Sam Houston High School football won’t be quite the same without Gary Green, who has been as much a surrogate father to many of his players as their football coach since returning to his alma mater in 2008.
After 21 years as a teacher and coach, including the last seven football seasons as the head coach and athletic coordinator at Sam Houston, Green is retiring at the end of the school year to spend more time with his family.
Three words come to mind here: Good for him.
“I’m going to renew my relationships with my kids, and I want to experience all the experiences they’re going through,” Green, 59, said Tuesday. “I want to make sure that I’m there and have the influence I’ve had on everybody else’s children. I’m also looking forward to spending more time with my wife (Mildred).”
Green has five children, including two stepchildren, and three grandchildren.
“I’m going to enjoy spending more time with my grandkids,” he said. I want to make sure I have the influence on my grandchildren as well because I know how important that is. Everybody’s growing up around me and they know I’m always there for them. But there’s nothing that takes the place of actually experiencing things with them.”
The physical wear and tear of a long career as a player and coach also factored in Green’s decision to retire.
“I still work out and try to stay in shape, but I’ve been slowing down,” he said.
Green always has taken pride in staying in terrific shape since he retired from pro football 29 years ago. But as Green discovered while spotting for one of his players in the weight room March 16, his body can’t always do what his mind thinks it can.
“He was bench-pressing and he was trying to get one more set,” Green said. “When he couldn’t get it, he just gave up on it and I had about 255 pounds in my hands like a curl. It was either let it go down on him, or get it back on the rack. My back didn’t like it very much. I had a lot of old injuries from the NFL that really were doing pretty well, but when I hurt myself last month, I really hurt myself.”
Green injured the left part of his back, his left shoulder and his left knee, and hasn’t been back to work since then. He tore cartilage in the meniscus of his knee and is going to require surgery.
“With these injuries and my grandkids growing up, I’d just like to have an opportunity to slow down,” Green said. “I’ll be 60 in October. I don’t know how many years I have.”
As he exits the local sports scene, Green leaves a legacy that will endure in the hearts of the players he coached and the young lives he touched in the classroom as a speech/communications teacher.
“I loved going to Sam Houston because that’s where I grew up,” Green said. “I’ve coached the grandkids of some of the kids I went to school with, so there was a connection there. Every time the Sam Houston job came open during my 21-year career, I always applied for that job. Other people were trying to get away from Sam Houston, and I was trying to go there.”
Green graduated from Sam Houston in 1973 and went on to earn All-America honors as a cornerback at Baylor. Selected with the 10th overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1977 NFL draft, Green played in the Pro Bowl four times during a nine-year career that was capped by two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams before he retired in 1986.
He was still at the top of his game when he retired, but two herniated disks in his neck made it too dangerous to continue playing. Green worked in private business for nearly 10 years before he returned to his first love: athletics.
The son of two school teachers who had long careers in the San Antonio ISD, which includes Sam Houston, Green was inspired by their example as educators.
“I always wanted to be a coach and a teacher,” Green said. “That’s why I went into kinesiology, PE/health, and speech communication. I didn’t know if I was going to play professional football. That’s why I got my degree on time from Baylor. But things worked out well in the NFL.
“I was always drawn back to athletics. I was always drawn back to teaching. That’s what my parents did. That’s what my brother (Tony) was doing at that time. I decided to get into coaching and teaching. I got on at South San after talking with Jim Bailey, who was the head coach there back then, and I’ve loved it from that day on.”
Green was an assistant coach at South San for one year before joining Jim Streety’s staff at Madison in 1995. The highlight of his career was being on the Mavericks’ coaching staff when his only biological son, Gary II, an outstanding running back, played at Madison.
Green coached at Madison for nine years before becoming defensive coordinator under Brian Clancy at Jefferson in 2004. He coached at Jeff until he succeeded Russell Tatum as head coach at Sam Houston in 2008.
The Hurricanes went 37-38 and made the playoffs five times under Green. They went undefeated in District 28-5A last year before losing in the first round of the postseason and finishing 8-3.
Considering the countless hours Green has spent helping raise other people’s kids, no one could blame Green for his decision to slow down and focus more on his own children and grandchildren.
But there is no question that Green’s retirement will leave a sizable void at Sam Houston, a proud school with a predominantly black enrollment.
Coaching has been more than a job for Green. It’s been a way of life, and his emotional bond with Sam Houston made him uniquely qualified for the job from day one.
While Green’s experience as a former NFL star gave him instant credibility with his players, that’s not what won them over when it came getting them to buying into his vision for the Sam Houston football program.
“Being an All-Pro football player was just good enough to get their attention,” Green said. “It’s like when you see something on TV. You say, ‘I want to see what he’s saying.’ Then you turn the TV off. Once I had their attention, I had to be a real person. I’ve always thought I was a good communicator. I was always honest and open.
“I was raised the right way, and that’s with discipline, that’s with perseverance, that’s with hard work. Those are the three things I wanted to bring to Sam Houston. I wanted them to know, yes, you can do this, you can go to college. I don’t care how bad it is at home, you’re going to have to change your whole attitude and become more disciplined. You’re going to have to stay in the weight room. I was right there with them.”
Green connected with his players because he was honest with them – all day, every day. While Green held steadfast to high ideals, values and lofty goals, he never sugar-coated reality. Green’s players always knew where he stood, and they respected him for his consistency and commitment to them and to Sam Houston.
“I love kids and it kills me to see kids that have not had the benefit of parenting, of training,” Green said. “To me, the worst thing in the world is a kid who has not been trained. A kid that doesn’t have the structure and the support that every kid deserves. You see these kids getting killed on TV and the gang violence. They’re smoking weed and doing all sorts of stuff and don’t care about school.
“I have students at Sam Houston like that. They respect me and they’ll be quiet in school, but they have no drive to do anything. It rips my heart out because here’s a 15, 16-year-old kid who will do nothing in life. You try to do everything you can to wake them up in the short period of time that you’re with them. To me, that’s the worst thing in the world, a kid that has not had the structure and the support and the discipline to be successful.”
Green’s commitment extended far beyond the field house and football field. It was common for Green to give his players rides to school and drop them off at home after practice.
“It wasn’t just me,” Green said. “My assistant coaches always were there for the kids, too.”
But it was Green who set the tone for the program with his father-like guidance.
Whenever a kid needed meal money, Green dug into his pocket and made sure he didn’t go hungry after practice. Green and his coaches even provided a poor man’s training table after workouts – bread, peanut butter and jelly.
“It was heartbreaking for kids to come to school and they’re starving,” Green said. “They had nothing all day long. That’s when I started buying 25, 30 loaves of bread, peanut butter and jelly. We spent a lot of our own money. It wasn’t just me. It was all the coaches.
“These are kids who have grown up with no man in their lives. No structure. No discipline. Grandmothers raising them. They’re just trying to survive and they’re in school because they’ve got to be. Now you’ve got to change those minds and try to make those kids productive.”
Green’s duties as a head coach and athletic director, plus teaching three speech/communication classes, kept him busy throughout the school year.
“Head coaches in the San Antonio School District are in the classroom, and the classroom is very demanding as well,” Green said. “Even when football season is over with, while other coaches are sitting down and thinking about the offseason and next year, I’m in the classroom with lesson plans and everything else. That is all encompassing.
“I love teaching but just that and the responsibility of not only being the head football coach, but the athletic coordinator, there really wasn’t enough time in a day. It really puts the coaches in our district at a disadvantage.”
In the end, Green’s passion for his job always came back to the kids he worked with in the classroom and in the classroom.
“Once you create a relationship with anyone, especially with kids who haven’t had a lot of emotional support on the way up, they’ll appreciate you for it,” Green said. “Those kids may not listen to their teacher, they won’t listen to the principal, and they won’t listen to the police officer in the hallway.
“But as soon as they see a coach that they love and respect or want to be like, they’ll straighten up right away. It’s not about winning football games. We always want to win the football game, but my objective was saving lives and keeping kids on the right side.
Green is in the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame, the SAISD Athletic Hall of Fame, the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame, and was named to the Southwest Conference All-Decade team for the 1970s. He also will be inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame this season.
“That caught me like a left hook,” Green said, referring to the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame. “This has been one of the best years of my life. We were picked last in the district (last season), went from 3A to 5A, and were undefeated district champs. Then I made the SAISD Hall of Fame. It’s like the Lord lined up everything for me.”
“I appreciate all the recognition for the things I’ve done, but I would say that the biggest awards that I ever got in my life are the notes that I have, or these calls that I get from ex-students and athletes. They tell me, ‘You made a difference in my life. You helped me turn my life around.’ That makes me feel better than any hall of fame.”
Here’s wishing you a long and happy retirement, Coach Green.
You’ll always be in my hall of fame.