Thursday, August 4, 2016

Our ode to Coach Billy Joe

     When the news came that Billy Joe Adcox had died Tuesday night in Ruston, La., five days short of his 85th birthday, it was no surprise. Alzheimer's had robbed his mind several years ago.
      I would ask friends in Ruston about him over the years, and it was hard to hear. Because he was a man we respected. He was a mentor and a friend.
      He was, in my opinion, as good at what he coached -- offensive line in football -- as anyone at any level.
      The decline these final years was so difficult for Miss Shirley, his wife of almost 60 years, and the three children and six grandchildren, plus a considerable extended family.
      We're thinking of them today. The funeral is Friday in Ruston, with burial in Atlanta, Ark.
      Coach Adcox was an Arkansas boy. But the bulk of his life and career was in North Louisiana.   
      He was a quiet, genteel man, a man of few words, a nice guy who I never heard use bad language.
      But when I first encountered him -- as a team manager at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport in the early 1960s -- I wasn't sure that he was nice. Neither were the players he coached.

     When it came to football, he was a tough guy. Nice didn't apply. As a player, and then for years as an offensive line coach, he was uncompromising.
      My great friend for decades, Casey Baker, was a Woodlawn offensive lineman (1962-64) and I know this morning he's thinking about this, because we always joked about it. If it was cloudy before practice, Adcox would go outside, point at the sky and say "hut, hut," -- and soon the clouds would disappear. No rain at practice.
       And he's also thinking this: "Per, Casey, that was per. Let's do it again."
       That came to mind when I received a note from Sid Huff, a team manager at Fair Park High in 1969 when Adcox became head coach there.
       "I can still see Coach Adcox," Sid wrote, "walking around the practice field twirling his keys back and forth and saying, 'Per ... that's per,' which was his pronunciation of 'poor' during pass blocking drills."
       Yes, a lot of us remember that. Adcox didn't stand for "per."
       No question, Billy Joe Adcox was a winner, an achiever -- as an undersized offensive guard when he played, then with the teams he helped coach -- at Woodlawn (1960-68) and Fair Park (head coach 1969-72, assistant 1973-76). 
       As an offensive line coach, he was demanding, dedicated. As ruler of the equipment room, the dispenser of helmets, pads, socks, jocks and shoes, etc. he was -- well -- frugal and conservative.
       He might've been that way, too, in real life, I don't know for sure. But I can tell you -- and the Woodlawn coaches would laugh at this -- not much was ever wasted.
       Jerseys, shoes, equipment went from varsity level to practically worn out, but Adcox kept issuing this stuff to B-team and sophomore-team players. Kids would bring worn-out cleats to the equipment room, pleading for replacements. No deal.
       But he also took pride in the uniforms; once Woodlawn began winning and making money in football in the early 1960s, the staff kept purchasing equipment. At one time, there were three sets of helmets (red, white and blue) and five sets of jerseys, three sets of pants.
       Adcox liked a well-dressed team as much as he loved a well-drilled team.
      The players -- and, yes, the team managers -- were just a bit afraid of him. You did not want Coach Adcox griping at you. And, well, he did gripe -- often.
       He was conservative with words; a short phrase might be all you got. From my sportswriting perspective, he was no quote machine. But from a team manager's perspective, I know this: We kept that equipment room very orderly.

       Don't get the wrong idea, though. He was not an "ugly" person or coach.
       Even in football -- as I noted in an e-mail I sent to people late Wednesday night -- he wasn't an aggressive coach, not a yeller or cusser. He made his points to his players briefly and directly and sometimes sarcastically ("c,mon, fellas"). He wanted them to play aggressively, but clean. He would not let his players settle for anything but their best.
      Adcox was, in my opinion, an excellent teacher (football and, yes, driver's education, as many kids will remember).
      He was masterful at teaching blocking techniques, pass protection -- moving the feet, getting proper leverage on opponents ... and being more determined, more competitive than the other guy.
      There was a reason the well-known quarterbacks at Woodlawn -- Billy Laird, Trey Prather, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Ferguson -- were successful passers. Their offensive lines gave them plenty of chances.
      This was especially true in Ferguson's three years as a starter. When Woodlawn went to an all-out passing game -- unique for that era -- in the 1967 and 1968 seasons, the key to letting Joe's strong and accurate right arm cut up defenses was offensive-line protection that rarely broke down.
       He had some outstanding, nice-sized lines in the mid-1960s. But before that, he took kids in the 150- to 170-pound range who really had little business playing at the Class AAA level and guided them into productive, winning players. Even those of us who watched it up close were amazed at players' development.
        Maybe he enjoyed that most because they reminded him of himself -- the smaller guy who excelled enough at El Dorado (Ark.) High School to earn a scholarship to Louisiana Tech, the small-but-tough guard who became an all-conference lineman for Coach Joe Aillet, and then played football in the service (he was an Air Force lieutenant).
      One of his early mentors was the great Paul "Bear" Bryant; Adcox was a graduate assistant coach at Alabama as he earned his master's degree.
      He then went into coaching as an assistant as his alma mater (El Dorado) under his high school coach, the well-respected, successful Garland Gregory, who also had been a standout lineman once at Louisiana Tech and played in the NFL.
      At Woodlawn, Adcox was part of the original five-man coaching staff beginning in 1960. The program went from an 0-9 first season to the winningest big-class team in Louisiana in the 1960s.
      Adcox coached on 10 district championship teams, 12 playoff teams, and in five state championship games (El Dorado, 1958 and 1959; Woodlawn, 1965 and 1968; Fair Park, 1974).
       He was an integral part of the 1968 state champions. His obit says the state championship came at Fair Park, but that 1974 team -- a wonderful team to cover -- lost a 9-0 fourth-quarter lead and fell 10-9 (on a late field goal) to Tara (Baton Rouge).
      In 1969, he left Woodlawn to become head coach at rival Fair Park and his first team went 8-2 in the regular season and shared the district title with ... Woodlawn, which was the No. 1 seed because it beat Fair Park 13-6.
       (A quick aside: At The Shreveport Times postseason banquet that year, Adcox was being honored as our city  "Coach of the Year." He sat at the head table and the paper's editor, Raymond McDaniel, came to sit next to him.
       When they were introduced, Mr. McDaniel thought it was Joe Bill Adcock, the baseball star from Coushatta. He was quickly corrected: "I'm Bill Adcox." I don't think Coach Adcox was pleased, but he probably had been mistaken for Joe Bill before.)
       In four seasons as head coach, Adcox's teams went 23-17-1. But he didn't enjoy the time-consuming, off-the-field tasks in the role, so Jimmy Orton -- once a Fair Park great in three sports and for years the de facto offensive coordinator -- became head coach in 1973 and Adcox stayed on as -- first love -- offensive-line assistant coach.

     After his coaching days, he moved to Ruston for a job as the purchasing agent at Louisiana Tech. He was in that position for 22 years -- I visited with him in his office there a couple of times -- and I can just imagine that Tech did not make any wasteful purchases in that time.
      He retired at Tech and began working parttime at a cleaners business in Ruston. When his mind began fading, and he got up at about 3 a.m. and drove to work one night, Miss Shirley knew it was trouble. Sad; it's a horrible disease.
      He was a man who knew who he was, who was quietly confident and sure of what he was doing. We all knew that.
      He was a very good family man, religious -- a deacon in his Baptist church for years.
      The quietest of the Woodlawn coaches, he was the target of practical jokes, especially because he feared snakes. So a rubber snake often appeared in one of his desk drawers or his locker or his shoes. "Per" idea. 
      But those coaches knew his value, and values. He was well-liked and respected by them and by opposing coaches.
      All of us, too -- his players and, yes, the managers -- ended up loving him. 


  1. From Jim McLain: Always liked BJ. Good coach. I called his offensive line "The Clean Machine" for keeping Joe Ferguson's uniform spotless and the kids were real proud of the nickname. I called the Woodlawn offense "Joe Ferguson and the Jet Set."
    It was a lot of fun covering the Knights back then. I was sure lucky to have gotten that assignment when I first got to The Times.

  2. From O.K. "Buddy" Davis: Quick story on Coach Adcox.
    For how many times I can't remember, but I would be heading to the [Ruston] Daily Leader office in the early morning hours and I would always go down the street where he worked at a cleaners on Mississippi Avenue.
    I would look at the front of the store with large glass windows and there Coach Adcox would be, getting another batch of clothes ready to be cleaned.
    It was comforting to see and a great way to start another day.

  3. From Skip Russell: He was always a special person. Thoughtful of others and always had a smile on his face.

  4. From Rod Chandler: He, and the other coaches at Woodlawn, were an inspiration to all of us.

  5. From Skip Young: Very nice article. Coach Adcox lived across the street from us on Valleyview Drive. What a great man he was -- as were all those original Woodlawn coaches. That time from 1965-69 was magical.

  6. From Alice Richardson: Billy Joe was always so kind.

  7. From Glynn Harris: Wonderful tribute to a special guy. I didn't know Billy as a football coach; I knew him as a fellow deacon at Ruston's First Baptist Church. When you walked in the front of the church on Sunday morning, Billy was one of the greeters and I always remember that smile and handshake welcoming you to the services. One of the deacon ministries at our church is visiting those in nursing homes and I agree; Alzheimer's that robbed Billy of his mind would almost bring me to tears when I visited him. At last, Billy can rest in peace in a place far greater ... and there's nothing "pur" about that.

  8. From Nelda Strickland Milligan: Always sad to hear such news. I really respected Coach Adcox. I scared him while driving through Cedar Grove during a Driver's Ed session. We laughed about it later. He was such a sweet man.

  9. From Kirby Hill: Yes, he was a very good coach and a VERY good man. What a coaching staff Woodlawn had, all good men. If there was a new high school opening today, I don't believe you could find five better men to start with than those five.

  10. From Judy Bell Miller: Awesome driver's ed teacher, so kind and patient with everyone. Taught me to parallel park.