PTM: Ed Emory
‘Life ain’t been fair to Ed Emory,’
but it's been a good one
All, Lifetime Coach
Ed Emory Wouldn't Change a Thing
©2002, 2004 Bonesville.net
Photo: ECU SID
From the time he was in fifth grade, Ed Emory knew what he wanted to do
with his life.
Perhaps it was because of the patience and understanding of a coach he
had in middle school. Or maybe it was something that his mother Eunice
instilled in him. Or, maybe it was because at a young age with a speech
impediment, Emory saw that people need a little help sometimes in the
form of encouragement.
Perhaps it was a little of each those influences that led Emory, as a
fifth grader, to decide that he wanted to be a football coach and an
educator. He has dedicated a lifetime to both and is, today, doing the
very thing he dreamed of at such a young age.
“As a fifth grader, I wrote down on a piece of paper the number of years
it would take for me to be a high school coach,” Emory said. “I had a
coach who spent a lot of time with me. I was big and strong for my age.
In my family, we came out of the womb working. My mom was a coach 24
hours a day, so I guess it was instilled in me.”
In his life, Emory has done just what he dreamed. After a stellar
collegiate career as a player at East Carolina under Coach Jack Boone,
Emory went right into high school coaching. He followed that by moving
on to the college ranks, eventually landing his dream job as the top
coach at ECU. And now, at age 65, Emory is the skipper of one of the
premier high school programs in North Carolina in Richmond Senior High
Emory believes in a lot of things and one of them is what he calls,
‘Want Power.’ Want Power is that powerful inner drive that propels
people to achieve those things they want most. Emory has always had that
Want Power and it bubbled to the surface early for him.
“I went to Camden Military Academy (a small school in Camden, SC) and we
went undefeated,” Emory said. “Every time I’d come home, there were
these two ECU boys who kept coming around the service station — George
Tucker, who later coached Wingate and Elon, and Paul Gay. They would
come around and were always talking about ECU.
“I was going to go to Clemson, but at the time, I knew I wanted to be a
coach and in order to do that, I wanted to study physical education.
Clemson didn’t have PE. I went to visit East Carolina and at the time
there were about 7,000 students and 6,000 of them were girls, which
really caught my attention. That got me to notice ECU, but it was also
that I knew that I could play as a freshman.”
Having played three years at a military prep school had Emory, a
tenacious offensive lineman, miles ahead of the other freshmen already.
That being the case, Emory came in and started on the varsity for four
years, though it wasn’t easy the whole time.
“My freshman year, I got a cartilage tear against VPI, but I played the
whole season,” Emory recalled. “When they operated they cut whole thing
out and Coach Boone wouldn’t allow me to go through spring practice.
Back then, they used to say that the only things that could screw up a
ball player was bad wheels and bad girls — and for me, it was bad
It would have been very easy for Emory to pack it in, but it wasn’t in
his nature to give up. His Want Power was too strong.
“I remember when my mom finally let me play football, she said to me,
‘If I come to a game and you’re setting on the bench, then you’ll never
play again,’” Emory said. “First string was always my goal. That is how
we were raised.”
At the time Emory was a Pirate player, his older brother was playing at
Wingate and his younger brother, Melvin, was destined to play at
Clemson. The fourth Emory boy, Maurice, never played college ball as he
bypassed college to run the family grocery business after their father
died. Maurice did end up playing some semi-pro ball down in South
Emory recovered from his freshman season injury and continued to play
for the Pirates, letting no obstacle stand in his way.
“I believe I could have played for Hitler because I love football that
much,” Emory said. “I was a brassy young guy, who was cocky and probably
over-confident and couldn’t really do everything I thought I could do. I
always gave 150 percent out on the field. If fighting was like it is now
in public schools, I would never have finished school.”
But Emory did finish school and then some. He finished an undergraduate
degree and most of his Masters’ program in his four years as a player.
“I started out (coaching) at Grainger High School in Kinston so that I
could stay near ECU and finish my Masters,” he said. “I almost did both
in four years, but I lacked two classes, Art and Music Appreciation.
Both of those classes terrified me because I didn’t know how much I
appreciated either one of them.”
His first foray into coaching wasn’t very memorable.
“I was the most frustrated coach,” he said. “I really thought I could
take chicken shit and make chicken salad out if it. We went 1-9 and it
was the worst team I was ever associated with. I was an assistant coach
and I had a great mentor there in George Thompson. He was a great man
who taught me a lot.”
Thompson, however, was not an off-season kind of coach. After the
season, he would hit the road and not think of football again until just
before the next season began. This mindset didn’t fit with Emory, who
was possessed by football.
“What I did was to make a weightroom,” Emory said. “I turned this old
coal room into a weightroom and during the day, about 25 kids and I
would go over to Fairfield Recreation Center to work out four days a
week all summer long. When George came back into town, he saw that we
had made a bunch Tarzans out these boys. We went 8-2 the next year and
was a pretty good team.”
With success, of course, came opportunities and Emory – with his Masters
in hand – headed for greener pastures, in the form of a head coaching
position at Wadesboro.
“It was unbelievable, being as young as I was,” he said. “Wadesboro was
in AAA in a league with Rockingham, Clinton, Lumberton, Dunn, all those
tough schools. There were only 357 kids at Wadesboro, but it was a great
honor to have the job, and the superintendent, who was a big, tall
Quaker from Pennsylvania, knew we had to build a program, which was my
Of course, in a little bit of foreshadowing, Emory got a taste of having
high aspirations with a very low budget.
“We borrowed a philosophy for training that the old Chinese Bandits down
at LSU used — Isometrics,” he said. “We had all these chin-up bars
around the field, but in the end, we didn’t get any stronger, so after
the season, we went to weights… heavy weights. I was the athletic
director and the head coach. I had four great years at Anson and we
turned out a number of good college players and even a professional
Emory In the Middle of Race War
Emory had finally established Wadesboro as a power program when the
federal government mandated the integration of schools. For Anson, which
already enjoyed an integrated football team, the combining of six black
schools and three whites schools in 1967, meant that nothing would ever
be the same.
“The new school was Bowman High School,” Emory said. “I became the head
coach and athletic director. We already had the best football players,
black and white, coming to the school, so we didn’t gain that much (in
“We took 135 kids, both black and white, to camp that year at Laurinburg
College at St. Andrews and we had no problems.”
But when they returned, the problems began to show in the form of the Ku
“We opened that school in 1967 and never had a problem that year. Our
football team went undefeated into the playoffs (losing to Elkin 13-7).
Then, we started to have all kinds of Klan problems.”
The problems were widespread enough to lead a reporter from Sports
Illustrated to investigate, eventually leading to a feature story
with Ed Emory’s take on the Klan and its impact on prep teams.
“I knew there was a problem when I went into the locker room on Monday
and all my black players were in there,” he said. “They said, ‘Coach,
can we talk to you?’ So, then went on to tell me that they didn’t
believe it was right that since they are on the same team with their
white teammates, that they shouldn’t have to get ready for practice
alongside members of the Ku Klux Klan. I told them I didn’t think that
was right either.
“At the time, we had this great field house with four floors. I brought
all the players to the fourth floor. I told them the only club they
could join is the Monogram Club, because I ran it. There would be no
Klan, no NAACP, only this football team.”
But the problem didn’t go away.
A white player, dressed in a Klansman’s guard uniform, rode his
motorcycle through a black neighborhood, stirring things up. Then, a
week later, Emory got a visit he will not soon forget.
“I noticed about 45 guys watching our practice one day,” Emory said. “I
knew that the school used the fieldhouse sometimes for night school, so
at first, I though that’s what they were there for… adult school. They
said they wanted to speak to me, but I never speak to anyone during
practice except my players and coaches. Then I realized what it was and
told them I would talk after practice. When practice ended, I asked the
other coaches to get up to the field house (for backup). When I got up
there, a guy came over and I noticed from his nametag from work, that he
was the father of one of my players, actually two of them. He says that
I am violating his sons’ constitutional rights by telling them that they
cannot join the Klan.
“So I told him that football, my football, is not political. I told him
his sons have a choice: the Klan or football. I told him that we were
trying to do something right by these kids here and that my rule
At the time, the Klan had blown up some buildings there, including a
cabin belonging to the superintendent. Emory’s wife, Nancy Buie Emory,
had packed up and headed out of town to stay with her mother, fearing
that their house would soon be firebombed. It was a scary time to be
blind to color. It even drew the attention of a writer with the
Raleigh News & Observer.
But for Emory, the incident only served to fuel his resolve. It was
against his nature to turn from a fight, a trait going back to the days
when Emory had to deal with ridicule every day due to a speech
“If someone picked on me about my speech impediment, I’d jump over a
desk to get at him. Every time I said ‘Frenty’ instead of ‘Twenty,’ I
would feel a bomb in my gut ready to explode,” Emory said. “God gave me
that handicap, I believe, so that I would understand in some measure
what blacks are going through. I can understand the anger that would
come from having to sit on the back of a bus. I needed football more
than football needed me. I needed those 200 kids more than they needed
As the story went, the reporter’s story made the rounds, frequently
quoting Emory’s statement that his football program was a dictatorship,
not a Democracy. The man who was upset with Emory had a son named Vernon
who was a blue-chip middle linebacker on Emory’s squad. He had another
son, nicknamed Fireball, who was playing junior varsity ball.
Fireball, or Charles as he was named, used to repeatedly steal the shirt
of a black player, whose name was Sylvester. Sylvester, who would go on
to become a professional wrestler called the Junkyard Dog, was a
mild-mannered kid but could only take so much, so he told Emory.
When Emory confronted Fireball, the player ran down the street and came
back with his father in tow. It was a second visit for the two men.
“So his father walks in and says, ‘You accused my boy of stealing that
nigger’s shirt?’” said Emory. “I told him not to use that language in my
office. And then he called me a nigger lover. I was young and crazy
then, so I hit him square between the eyes and he went down. Then, I
went on him. Of course, in come the players, and right in front is
Vernon. I realized what I was doing and I said, ‘Mr. Carpenter, I’m
sorry.’ But he pulled his boys out. I told him he could have Fireball,
but not Vernon because I need him to play on Friday.”
Emory told his boss he would write a letter of resignation, and Emory’s
wife headed back to her mom’s house fearing retribution. The boys’
mother eventually called to apologize for her husband, but Vernon still
missed the game. The team won and for the record, had a stalwart game
Emory didn’t need to resign and eventually the boys came back to the
team – out of Want Power – and there was no more trouble. Fireball,
sadly, did end up going to jail, and Vernon died just a few years ago
having had a long, close relationship with Emory.
Photo: ECU SID
Emory’s Path Toward his Dream
Having proven himself impeccably at the high school level, Emory was
ready to make a move on his dream of becoming the head coach at East
“In February of 1967, I went to Wake Forest for my first collegiate
job,” Emory said. “I had always wanted to be at ECU, and when Coach Stas
(Clarence Stasavich) gave a speech two years to my team, I was very
excited. Stas did offer him a job but it only paid $6,000, when Wake was
paying $10,500. Plus, ECU, at the time, didn’t hire assistants with the
idea of them eventually becoming head coach.
At Wake, he was named the head junior varsity coach, but it lasted less
than a year.
“It didn’t last very long,” he said. “I had got there just in time for
the firing. They fired Bill Tate. By that time, I had two children and
had to work.”
After turning down Marshall, Emory chose to head to Brevard as AD and
coach. In 1973, Emory found himself headed for Clemson to coach for Red
Parker. At Clemson, he spent three years as the running backs coach and
a year as the offensive line coach.
“Clemson was a great place to coach,” Emory said. “People always said
that Clemson couldn’t recruit out of South Carolina. But there was Want
Power at Clemson. They wanted it badly at Clemson. I made a statement
that in the next three to five seasons Clemson would win a national
championship. And, of course, they did. I always thought that East
Carolina could do the same.
“We proved one thing at Clemson,” Emory said. “We proved we could
recruit out of South Carolina. My entire offensive line was from the
state of North Carolina, including Dwight Clark, out of Charlotte.
Clemson had a good product, that’s why they won. East Carolina also has
a good product and they never back away from anyone.”
After traveling from Clemson to Duke to Georgia Tech, East Carolina came
Photo: ECU SID
Finally! A Pirate Again!
Though ECU called, it was not like Emory was a stranger. He had applied
for and received an invitation to be interviewed for the position. He
and Jim Donnan both first applied for the job following Mike McGee’s
departure for Duke after the 1970 season. Then the same group
interviewed after Sonny Randle resigned.
The third time, after Pat Dye headed to Wyoming, was the charm for
Emory, beating out Donnan for the position. For Emory, it was the
destination he knew he would someday reach.
“I was so happy,” Emory said. “I had kind of wished that Leo (Jenkins)
was still there because I would have liked to have worked for him. I
always thought I would die (at ECU). I worked at being a better coach, a
better recruiter, a better people person. I had all of those
philosophies. I had spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 34
years, to get (to ECU).
“I made a lot of mistakes, but not for any lack of trying.”
After inheriting a Pat Dye program had been successful on the field but
was wrought with what Emory called “big problems” off the field, Emory
set out to achieve his dream, many times funding his own travel
expeditions and other expenses to recruit players. With a recruiting
budget that, according to Emory, had been virtually depleted to zero to
pay other athletic department expenses, he and his assistants went out
and shook the trees to find a host of 1980 signees that would eventually
be the team that would shake up the college football world four seasons
After struggling for two years, the program began to take shape in 1982.
That team went 7-4 and served as a solid indicator of what was to
follow, when the Pirates went 8-3, with losses against Florida State,
Miami, and Florida by a combined total of 13 points. The 1983 team,
loaded with what would turn out to be a bunch of professional players,
served as a beacon, putting ECU on the national stage for the first time
forever marking ECU’s real introduction into big-time football.
An unfortunate disagreement with then-athletic director Dr. Kenneth
Karr, led to the dismissal of Emory after the 1984 season. The lingering
affects of the firing still haunt Emory.
“To me, September 11 holds another meaning,” he said. “September 11 was
the day I was fired from ECU. We had great, great kids and I am
convinced, had I stayed there, that we had a talented team in 1984 and I
think with the talent we had, that in 1986, we could win the National
Championship. But they chose a different route.”
Down, distraught, Emory was drowning in the pain in the wake of his
firing. Fortunately, Pepper Rogers called him and asked him to come down
to Memphis to join his staff for the USFL’s Memphis Showboats.
Emory’s contributions to ECU football should not be lost on the former
coach. He was the coach who ushered ECU into the uppermost ranges of
big-time college football. His 1983 squad was arguably the most
talent-packed Pirate team ever assembled, and it gained the first
burning glare of national recognition for the young program.
He was and forever shall be a big piece of East Carolina history.
Today, Emory is still the wily coach he always was. He is entering his
second year as the varsity head coach at Richmond Senior, where football
is taken very seriously.
Photo courtesy of
“I remember last season, a guy came up to me during practice and said,
‘My name is Bubba,’” Emory said.
“I said, ‘Nice to meet you Bubba. I’m glad you’re a supporter,’”. (Then)
“I said, ‘give me until mid season,’ and he said, ‘I’ll give you until
the first scrimmage.’ We were 12-2 last season and still some people
Such is Richmond football, but Emory loves it, every bit of it.
“What would I do if I didn’t coach,” he asked. “I don’t fish, I don’t
golf, I don’t garden… what would I do? I like to see young people
mature. I needed it when I was a kid and kids really need it now.”
In addition to his head coaching duties, Emory is a drug educator at
“When I was at ECU, it was bad wheels and bad women that could suffocate
a player,” he said. “Now it is drugs, and for us, it comes right across
the railroad tracks. My players take a drug test and their parents sign
off on it. I don’t want to catch anyone, but it only takes one kid on
your team dealing or doing drugs. I sure hate that.”
With ECU’s signing this season of Richmond standout Eric Terry, Emory
once again has a direct connection with his beloved alma mater.
“I’m proud, real proud of Eric,” he said. “I told him he could go any
place he wants to play football, but if he was asking me, I say go to
“I have complained some over the years, but I honestly pull for Coach
(Steve) Logan — I pull real hard. That program is only getting better.
Getting them into Conference USA was big. I knew those milestones would
come. The new facilities — when I was there, we weren’t a real
Division I team. But Want Power is very strong at ECU. Times are
As for Emory’s reflections on his ECU days?
“Life ain’t never been fair to Ed Emory,” he chuckled. “But, I’ve been
blessed for those five years at East Carolina.”
And he’s still blessed. He still has good kids and is healthy enough to
coach them, which is all he ever really wanted in the first place.
“If you get a kid to believe in you, then you can help them do
anything,” Emory said. “Then, you can love them, hug them, kick them
sometimes when you have to, drive them, get the very best out of them.
They understand this old coach.”
At 65, the game and desire to coach are just as fresh as they were back
when he was in fifth grade and the dream was first taking shape.
“Oh Friday nights,” he said, as if taking in a breath of the cool night
air. “The feeling is just as strong as it ever has been. Richmond
Raiders, baby! God, I love this game.”
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