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Red Bank football coach Tom Weathers smiles as he is hugged by one of his assistants after the Lions won the TSSAA Class 5A state title in 2000. The Lions beat Murfreesboro's Riverdale 27-7 in a snowstorm at Middle Tennessee State University.
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Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis

Gary Partrick still remembers the early spring evening in 1992 when he was rustled out of his recliner by the ringing telephone. The voice on the other end of the call was unmistakable and, as always, got straight to the point.

Tom Weathers, who had been Partrick's football coach at Red Bank when the Lions reached the Class AAA state championship game in 1978, was calling with more of a directive than an offer.

"Bill (Price) was leaving Red Bank's staff to become the head coach at Soddy-Daisy, so there was an opening for an assistant," Partrick said. "Coach Weathers called to tell me it was time to come home and join his staff and that he also wanted me to coach baseball. He wasn't really asking, either.

"The only problem was I was the head football coach at East Ridge at the time. I had just been named coach of the year in the area that previous season, and I really didn't want to coach baseball. But I didn't know what else to say other than 'Yes, sir,' and the next day I went to my principal at East Ridge to try and explain why I was giving up their head coaching job to take a pay cut, with a six-month-old baby at home, and go be an assistant at Red Bank."

As it turned out, a teaching position did not come open for Partrick at Red Bank, and he remained East Ridge's football coach for two more years. However, the loud-and-clear message Partrick took from that day was the same any of the countless thousands of young men who played for Weathers would agree on: "You just don't say no to Coach Weathers."

In a move that was long overdue, the TSSAA announced Thursday that it had said yes to Weathers' induction into the state's high school sports hall of fame. He will be one of nine inductees — including longtime basketball official C.A. Dockins of Cleveland — on April 13 in a ceremony at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Murfreesboro.

Weathers, who coached the Lions for 29 years, compiled a 222-85 overall record that included the Class 5A state championship in 2000, when they finished 15-0 and defeated powerhouse Murfreesboro Riverdale in a snowstorm at Middle Tennessee State University. Weathers' 1978 Lions were state runners-up.

Red Bank's field is named in honor of Weathers, who received the TSSAA Distinguished Service Award in 1988, and after stepping down from leading the Lions in 2002, he coached for two years at Dade County, then finished his head coaching career with a three-year stint at Soddy-Daisy.

Weathers, who now enjoys the peace of retirement from teaching and coaching, is already a member of the Greater Chattanooga Sports, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Tennessee Football Coaches Association halls of fame.

Perhaps the most impressive stat from his stellar career is the number of former players who were so influenced by Weathers that they went on to become coaches and leaders of young people themselves.

My first encounter with Coach Weathers came after covering a game early in the 1990 season, when a loaded Lions team that produced more than a half-dozen college signees made it through the regular season undefeated. As intimidating as it was for a young reporter to interview a man who was already a local legend, I'll always remember how welcoming and patient Coach Weathers was during that first postgame encounter, even asking if I needed anything else before he made his way from the field to Red Bank's locker room.

A decade later, having gained his trust enough to be allowed inside the team locker room, I watched as a different player stood in front of the team each Friday night during that magical run to the state title to read a letter from Coach Weathers' late wife Lynda, who had passed away just one week before the season opener.

In the letter, she thanked the team for their concern for her and their support of her husband — their coach. She encouraged the Lions to finish the season strong and "go all the way." By the end of each week's reading there weren't many dry eyes in the room, but you could sense the words served to renew a laser focus on what — and who — the team was playing for.

"You knew Coach Weathers was tough on you because he cared enough to want you to succeed at whatever you did," said former running back Gerald Riggs Jr., a high school All-American who helped carry the 2000 Lions to a perfect season and went on to play at Tennessee. "There was a certain line you just didn't cross with him. It was the same respect factor you have for your father.

"I would say just about every guy who ever played for him is really happy to see Coach Weathers getting recognized like this. He certainly deserves to be in the hall of fame with the best coaches in this state."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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