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Wednesday, August 20, 1997

Coach retires to farm after 33 years

By Bill Hart / Abilene Reporter-News

When Bill Grissom was about to finish at McMurry University, he had two choices: Go back to the farm between Crews and Winters or become a junior high coach at Breckenridge.

That was 33 years ago, and Grissom will finally make it back to the farm after this school year at Colorado City. That's when he's retiring the X's and O's for the clean country air of Runnels County.

Bill has worn previous coaching caps at Breckenridge, Winters, Floydada, Hamlin, Breckenridge again and Stanton. He was also the head coach at the last three schools and has enjoyed success of sorts at all four.

"The most fun I've had coaching came the first year here (1995)," Grissom said before taking his Colorado City Wolves on to the football field. "They had been 1-19 the two years before and had lost 19 straight. People told me they'd be happy if we won two or three games that year. Colorado City had been outscored something like 150-6 in the final three games the year before.

'But we opened the season with a victory over Coahoma and in all my years of coaching, I've never seen a happier bunch of kids. A couple of our big tackles (Zack Love and Marcus Sanchez) came to me after the game and thanked me. I told them that they had done it, I didn't make a single play."

The Wolves went 8-4 that year, made the playoffs for the first time in about seven years and were district co-champions. They made the playoffs again last year as the District 4-3A runners-up after two key players were lost to injuries. They are picked to make the postseason again this season.

Turning around down-and-out programs has been a challenge to Grissom. When he joined David Bonds' staff at Hamlin, the Pied Pipers were down. But with the new coaching staff, they won district that year.

One year, the Pipers started 0-4-1, but came back to win district. Then, when Grissom was running the Hamlin show, the Pipers were 0-5, but came back to finish second in district to Haskell, before losing 8-7 to a strong Hale Center team in the playoffs.

Breckenridge wasn't a powerhouse when Grissom moved there amid controversy. The first year the Buckaroos were 4-6. But they bounced back to win district the next two years.

The Bucks would make the playoffs three of the next four years, but a playoff loss to Denver City, after blowing a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, gave Grissom the feeling that it was time to move on.

Stanton hadn't won a game the previous two years before Grissom came on the scene, but in three years he had the Buffaloes on the upward scale, 3-7, 5-5, 7-3.

Good talent was on the Stanton horizon, but Grissom was offered the job at Colorado City where longtime friend Russell Merket was the superintendent. He took it and found there was talent there, too.

Just because Grissom is retiring after this season, don't think it will be a lame duck campaign.

"I plan to do my best coaching this year, and we have a great group of kids to work with," he said.

Fate almost kept Grissom from coaching. He was a member of the 1963 McMurry football team that survived an airplane belly landing near Shreveport, La., after returning home from a heartbreaking one-point loss to Northeast Louisiana. That incident probably helped make him a better coach because he admits it changed the priorities in his life.

Rival coaches can jump all over former Winters coach L.G. Wilson for putting the coaching bug in Grissom's ear. Grissom had coached in Breckenridge's junior high system on an emergency certificate for a year, then got his degree. Wilson gave him a job at Winters for two years, then he went to Floydada as Wilson's assistant for four years before going to Hamlin.

Chances are after a year or so on the farm, Grissom's feet may be itching to be back on the sidelines. But if that happens, it will be a junior high or assistant's job.

Or so he says. Somewhere there will be a school down on its luck and chances are he'll take the challenge to bring it back. Here's hoping he will because Grissom has been a credit to his profession.

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