By Jamie Riggs, Past President ALFCA
Former Citronelle and Satsuma coach Billy Coleman has passed away at age 83.
It was a Thursday evening in late July,1978 and I had been a football coach since that Monday. I had played the game and loved it, but it was my first chance to coach.
I had found a job as an assistant coach with the purple and gold Yellow Jackets of Winston County High School. I attended the annual University of Alabama football clinic with my head coach, Kenny Goggans, and a couple of other members of our staff. This clinic was legendary for great speakers, playing cards all night, the seafood dinner and dancing at the Ramada Inn. Coaches would stay up all night with their coaching friends and sleep high in the red chairs of Memorial Coliseum the next day while the speakers talked football. This went on for a whole week. It was my first clinic and I loved every minute of it and I soaked up every word of every speaker.
We stayed in some motel not far from the university that was probably built in the 1950's, four to a room for something like $28 a night. I was having the time of my life.
But my first great football coaching lesson came that week when Kenny told me we were going to see one of his coaching buddies. There was a guy a couple of rooms down that he had coached with a few years earlier. Minutes later I was introduced to Coach Billy Coleman of Satsuma High School. He just looked like a high school football coach of the 1970's- a little Skoal on his chin, dark tan, deep voice and polyester gray coaching shorts. And he loved football.
Coach Coleman welcomed me in and football started. He pulled out a 16 MM projector and before you knew it we were watching Satsuma film on the motel wall and he was coaching up everybody who had gathered in the room. I remember thinking, "it must be something to play for a guy like this."
For over an hour, everyone drank a little beer and watched and talked football. Coach Coleman got pretty fired up watching one of his offensive lineman pancake some poor defensive tackle (it was my first introduction to the term "pancake" which I would use my entire career.) He showed everybody the stunt he said no one had ever blocked (5-3 slant to the short side and send every linebacker you have to the wide side of the field- "don't worry about the pass, they'll never get the damn thing off anyway.") The whirring of the 16MM projector proved him correct, but also begin to put some of his audience that had not slept much that week to sleep.
Before we left, Kenny asked him for some advice and Coach Coleman listened carefully as did I. "We only really have one linebacker," Coach Goggans said. I found out later that this statement was probably an exaggeration. "What defense do you think we need to run?"
Football is a simple game that we coaches often make too hard. But not Billy Coleman. He laughed and gave us a piece of advice I not only remember to this day, but quoted many times when asked a similar question. "Pretty easy," he said. "If you have four linebackers, you run a 4-4. If you have three linebackers, you run a 5-3. If you have two linebackers, you play a 5-2. And if you only have one linebacker, you play a 7 diamond."
For those of you born after1950, a 7 diamond is a 7-1. Apparently, Billy Coleman thought you needed to stop the run to win.
"And one more thing," Coach Coleman added. "If you don't have any linebackers, you better start looking for another job. Cause you ain't going to stop nobody." I found this to be true as well.
For years after that, every time I went by that old motel right off University Boulevard, I thought of Billy Coleman, a 16 MM projector, the unblockable stunt and how many linebackers we have this year.
I was my first great lesson in coaching football. I never forgot it. Most of us football coaches have our own personal Hall of Fame and forever, Billy Coleman will be in mine.
Coach Coleman passed away last week, but the great lessons he taught players will endure. So will the lessons he taught a young guy, who had only been a coach since Monday.
Thanks to the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame for the photo.