Hanging up his whistle

Published 12:01 am Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pleasant Home long-time coach Ron Yates will help coach his last football game Friday night. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Pleasant Home long-time coach Ron Yates will help coach his last football game Friday night. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

It was a cool night in Wadley and Pleasant Home was about to kick off the second half of its first ever playoff appearance in 2006.

A fog developed over the field. Players were lined up for action and steam started rising through their helmets.

Then, a pause.

PHS assistant football coach Ron Yates soaked the moment in and will carry that memory, along with many others, with him for the rest of his life as he hangs up his whistle after 19 years of coaching football.

“I just stopped and looked, and it made my hair stand up — this is something special,” Yates said about the game seven years ago. “I’ve always remembered that.”

Yates, a Carolina native, started coaching at Monroe County High School and went on to have stints at Opp, Headland and McKenzie, before landing at PHS after his father, Ronald, died.

Through his early years as a coach, Yates worked under notable coaches such as Paul Woolley at OHS; Larry Moulton, who played on one of Andalusia’s state championship teams, at Headland; and then McKenzie under coach Bobby Dye, the same coach for whom Red Level’s field is named.

“Then, I was blessed enough to end up in Pleasant Home through a series of events,” Yates said. “I offered to volunteer coach here. The first year I volunteered, but every year after that, they chose to pay me to do something I really enjoy.”

For the past eight years, Yates has been coaching more-so the Eagles’ linebackers, calling them his “babies.” His other coaching duties included instructing the defensive line during his first year and last year of coaching.

“So, it’s like book ends,” he said.

In addition to Woolley at OHS, Moulton at HHS and Dye at MHS, Yates has also worked under Scott Fount, who is Auburn’s tight ends coach; and Anthony Pleasant, who used to play for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’ve had these people drift through my life and really have an affect on me,” he said. “I did a lot of listening and very little talking. Then, I would ask them questions that were not as specific, like how do I turn an average player into an above average player? What they taught me was no matter what, teach them the basic mechanics, then no matter who they play, the mechanics will still hold true.”

The Eagles have been to the playoffs six times, and Yates has been the linebackers coach for four of those teams.

He said he takes delight in the fact that he had a hand in their successes.

“Of course I’d love to say that my guys were the difference, but to know that I was a part of it, it was really special,” Yates said.

Some other special memories Yates will take with him into his retirement from coaching is the Eagles’ 2009 game at Destin Middle School, where they played Rocky Bayou, Fla., in a regular season contest; and Pleasant Home advancing to the second round after defeating St. Jude in the first round.

“The No. 1 memory was when we beat St. Jude and enjoying that moment with my son (Evan),” Yates said. “When we came back in town, we had a police escort. That’s the only time we’ve ever done it.”

While he may be retiring from coaching, Yates will still be teaching science at PHS.

The main reason why he’s stepping away from coaching is because of some orthopedic issues with his knees.

At one time, Yates served for more than two years in the Green Berets as a special forces medic in the Army. He tore his patella tendon on a parachute jump in 1986, and was discharged with disability.

“My time was so brief in the Army and it was so long ago that very few people know,” Yates said. ” I am proud of that distinction, having served in the berets, even for the two and half years. Before being discharged, I spent the last seven-to-nine months in the hospital because of patella tendon repair complications. When I look back to that time to where I am now, it seems a lifetime ago.”

Nineteen years of coaching will come to an end for Yates, who was never a head coach by decision, tomorrow night when the Eagles play at J.U. Blacksher in Uriah.

Leading up to the game, Yates said the one thing that’s going through his mind are the players who have been under his tutelage.

“I’m going to miss the contact with the boys,” the coach said. “I’ll still have them in the classroom. They’ll still be talking to me. I’ll still be in the hallway with (PHS head football) coach (Cody) McCain and (PHS assistant) coach (Lamar) Gibson.”

Until the final buzzer sounds Friday night, Yates will give all that he has to the game of football.

“I’m happy and content,” he said. “When I walk off the field, I’ll feel OK. I’m pleased with the memories I have.

“I’m going to tell the boys one day, the lights on Friday nights will not shine for you,” he said. “With that said, I hope you have as many wonderful memories of the game as I do.”

Yates and his wife, Donna, have a son, Evan; and a daughter, Abi, who is a freshman at PHS.