Jim Coker made it official on Sunday that he is retiring after 46 years of coaching.
Nearly 200 friends, family members, former players and coaches who’ve either coached or worked with Coker turned out for his retirement ceremony at Landon Winery in Greenville.
“It’s really been rewarding, the 46 years I’ve coached,” said Coker.
Coker began his coaching career in 1972 at East Texas State University as a graduate assistant after playing football for the Lions from 1968-71. He helped the Lions win the NAIA national football championship in 1972.
He then went on to coach as an assistant or head coach at 11 high schools including Longview Pine Tree, Kilgore, Greenville, McKinney, Lone Oak, Prosper, Terrell, Edgewood, Rains, Boles and Quinlan Ford.
“It’s a wonderful life coaching,” he said. “My daddy was the most important person in my life but there were four or five coaches that really influenced me.”
Coker said former McKinney head coach Ron Poe, who coached him in Greenville as an assistant, and former Greenville head coach Pittman Keen “were the two most important people in my life except for my father.”
Coker said both his mother and father were hard workers.
“We didn’t have a whole lot but they did everything for us,” he said.
Some of his former players and coaches who’d worked with him paid tribute to Coker in the ceremony as well as all three of his children, Charlie, Holly and Julie, plus two of his grandsons.
“He changed lives,” said Bill Hemby, who coached with Coker. “We’re family here because of that man right there. I appreciate everything this man has done for me and what he’s done for others.”
“This is a legacy that he had and the impact he had on all of us,” said Andy Marshall, who was a student teacher under Coker in 1979. “Your greatest legacy is this lady (his wife Cindy) and your kids and your grandkids.”
Todd Wallace, who coached with Coker in Quinlan, said it’s “probably been the best 10 years” of his career.
“The best part about it is the relationship me and Jim have,” he said. “I’m going to miss you dearly.”
Poe said he was “very fortunate that I got to hire him (Coker) as an assistant coach,”
“When he got on my staff I picked that brain of his,” said Poe.
Pat Brown, who played for Coker at Greenville and has been a longtime coach and teacher, talked about the family life of a coach.
“Keep on doing what you’re doing, being a daddy, a father, a coach and a mentor,” said Brown. “If his bloodline is like my bloodline he ain’t retired, he just stepped aside.”
Belford Page, who knew Coker at East Texas State, said, “Coker didn’t play. It was serious business.”
“The things he shared with me that made an influence on me...I could never say enough,” said Randy Matthews, who coached with Coker at Greenville when the Lions went undefeated on the playing field in 1980.
“One of the best things that I learned from Coach is to have confidence in myself,” said Hew Hamilton, a former lineman.
“You instilled character, integrity, discipline, work ethic and all those things in all of us,” said former Greenville player Todd Rolen in a video tribute. “It really transcended into my life.”
Blake Cooper, a former East Texas State Lion and superintendent of schools at Edgewood and Commerce, said the players at Edgewood “would do anything for Jim Coker.”
“A lot of things Coach Coker does well,” said Phil Blue, who was a quarterback on that undefeated Greenville team, “Great focus and great concentration. You can be a successful coach and not be significant. Coach Coker was both.”
“Coach, I sure appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my family,” said Brandon Milam, who coached with Coker in Prosper.
Kobe Coker, Jim’s grandson, said, “My Papa is by far the hardest working man I’ve ever known in my life.”
“Coach was a great influence on me...and gave me a great opportunity,” said Jeff Smith, who broke into coaching at Lone Oak under Coker. “He just makes people better. You talk about Michael Jordan making the people around him better. Jim Coker makes people better.”
Holly Coker Mulligan said she followed her father into coaching against his advice.
“I want to coach,” she said. “There’s nothing else I wanted to do.”
She said her father taught his children “how to work hard and live right.”
Julie Coker Barnard said her dad taught “us how to work hard.”
“It didn’t matter what a coach or teacher said to do,” said Julie. “You did it.”
“I want to thank you for everything you taught us,” said his son Charlie, who is also a coach. “Hopefully we can carry the tradition.”