getting better in your old age. Great story.

  8. From Jack Thigpen: I went to A. E. Phillips lab school during my elementary days and we always had Tech students as student teachers in the classroom and in physical education. I remember Jerry as one of our student teachers. He was one of my favorites and I remember following his career at Tech and for a while after he graduated. I have not thought of him for a long time. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  9. From Doug Bland: Your blog made me realize I was glad I was a defensive back. I remember him turning that bill on his cap backward and getting his hands and sometimes his nose in the chest of a linebacker or defensive lineman to "demonstrate" the proper technique for shedding a blocker.

  10. From Rod Chandler: Coach Adams shaped my life and others in such a positive way. His name often comes up when we sit around and chew the fat about the old days. When I was at Woodlawn, we didn't actually fear him, as in being scared of him, but feared him out of respect. I only played football my sophomore year, but will never forget hearing the offense and defense get after it hollering, Let's go red ... Let's go blue. Each side was a different team and had pride to be wearing the colors of a Woodlawn Knight.

  11. I played for him in Lawrenceburg tennessee he was a great coach When he first arrived I noticed he had a little paint brush and a stencil set. He painted the following on the wall leading into the locker room "When the chips are down and the jig is up and there is a price to pay,will you pay?" I ended up going to West Point and still serve the country yet that little saying always stuck with me. Bill Crawford