Who writes a book about a lifelong high school football assistant coach?
That was my first thought upon receiving a copy of "Stanley J. Farmer: We Called Him Coach" by local attorney Jerry Summers.
But after reading Summers' touching tribute to the longtime Chattanooga Central coach and administrator who died 21 years ago Saturday at the age of 83, one may have a better question: When is someone going to make a movie about Farmer, who was one of the most extraordinary men and women ever to put the "greatest" in the Greatest Generation?
"There's not enough ink at your newspaper to print all the stories about Coach Farmer," said WDEF general sales manager Tommy Youngblood, who starred for the Purple Pounders toward the end of Farmer's coaching career.
"My sales staff will tell you that I use too many sports analogies, but I'm still using things every day that he taught me. I'll say my mom and dad are 51 percent responsible for molding me into the man I am today. But I'll credit the other 49 percent to Coach Farmer. If it wasn't for him, I might have become a juvenile delinquent."
Wrote former Chattanooga News-Free Press sports editor Roy Exum on the book's back cover: "His was a rich, abiding love for all people — he adored it when integration turned black and white athletes into the same shade of purple."
Added Ray Henry, Central class of 1971, in the book: "(Farmer) was John Wayne, General George Patton and Vince Lombardi all rolled into one. He turned many young boys into real men."
Several of those men will be on hand tonight at Central for the Purple Pounders' football game against East Hamilton, including Jimmy Hale (class of 1951), who will be part of a seven-member Central Sports Hall of Fame class that will be honored at halftime.
"I can still remember Coach Farmer hollering and screaming,'" Hale said. "He was tough and demanding. We'd do this drill, Bull in the Ring, and it would bring blood to our noses."
Yet despite that toughness, no one recruited better than Farmer at a time when young people could choose where they wished to go to school.
"We lived in Florida for a time when I was growing up," said Summers, who eventually starred in football, basketball and baseball for Central. "Then my dad had some health issues and we moved back. I was still in Florida when my mom called to ask where I'd like to go to school. I said, 'Who's got the best athletics?'
"Well, my dad and I drove all night up Highway 41 to get home around 6 the next morning. My mom cooked me something to eat; then I took a nap. Later that morning there was a knock on my door. It was Coach Farmer wanting to know if I'd like to go to Central. I think the TSSAA would frown on that today."
Other entities might frown now on Farmer's infamous "Board of Education," as he called the large wooden paddle he used to help instill discipline in both his players and students in general.
"He'd tell you, 'Just because somebody likes you doesn't mean you don't have to obey the rules,'" Youngblood said. "He could lift you off the ground with the Board of Education."
The book also shows how parents have changed regarding such discipline. When John Crawford — who later became the Pounders' head coach — was caught smoking one day during his high school years, he was introduced to Farmer's little friend. When he got home, his mom greeted him with the question, "Did Coach Farmer paddle you?" Crawford told her he had, and his mom paddled him again.
Yet the book contains countless more examples of Farmer's compassion and concern for all Central students. That might explain why players seemed to view the head coach Farmer worked under, E.B. "Red" Etter, differently than they viewed Farmer — despite Etter's genius displayed while leading Central to eight mythical state titles before the TSSAA began conducting playoffs.
Wrote Summers: "The players respected Coach Etter. They loved Coach Farmer."
Yet you couldn't help but highly respect the entirety of Farmer's life. For instance:
* In 1927, the 14-year-old Farmer and several other Boy Scouts (Farmer became an Eagle Scout) guarded Charles Lindbergh's iconic "Spirit of St. Louis" plane when it landed at Marr Field in East Chattanooga as Lindbergh was being saluted at a downtown parade.
' A Navy gun fire officer who saw considerable action at Iwo Jima — he claimed he once stayed in a foxhole for 18 straight days — Farmer later drove his Jeep, "The Chattanooga Choo Choo," to see the destruction left behind by the atomic bomb drops at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Because of that, military doctors tested him for radiation the rest of his life.
* He not only was chosen student council president at City High School in 1932, he also was elected senior class president at Emory & Henry College in 1937.
* While earning a master's degree at Columbia University in New York City, he took in the famous heavyweight rematch between Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, which Louis won by knockout in 2 minutes and 4 seconds, leading Farmer to tell his family, "I sure didn't get my money's worth."
Anyone buying Summers' book for $21.95 tonight at Central — he'll begin signing them at 5:30 — will get more than his or her money's worth, since all the proceeds go to the Stanley J. Farmer Scholarship Fund, which benefits graduating Central seniors and has reached almost $100,000 in donations since it was started more than 20 years ago.
For Youngblood, "We Called Him Coach" is a reminder of why so many loved the man whose final job at Central was as its principal.
"I hope there's more Coach Farmers out there today," he said. "Because if there are, there's hope for all our young people."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.