Former North Country Union High head coach Bob Davis accepted the Contributions to Amateur Athletics Award at the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation's banquet held April 28 at Castleton State College. Here is a transcript of his speech.

The Enduring Legacy of Great Coaching

Recently, I sat down to compose an acceptance speech for The Contribution to Amateur Athletics Award I was to receive from the local chapter of The National Football Foundation.  Reflecting on my 29 years as a high school coach in rural Vermont, I was thinking about my coaching mentors and role models I wished to acknowledge. Aside from the perfunctory local coaches and administrators that had impacted my career, I thought about my father and Wallace Wade.

My father was undoubtedly the greatest influence on my life. He was tough man, and a strict disciplinarian that exhibited a compassionate empathy for others and a common decency that I cherish to this day. He was a college football player and coach whose coaching career was cut short by family pressures and the War; a decision that weighed heavily on him until his death during my junior year in college.    

Wallace Wade was a coaching icon in the Depression Era South, having coached at the University of Alabama and Duke.  He played college football at Brown and was a teammate of Fritz Pollard, the first African- American football coach in the NFL. His tenure included five trips to the Rose Bowl when the invitations were extended to the teams deemed to be the best on the East and West Coasts respectively. Coach Wade always considered himself an educator first and foremost.  He was instrumental in playing northern schools on Duke’s home field, that were racially mixed, which was quite controversial in the segregated South in the mid to late 30’s.  He preached to his players that he wanted to play the best, regardless of background or color.  The prominence of Coach Wade in his era was evidenced by his appearance on the cover of Time Magazine; the first football coach to be recognized in that capacity. It would be another fifty years before Time included another football coach on its cover. Coach Wade was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955.

My father played and worked for Coach Wade as a graduate assistant. One of my most treasured possessions is his Rose Bowl watch from 1939.  I distinctly remember pilgrimages to the south with my father to Duke University to visit with old teammates and coaches.  I would listen intently to the stories and recollections of the years they played for the "Old Man".  My perception was that Wade was a demanding, no nonsense coach that nurtured a profound respect and reverence from his players, perhaps accompanied by a little fear. It was evident to me that they loved, the man and felt he loved them. Many times our visits would include a visit with Coach Wade following a meeting of the Durham Rotary Club.  Coach Wade would always chide my father for gaining weight and the conversations went from current events to times past, and the legendary players on his Duke Teams, such as Ace Parker, George McAfee, Dan Hill, and Eric Tipton; all teammates of my father and all members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

I remember one visit with Coach Wade distinctly when I was a teenager.  My father and I went out to see Coach Wade at his small farm in Bahama, North Carolina. It was a hot summer day and Wade had just finished tending to his beef cattle and he invited us in for some iced tea.  Even though it was extremely hot and humid, Coach Wade had been out in his fields dressed in his customary white shirt and tie, accompanied by a straw hat.  Coach Wade was in his late eighties at the time, physically fit and ramrod straight and he still commanded a presence.  At one point in the visit, Coach Wade told my father that he “wanted to talk to the boy alone" and he directed me to sit with him in his office.  I was terrified. He proceeded to tell me, "You know, I coached your father and he really wasn't that good ".  Since I idolized my father, I always imagined his abilities were similar to his illustrious teammates.  Coach Wade went on that he had coached some of the greatest athletes of his era, but they were not the "the special ones".  The special ones were those, like my father who decided to coach.  At the time, I failed to grasp the intent of Coach Wade’s point as it was overshadowed by the realization that my father wasn’t the stellar athlete I had imagined.
 I had forgotten this episode until a couple of years ago when my son gave me a biography of Wallace Wade. The more I read, the more I realized that the values that Coach Wade espoused were the same that were instilled in me through my father.  The lessons on loyalty, diligence, integrity, compassion and humility were identical, as was his philosophy about the interrelationship between athletic and academic success. Coach Wade characterized himself as a teacher, rather than only as a coach. In a very short period more than 75 years ago, a football coach impacted my father's life to such a large degree that many of his values are not only present in me, but in my children and in the hundreds of players I have coached through the years.

The use of football as an educational tool is often forgotten in the hype of the NFL.  Professional football's purpose is entertainment. The NFL’s emphasis on big hits and showmanship and personal aggrandizement is not the game we teach in high school.  Their game is not necessarily our game. The justification of amateur football in schools is education.  High school football presents an environment that cannot be duplicated in a conventional classroom.  In football the necessary reliance on others for success, the sacrifice, the drudgery, and the constant repetition all lend themselves to teaching moments, as they mimic those obstacles encountered in life. The crucible of the playing field reveals that effort is not always enough, that failure is common, but failure can bet can be overcome by perseverance and diligence.    The relevance of the football field as a classroom was present in 1938, as it is today, and it will remain so in the future. Coaches who teach life lessons through the game are truly the "special ones".  

Grant Teaff, the Executive Director of the American Football Association, has stated that coaches, officials and players serve as the "trustees of the game for future generations".  A trustee must adhere to certain duties and responsibilities.  We must endeavor to keep our players safe, and we must continuously extol the virtues that can be taught through participation in football. The educational component is football’s justification for inclusion in our schools.  By supporting the Nation Football Foundation we are reaffirming the message that participation in football can provide positive benefits for future generations. Great coaching carries an enduring legacy.