Each fall on Friday nights, Lone Star schoolboy football players take the field in hopes of bringing honor to their towns, their teams and themselves. Long hours practicing and studying game film become routine and the ritual is repeated for weeks on end under the scrutiny of one person, whose job it is to not only post wins on the scoreboard but to help shape the lives of these young men. Whether he intends it or not, the head football coach becomes a major influence on his players, making personal impressions that will ring long after the final gun is sounded.
For the kids
Offenses and defenses may come and go, but durability is always embraced. That explains why after 37 years in one community, a football coach like Eddy Peach is as welcome a sight on the sidelines as his first day on the job.
Lamar High School in Arlington, just west of Dallas, opened its doors in 1970 and welcomed Peach as its inaugural head football coach. Since then, he’s pushed his name up the Texas all-time wins list, but he never let that serve as his sole motivation.
“We all start out in coaching wanting to win and have a good record,” Peach says. “But the longer you coach, you learn that the game is for the kids. The most important thing for all of us is to give them an opportunity to play, give them an opportunity to grow and to become better kids.”
During his lengthy coaching tenure, Peach has seen that philosophy come to fruition over and over. I.C. Little, who once played football for Peach then later coached under Peach at Lamar, has come full circle as Peach’s boss, now serving as athletic director for Arlington schools.
“He’s been a most influential factor in my life,” Little says. “We’ve known each other for 30 years, and he’s had a great impact on me and my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Great coach, better teacher
Kids don’t easily hide their anxiety before enrolling in new schools. Coaches can experience similar apprehension before taking new jobs. But not Randy Green, who followed a friend’s advice and ventured to Corsicana, (pop. 24,485) far away from his Michigan roots.
“I’ll never forget the phrase (a friend) used,” Green recalled, months before cancer claimed his life earlier this year. “He said, ‘Corsicana is a football factory.’ Being blue collar and from up north with the auto industry, I could relate to a football factory.”
Green did more than relate; he mentored and bonded with students upon arrival. His lesson plans became as famous as his coaching techniques.
“He was a great coach and a better teacher,” says Corsicana Athletic Director Sam Thompson, who, like Green, came to Corsicana in 1981. “I think that’s where he gained the respect of everybody.”
Months after Green coached his final game, Corsicana returned its thanks, throwing a benefit dinner in December 2005 for their embattled coach. Thompson, who organized the event, hoped to bring in around $3,000. The town responded with $23,000.
“He left so many marks on this town,” Thompson says. “His legend will live on.”
Over the course of his extensive coaching career at Forest Park High School (later West Brook) in Beaumont, W.B. “Pappy” Drennan left no small impact on the kids he mentored. Former players still contact their old coach regularly to pay homage to the man who, at 96, dates all the way back to the leather-helmet days of 1938.
Drennan is revered as a near deity. So much so that three years ago, ex-players he once coached gathered at a dinner in Drennan’s honor and showed their profound appreciation by donating $50,000 in scholarship money to his collegiate alma mater, Texas A&M.
“These were former students, who knew full well the impact that he had on them when they were growing up, when they were on their way to becoming mature individuals,” says Jerry Hentschel, 74, one of Drennan’s former coaching rivals and now a nearby neighbor in Beaumont. “To me, that kind of regard by the community speaks loud and clear. Ask anybody around here; he’s what athletics and high school football are all about.”