By David Knox, Sports Editor
“We work with kids, in highly emotional situations, in public, while keeping score. And the words we choose to say in those moments, either helpful or hurtful, can stick with a kid for a lifetime.”
That’s a quote from Bruce E. Brown, a coach and coaching mentor, that rings true to me. Our communities entrust so much of our young people’s development, on and off the field, to coaches. They become father-figures and spend more time with them, influencing them, than we as parents do, sometimes.
It’s a great responsibility to be a coach, and the ones I know don’t take that lightly.
So who influenced the coaches who influence the kids in our communities?
This is the first in a series of stories with coaches in our community about who has influenced them.
Jerry Hood, Clay-Chalkville
“Obviously, that’s multi-layered for me,” Hood responded to the question about his influences. The Cougars coach, in his eighth season at Clay-Chalkville as head coach and 13th as a head coach overall, grew up in the Huffman area, played at Huffman High and then Alabama A&M before getting into coaching.
“My first great influence was Jerry Partridge, who I played for at Huffman, and Curtis Coleman. They had a tremendous effect on me. One, Coach Partridge took care of me like I was his son. And Coach Coleman, he was 22 years old at the time and our defensive coordinator, he had this energy that we defensive guys, we would kill for that guy. He had this energy that was unmistakable. And he’s still that way today, 34 years later, he’s still the same exact way.
“Both of them have been really big influences.”
Coleman, of course, went on to be a head coach, first at Ensley, then at Huffman and later Shades Valley before joining the Cougars staff as defensive line coach in 2011.
“Chris Yeager at Mountain Brook I consider to be one of my best friends in coaching,” Hood continued. “And we get to share ideas back and forth about what we would do in a certain situation. He’s my go-to on, ‘I’ve got a dilemma with a kid, tell me what’s the right thing,’ and he does the same from time to time.
“The thing I remember most about him, is when things were going rough (for me) at Oak Mountain, he was the one guy that really stuck in there and stayed in touch with me. I never forgot that.
“That scenario was like three of the five years I was the head coach, I was a great coach and the last two, I was the crappiest coach on earth. And those guys that stay with you from there, you know that’s a real guy.”
Toney Pugh first hired Hood as an assistant when he started the Cougars’ program. Hood followed Pugh to Oak Mountain after the 1998 season to start the Eagles’ program.
“When he hired me at Oak Mountain as defensive coordinator when we left here, he said, ‘This is your defense. You let me know what we’re doing,’ And that made me grow, and have to grow, so much as a coach. I didn’t want to let him down. That had such an influence on me and my development as a coach, and I appreciated that about Toney. I hope I do that with my guys.”
Hood went 28-26 as Oak Mountain head coach before coming back to Clay-Chalkville as head coach in 2009. In 2014, he won the school’s second state football championship, earning USA Today Alabama Coach of the Year and the Alabama Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year honors.
He also counts as an influence the man who coached Clay-Chalkville to its first state title.
“I’ll tell you another one who’s had more impact on me probably spiritually than X’s and O’s, and that’s because of the man he is, Hal Riddle was a great friend. Obviously, he’d been in it a lot longer than I had when I got on the coaching stage with him, but some of the best times I ever had was when he and I would trade films. We both had a great love of gospel music because both our dads were involved in gospel music, and some of his family were somewhat famous. My dad sang it for 20-something years. So when we would get together, we’d have a lot of conversations about not football.
“And I just remember that no matter if you were talking to the Hal Riddle when I got here, who’d been to the playoffs — I don’t know – eight of the last nine years at Trussville, or something unbelievable like that, something that a guy like me would aspire to — he was exactly the same man then as he was the last day he was ever the coach.
“His testimony of who he was was more important than any win any of us will ever have,” Hood said.
“The other thing I will never forget is he wrote me a congratulations letter after we won the state championship. I don’t remember most of the letter, but I do remember he wrote, ‘Don’t make football your God.’ I never have forgotten that. I can see it on the paper right now. That had a tremendous influence on me. As I age, I get it now. In other words, I want to win, it’s awesome to win, but at the end of the day, it’s not that big a deal. It’s the most important deal for us from 3 and 5 and from 7 to 9:30 on Friday night. There’s nothing more important during those times.
“But after that, real life is here, we need to be a part of real life.”