published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Coach-son link can be 'bonding' for the McCallie's Potters

McCallie head coach Ralph Potter poses with his son, Judd, an offensive lineman, at Spears Stadium. Ralph is the son of former McCallie coach Pete Potter.
McCallie head coach Ralph Potter poses with his son, Judd, an offensive lineman, at Spears Stadium. Ralph is the son of former McCallie coach Pete Potter.
Photo by Allison Love.

When he moved from Brentwood Academy to McCallie with his football-coaching father, Jud Potter was embarking on a life renewal.

There were old friendships to freshen and new friends to make during the better part of five months that Jud lived with his dad, Ralph Potter, before Ralph's wife, Jennifer, and daughter joined them back in Chattanooga.

The guys lived for a while with Lorraine Potter, mother of the former Blue Tornado football player and coach who was returning home. She was the wife of the late Pete Potter, who coached son Ralph at McCallie. They also shared a two-man dorm room, a campus apartment and a campus house before the women arrived.

Privacy was severely curtailed and "me time" was nonexistent.

"It was an experience that we won't forget," Ralph recalled with a smile.

"It was a great time for bonding," said Jud, an offensive lineman. "The funny thing about my dad is that we get along. We joke that we're the only people in the world that understand each other."

Relationships vary, but that of a father/coach and son/athlete can be tenuous. While he lived for those times his father would praise him when he didn't know he was around, Ralph said he never has thought of Jud as a football player, just as a son.

Still, life for a coach or coach's child can be tough.

"I've coached my kids since they were 7- and 8-year-olds in baseball and football, and they probably hate it," offered Silverdale Baptist's Al Rogers, whose eldest son, Colton, is a junior tight end and linebacker and defensive end for the Seahawks. "But I don't want to be Coach at home. I want to be Dad."

There is no governing rule at the home of East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood, whose son, Austin, is a junior linebacker and sometimes tight end for the Hurricanes.

"He expects more from me," Austin said. "He tries to push me to do my best, but at home he doesn't push football. At school he's a teacher and coach, and at home he's a father figure. He's definitely the first person I go to with football, academic or social questions. When it's about football at home, I'm the one to bring it up."

Said Coach Gatewood: "Austin has made it a great experience. He understands his role as a coach's son — that he may be looked at differently by his peers — and he understands that he has to perform. I don't think he feels any pressure. I would hope that, anyway. I want Austin to be his own man and his own player."

Former Red Bank coach Tom Weathers at one point had all three of his sons — Tom Jr., Wendell and Jeff — on the same Lions team.

"We all were absorbed in Red Bank and especially football; Mom, too," Wendell recalled. "And we certainly brought football home as well. It seemed 24/7. It certainly was our livelihood and actually was the thing our family really rallied behind."

Like Wendell Weathers, Ooltewah's wrestling coach, and his brothers, Tim James was raised in a football family, that of longtime East Ridge coach Raymond James.

"He was tough and he was tough on me," said James, now the football coach at Heritage. "But he taught me the mentality and skills it takes to deal with adversity. He tried to talk me out of coaching — wanted to make sure I saw it was a lot more than the glamour of Friday night lights — but when I made the decision to coach, he was my biggest supporter."

Russ Huesman, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's football coach, is still adjusting to coaching the son he rarely saw play in youth league or high school. He makes a point to step out of his office and see Jacob on the way to team meetings or practice although they don't speak often on the field.

Huesman sought advice, though, before signing Jacob to a scholarship.

"Buddy Nix said if he's a great one take him, if he's a bad one take him, but if he's average send him somewhere else," he said, referring to the former UTC coach who now runs the Buffalo Bills' front office.

Of course along with having a child play for him, a coach often must deal with the perception of favoritism.

"It was difficult early with two good quarterbacks [Jacob and Terrell Robinson]," Russ Huesman said, "but here in the last three or four weeks we've settled into what we want to do, and the good thing is that Terrell and Jacob have both embraced it and will do whatever we ask them to do. There's no pouting.

"Terrell is a special athlete, and we made the decision that he's going to be on the field somewhere, and I think it has shown up well. I feel good about having the two of them."

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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