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Co-workers, students respected work ethic of coach Luther Welsh

I feared after attending Anne Welsh's burial that it wouldn't be too long before Coach Welsh joined her.

I told several people if they wanted to see Coach again, they'd better go soon. Little did I know it would be exactly one week later.

As you might imagine, having served as his defensive coordinator during his 19 years in Thomson, it's been an emotional time for my family and me.

Luther Welsh touched so many lives in so many places. McDuffie County is a better place for the time he spent here. I am grateful for all the calls, texts, and other messages I have received from people all over the state that expressed concern for what I am going through.

It hasn't surprised me to hear from fellow coaches, friends or even relatives.

What has pleased me in this difficult time are the things said about Coach by some of the students who didn't play football for him.

Repeatedly, they talk about seeing his example of working hard and doing one's best.

Often, boys who come out for football and find it isn't for them want to blame the coach. It's an easy way out.

In the past several days, I have heard from many who talked about how Coach took time with them at practice, stayed on them like he depended on them to be starters the next year and taught them the value of effort.

They respected coach Welsh even though they couldn't play football for him.

Coach was the epitome of old-school. He respected his bosses and accepted their decisions when his popularity would have allowed him to go over their heads to get the things he wanted.

If he couldn't live with their decisions, he quietly went on to the next job.

E-mail, cell phones and texting were foreign to him. I was surprised that he would use an answering machine, but for him, that was as far as modern technology went.

Another trait of Luther Welsh was that he firmly believed that he was responsible for whatever occurred on his football team. He never made an assistant coach the scapegoat for what might have gone wrong in a game.

He always backed his assistants in any dispute with a player or parent. I saw many assistants come and go in my 19 years with him.

Some got better opportunities and some didn't like working as hard and as long as we did and left. However, he never fired an assistant. He felt an obligation to those he hired to work with them and allow them every opportunity to be successful as a coach.

He steadfastly refused to recruit assistants from other coaches' staffs. He only hired from the résumés he received. He thought it wrong to raid the staffs of his friends and colleagues.

Luther was a man of faith. He believed that everything happened for a reason and took difficulties in his professional and personal life and made the best of them.

He had a strong belief in God's will. While I would stew about the loss of a player to injury, Coach would simply tell me, "You can't do anything about that now; get the next man ready and do the best you can."

While Coach was modest and unassuming, he had tremendous confidence.

He would play any team, anywhere and any time. I guess after spending 15 years as head coach of Dougherty County High School in Albany in the toughest high school region in the world, he believed he could prepare his team for any challenge.

Can you imagine having to play Valdosta, Colquitt County, Lowndes County, Tift County and Thomasville in addition to your county rivals every year?

He also believed that he could develop almost any young man into a football player who could contribute to his team if the player would work hard to become strong and quick.

Being a man of modest size, he gave smaller players every opportunity to succeed.

In fact, the defensive scheme that he employed for most of his career used small, quick players along the line who would have had a difficult time finding a position to play otherwise.

All I can say is that it worked for us.

Luther was a tough taskmaster. He left no stone unturned in preparing his team and watched hours of film every week alone in addition to the time he spent with his assistants.

Most of his assistants didn't mind the work because you knew Coach was working harder than you and never felt any task, including cleaning toilets if needed, was beneath him. Those who couldn't adapt to the hours moved on.

He was often criticized for the length of his practices. People didn't know that a key reason for those marathon practices was that he gave backup players a great deal of attention.

They received scrimmage time every week just like the starters. Luther stated often that a player would never leave Thomson High School saying that coach Welsh didn't give him a chance or ever cheated him.

After 54 seasons on the gridiron that was continuous from 1955, with the exception of the two years he missed while in the Army, Coach called it a career last fall.

Fans like to talk about the 333 wins, the 13 region titles, and three state titles.

While Coach was happy about the accolades he received, he always gave credit to his players and assistant coaches.

Furthermore, he never lost sight of his real mission in life: to develop young men into the best citizens he could.

On Thursday, July 14, 2011, he was met by his Lord and told, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Web posted on Thursday, July 21, 2011

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