By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
Bob Coley is well known in Etowah County, especially to people from the Glencoe community. Coley has operated a Christmas tree farm on Pineview Avenue in Glencoe for over 30 years, providing many families with their central festive decorative household piece.
Before Coley became popular with his Christmas trees, however, he coached high school football, basketball and baseball at Hokes Bluff, Glencoe and Altoona. Coley tallied a 35-26-6 in seven years as a head football coach.
Coley is a native of Lincoln, where he graduated high school in 1951. Coley signed a football scholarship to Auburn University in February 1951, but finished his playing days at Jacksonville State College.
“I transferred from Auburn because of the poor facilities there at the time,” Coley said. “There were many players who transferred out of there when I did. I went to Jacksonville and eventually started on both offense and defense.”
Coley’s first coaching position was at Altoona, a position he accepted in late summer of 1955.
“I was fresh out of college when I was offered the job at Altoona,” Coley said. “I had a connection with the principal out there and landed the job.”
The Choctaws reeled off back-to-back 8-2 seasons in 1953 and 1954, the latter of which earned the school its lone football state championship. Coley inherited a reputable football program at Altoona, but faced the challenge of rebuilding.
“We lost a lot of guys to graduation that had been starting for two or three years,” Coley recalled. “[Coach] Dugan Taylor did a great job with guys like [Wilburn] Davenport and [Roy] Hethcox, but those guys were gone and we were looking for guys to step in most key positions.”
One position Coley did not have to worry about filling was the fullback slot, which was filled by senior halfback Bill Nichols.
“Bill moved into the position easily,” Coley said. “He was without a doubt one of the best football players I ever coached. He had unbelievable speed.”
Altoona went 3-6 in 1955, its first losing season since 1951.
“If I had had more coaching experience that season we would have won more games than what we did,” Coley said. “Boy were those kids tough! They were all tough farm boys that were solid, lean and loved to play football. Unfortunately, I only had a couple of weeks to work with the players.”
Coley enjoyed his stay in Altoona.
“Altoona is my kind of town,” said Coley. “I enjoyed the peace and quiet out there and the community supported their teams. It was simply a great experience.”
Coley left Altoona for an assistant position at Glencoe, where he stayed for five years.
In the summer of 1961, Coley accepted an assistant coaching position at rival Hokes Bluff, and was named the school’s head coach prior to the 1962 season.
“I faced the same situation at Hokes Bluff as I did at Altoona, rebuilding,” Coley said. “This time, however, I was more experienced with a few years of coaching under belt.”
The Eagles went 4-5-1 in 1962, but the coach proved he learned much during his years as an assistant.
In 1963 Coley fielded one of the finest high school football teams Etowah County ever produced, which featured players such as Benny Miller, James Hayes, A.C. McCullars and Bobby Junkins.
Hokes Bluff destroyed all opponents in 1963, tallying a 10-0 record. The Eagles posted five shutouts and outscored their opposition by an average of 32 to 4, including a 47-6 route over rival Glencoe and a 34-0 shelling of county rival Sardis.
“That was a special season,” Coley recalled. “We had all the right guys in all the right positions. If I didn’t win with them, I shouldn’t be coaching!”
Coley said Miller was a major factor in that team’s success.
“He was quick as lightning,” Coley said. “He was so small that if he found a hole, he could hit it and be gone. He had amazing speed and meant a lot to us offensively.”
Coley coached at Hokes Bluff through the 1967 season. After 13 years of coaching, Coley decided he needed a change in his life.
After the school year ended in May 1968, Coley accepted a position at Gulf States Steel in Gadsden.
“There were things I wanted at that time,” Coley recalled. “We found a farm in Glencoe that we liked and decided to buy it.”
Coley worked at Gulf States Steel for 28 years before retiring in 1995.
Coley, now 80 years old, still lives on the same 22-acre farm. Because of his age, he closed the tree farm after last Christmas. Nowadays, he spends his time traveling and restoring vintage military jeeps. His favorite hobby, however, is following the promising baseball career of his grandson, Georgia native Seth Mann.
“Seth is nothing short of a great baseball player,” Coley said of his grandson, who is currently pitching and playing infield for Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. “I don’t mean to sound biased, but he is the best all-around high school baseball player I have ever seen. I truly believe he will play in the major leagues one day.”
Compared to other coaches in the county whose careers spanned across many decades, Coley’s tenure was rather short. In 13 seasons as a head coach, he compiled a 35-26-6 overall record.
Coley insists his decision to walk away from athletics and education was the right one not only for himself but for his family.
“I simply did not want to grow old coaching,” Coley said. “When my kids got a little older I wanted to be with them. We bought our farm, built our house, and settled down. It was a great move for me and my family.”
Coley often reflects on his days on the grid sideline. When asked who would win a 100-yard dash between speedsters Miller and Nichols, the old coach twitched his mouth and closed one as in deep thought.
“Who knows, they would probably tie!” he said with a laugh. “Boy, what a race that would be!”
Coley enjoyed his years in the classroom and on the sidelines.
“I have great memories of great people that I coached over the years in these communities. I made many great friends along the way that mean a lot to me. If I had the chance, I’d do it all over again.”
It was good to catch up with Bob Coley.