Saturday Morning Quarterback

Wilson legacy lives on in McNeal
Jan 25, 2014

 

Longtime Nashville high school football coach Jim Wilson died earlier this week of cancer at age 64.

At first glace, his connection to Wilson County might seem minimal. He served as principal at Friendship Christian for a few years in the late ‘00s. At the same time, his son Clint was principal at Lebanon High School and another son, Monty, recently left the Wilson County Schools central office for a position with the state.

But Jim Wilson’s legacy in Wilson County runs much deeper than spending just a few years at FCS. It lives on in the man who is the face of athletics at the Coles Ferry Pike school.

John McNeal played football for Goodpasture in the late 1970s when Mr. Wilson was an assistant under Don Vick. Mr. Wilson took over the Cougar football program the year after McNeal graduated and had a decade-long run. He was the head coach of the baseball team McNeal played on.

Later, McNeal coached under Mr. Wilson in football and brought him back to baseball to be his assistant after he had given that sport up. When McNeal returned to Friendship, Mr. Wilson became head baseball coach and led the Cougars to a state championship.

“I told him he owed me half of that [championship] for getting him back in it,” McNeal told me over the phone Thursday night after spending much of the day at Mr. Wilson’s funeral visitation.

“My dad was a great role model, but you need more also,” McNeal said. “Coaches are a great opportunity for that.

“Coach Wilson was one of those, he was a good coach, he was a tough coach, but his Christian example was definitely out there for everybody to see.”

McNeal has spent his entire adult life in coaching. Mr. Wilson spent most of his in athletics as well, winning 148 football games at three schools over 25 seasons, and virtually all of it as a teacher or administrator. After leaving FCS, he returned to coaching at East Literature, now East Nashville. He guided the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season.

Afterward, he became seriously ill and the prognosis didn’t look good. But miraculously, he was back on the sideline by the time 2011 preseason practice started. The last time I saw him was in August of that year when he brought his East Lit team to Pirtle Field to scrimmage McNeal’s Commanders. One of his assistants was Brian Waite, who had been a Dewayne Alexander assistant at Cumberland and would succeed Mr. Wilson the following year.

Mr. Wilson was a perfect example of “you can take a man out of coaching, but you can’t take coaching out of a man”.

Obviously, there are those who leave coaching and never return. And then there are the lifers like Mr. Wilson and John McNeal.

“I see a lot of myself in him,” McNeal said, sounding a bit emotional [though I’m sure he would deny it] over the phone. “He was the kind of guy I wanted to model myself after and I wanted my kids to see me as I saw him. He was like another dad to me. That was why I got into coaching.

“I want my players to be able to call me at any time, whether they’re still with us or whether [they’ve gone on with life]. I got into this because of the kids. I called him when I had problems, when I needed advice and answers. I hope my kids would do that with me.”

Many have. While McNeal has left his mark in the record book by leading Friendship to two football and two baseball championships in recent years, he has also seen some of his former players – Duane Lowe and Ben Johnson, to name two - follow him into coaching.

“I hope I have an impact on them like he had on me,” McNeal said.

It’s called ‘paying it forward’ – from Jim Wilson to John McNeal to Duane Lowe, Ben Johnson and who knows how many others.

Even more than winning championships, that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.Longtime Nashville high school football coach Jim Wilson died earlier this week of cancer at age 64.

At first glace, his connection to Wilson County might seem minimal. He served as principal at Friendship Christian for a few years in the late ‘00s. At the same time, his son Clint was principal at Lebanon High School and another son, Monty, recently left the Wilson County Schools central office for a position with the state.

But Jim Wilson’s legacy in Wilson County runs much deeper than spending just a few years at FCS. It lives on in the man who is the face of athletics at the Coles Ferry Pike school.

John McNeal played football for Goodpasture in the late 1970s when Mr. Wilson was an assistant under Don Vick. Mr. Wilson took over the Cougar football program the year after McNeal graduated and had a decade-long run. He was the head coach of the baseball team McNeal played on.

Later, McNeal coached under Mr. Wilson in football and brought him back to baseball to be his assistant after he had given that sport up. When McNeal returned to Friendship, Mr. Wilson became head baseball coach and led the Cougars to a state championship.

“I told him he owed me half of that [championship] for getting him back in it,” McNeal told me over the phone Thursday night after spending much of the day at Mr. Wilson’s funeral visitation.

“My dad was a great role model, but you need more also,” McNeal said. “Coaches are a great opportunity for that.

“Coach Wilson was one of those, he was a good coach, he was a tough coach, but his Christian example was definitely out there for everybody to see.”

McNeal has spent his entire adult life in coaching. Mr. Wilson spent most of his in athletics as well, winning 148 football games at three schools over 25 seasons, and virtually all of it as a teacher or administrator. After leaving FCS, he returned to coaching at East Literature, now East Nashville. He guided the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season.

Afterward, he became seriously ill and the prognosis didn’t look good. But miraculously, he was back on the sideline by the time 2011 preseason practice started. The last time I saw him was in August of that year when he brought his East Lit team to Pirtle Field to scrimmage McNeal’s Commanders. One of his assistants was Brian Waite, who had been a Dewayne Alexander assistant at Cumberland and would succeed Mr. Wilson the following year.

Mr. Wilson was a perfect example of “you can take a man out of coaching, but you can’t take coaching out of a man”.

Obviously, there are those who leave coaching and never return. And then there are the lifers like Mr. Wilson and John McNeal.

“I see a lot of myself in him,” McNeal said, sounding a bit emotional [though I’m sure he would deny it] over the phone. “He was the kind of guy I wanted to model myself after and I wanted my kids to see me as I saw him. He was like another dad to me. That was why I got into coaching.

“I want my players to be able to call me at any time, whether they’re still with us or whether [they’ve gone on with life]. I got into this because of the kids. I called him when I had problems, when I needed advice and answers. I hope my kids would do that with me.”

Many have. While McNeal has left his mark in the record book by leading Friendship to two football and two baseball championships in recent years, he has also seen some of his former players – Duane Lowe and Ben Johnson, to name two - follow him into coaching.

“I hope I have an impact on them like he had on me,” McNeal said.

It’s called ‘paying it forward’ – from Jim Wilson to John McNeal to Duane Lowe, Ben Johnson and who knows how many others.

Even more than winning championships, that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.Longtime Nashville high school football coach Jim Wilson died earlier this week of cancer at age 64.

At first glace, his connection to Wilson County might seem minimal. He served as principal at Friendship Christian for a few years in the late ‘00s. At the same time, his son Clint was principal at Lebanon High School and another son, Monty, recently left the Wilson County Schools central office for a position with the state.

But Jim Wilson’s legacy in Wilson County runs much deeper than spending just a few years at FCS. It lives on in the man who is the face of athletics at the Coles Ferry Pike school.

John McNeal played football for Goodpasture in the late 1970s when Mr. Wilson was an assistant under Don Vick. Mr. Wilson took over the Cougar football program the year after McNeal graduated and had a decade-long run. He was the head coach of the baseball team McNeal played on.

Later, McNeal coached under Mr. Wilson in football and brought him back to baseball to be his assistant after he had given that sport up. When McNeal returned to Friendship, Mr. Wilson became head baseball coach and led the Cougars to a state championship.

“I told him he owed me half of that [championship] for getting him back in it,” McNeal told me over the phone Thursday night after spending much of the day at Mr. Wilson’s funeral visitation.

“My dad was a great role model, but you need more also,” McNeal said. “Coaches are a great opportunity for that.

“Coach Wilson was one of those, he was a good coach, he was a tough coach, but his Christian example was definitely out there for everybody to see.”

McNeal has spent his entire adult life in coaching. Mr. Wilson spent most of his in athletics as well, winning 148 football games at three schools over 25 seasons, and virtually all of it as a teacher or administrator. After leaving FCS, he returned to coaching at East Literature, now East Nashville. He guided the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season.

Afterward, he became seriously ill and the prognosis didn’t look good. But miraculously, he was back on the sideline by the time 2011 preseason practice started. The last time I saw him was in August of that year when he brought his East Lit team to Pirtle Field to scrimmage McNeal’s Commanders. One of his assistants was Brian Waite, who had been a Dewayne Alexander assistant at Cumberland and would succeed Mr. Wilson the following year.

Mr. Wilson was a perfect example of “you can take a man out of coaching, but you can’t take coaching out of a man”.

Obviously, there are those who leave coaching and never return. And then there are the lifers like Mr. Wilson and John McNeal.

“I see a lot of myself in him,” McNeal said, sounding a bit emotional [though I’m sure he would deny it] over the phone. “He was the kind of guy I wanted to model myself after and I wanted my kids to see me as I saw him. He was like another dad to me. That was why I got into coaching.

“I want my players to be able to call me at any time, whether they’re still with us or whether [they’ve gone on with life]. I got into this because of the kids. I called him when I had problems, when I needed advice and answers. I hope my kids would do that with me.”

Many have. While McNeal has left his mark in the record book by leading Friendship to two football and two baseball championships in recent years, he has also seen some of his former players – Duane Lowe and Ben Johnson, to name two - follow him into coaching.

“I hope I have an impact on them like he had on me,” McNeal said.

It’s called ‘paying it forward’ – from Jim Wilson to John McNeal to Duane Lowe, Ben Johnson and who knows how many others.

Even more than winning championships, that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

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