POWDERLY, Tex. – At last count, there were 185 residents in this settlement which is ten miles north of Paris, Texas, and about the same distance south of the Red River which has reached flood stage recently, owing to sodden rains which are complicating things for a populace which is, more often than not, affected by long dry spells.

One of Powderly’s residents is Gene “Bebes” Stallings, the one-time football coach who owns an 800 acre working ranch. The coach, his wife, Ruth Ann, and his foreman, Benje Faulker, tend to the 75 or so Bonsmara cows, the pastureland, fencing, garden and everything that grows, needs repair, fixing, mending or cultivating. The U.S. and Texas flags fly outside his rambling country style house. Stallings has always honored his favorite flags. There are a few mementos from his days coaching at his alma mater, Texas A&M, and Alabama; and the years he spent with Tom Landry and the Cowboys plus a four-year period with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals.

However, it is just as important to him to show you his vast collection of law enforcement badges or his boxes of arrowheads and Indian artifacts which he has found on his property. He moves around his “Hike-Away-Ranch,” on a Kawasaki Mule. There is a plethora of barns and out buildings, which he and Benji built over a period of years, starting out when Gene bought the land on credit when he was coaching Texas A&M. A banker told him the best buy in Texas at the time was in Lamar Country. “Hey,” Stallings told him, “that’s where I am from.” He hurried home and immediately made a deal with the banker. As he rode through his cattle herd, he explained to a friend and a visitor, Carl Mayhall of Dallas, that he appreciates his land because he is so much a part of it. “When I was coaching the money wasn’t like it is today. I had to work 40 years to pay off my ranch. That is why I am so proud of it.” It is easy to conjure up the notion that nobody appreciates owing land like this former coach who is just as sentimental about his ranch as he is the trophies he has collected, including the 1992 National Championship at Alabama.

There were ups and downs along the way. Fired at Texas A&M, fired by the Cardinals, there were 14 great years with Tom Landry and the Cowboys and five assorted championships at Alabama—National, SEC and four Western Division titles. When things were rocky, he repaired to the ranch where he was reenergized by being outdoors with his family and working with Benje, a confidante who was more concerned about fashioning a roof on a barn than what happened when a linebacker shot the gap and spoiled a play which cost Gene a game. “I have enjoyed Benje as much as any player who has played his heart out for any of my teams. Benje can fix anything, and I mean anything. I can leave and go out of town and not worry one minute about the ranch while I am gone,” Stallings said.

There’s more than football on the agenda when you visit Hike-Away-Ranch. Like having lunch with Gene at the Borderline Café in Powderly. It is a graphic piece of Americana. Harley-Davidson posters, miniature cars, photos of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe (will we ever get tired of her seductive look) and John Wayne. There is, of course, one of Stallings whom everybody greets as, “Coach.” He was warmly greeted by a lady named Brandy who, along with her mother, runs the restaurant. “They always look after us,” Gene smiled as Brandy asked for our order.

This is where you can get an 18 oz. hamburger—“The biggest in Texas,” Gene says proudly. You can also order chicken fried steak, Philly steak or a patty melt along with jalapeno peppers. The smoking section is filled by aging folk, smoking and coughing. The parking lot is unpaved, and visitors get a serious visual screening as they find a table. It is a place you connect with in your mind’s eye from stops in small towns across the country. I felt at home.

Gene Stallings is so plain-spoken, you think you might be in the company of Harry Truman. You conclude as he moves about his community that his word is his bond. With a deep drawl, he sounds very much like the native Texan he is. However, you won’t find him in cowboy boots and a Stetson. He prefers Red Wing boots. More often than not, you will see him bare-headed.

One of the Junction Boys of Bear Bryant, Gene’s weather beaten and leathery look comes honest. Even when he was coaching, out on a hot football field sweaty and laboring in the sun, the outdoors have always anchored him in his element. Stallings has always earned respect for his rawhide makeup and his blatant candor.

Folks around here appreciate him, just as they do in all the communities where he and Ruth Ann have lived—for the way they incorporated their son, John Mark Stallings, into their daily life. Born with Down’s syndrome, John Mark would have his photo taken with three presidents. Several buildings have been named for him in Tuscaloosa and College Station. He is buried at the ranch with a marker with this quote: “I love the farm on a beautiful day.” More than 1,100 came to John Mark’s funeral.

When Gene speaks around the county, he always has a poignant message about John Mark’s courage even on his death bed. When the coach concludes any speech and references his late son, the proud father always notes to his audience, “My complaining days are over.”

Editor’s Note: Gene Stallings was the head coach at Texas A&M from 1965-71 and Alabama from 1990-96. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.