More Than Winning Games
Dalton's Bill Chappell demanded the best of his high-school players - and gave the best of himself i
Furman Bisher said it best: “Coaches like Bill Chappell have kept more kids out of jail, off the street, shown them the right track than any public official ever did.”
William Jerry (Bill) Chappell deserves to be called legendary. The former Dalton head football coach – the second winningest coach in the history of Georgia high school football who two years ago was admitted to the state of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and last year was selected to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame – never had one losing season.
Chappell’s kids won 317 games, lost a mere 74 and tied a paltry nine. In 33 seasons, his teams won one state championship, reached the state finals five other times, captured 16 regional championships and made the state playoffs 27 times.
But if anyone ever understood that football is more than winning games, it is Bill Chappell. While demanding the best of his players, he gave the best of himself.
While driving himself and his players on the field, he drove himself in civic activities. He served as president of the Dalton Exchange Club, never missed a Dalton Rotary Club meeting, was a member of the Elks Club, a director of the Fidelity Savings Bank, a member of the city of Dalton Recreation Committee and founder of the Dalton Quarterback Club.
As he was piling up victory after victory, larger prep schools in the state came calling as did several colleges. But Chappell, ever loyal and true to his adopted hometown, would not even consider a move.
“I never was on an ego trip. Dalton gave me what I wanted – financial and moral support, a place in the community and the opportunity to work with young boys.
“Looking for something bigger never was my style. Why go chasing rainbows when you already have them?”
Chappell was 12 years old when he decided he wanted to be a football coach. His father wanted him to be a lawyer. “We had our first argument about that,” he says.
“After I got out of college [the University of Georgia], I landed an assistant’s job at Perry High School. I was living with my parents. When I received my first paycheck and showed it to my dad, he said, ‘And you went to college for that?'”
Chappell, now 69, was born in LaGrange and grew up in Hapeville. Although he was no star, he lettered three consecutive years in football, baseball and track at Hapeville High School.
What Chappell did not achieve as a player, he over-achieved as a coach. Chappell’s 317 victories at Dalton is exceeded in the history of Georgia football only by Dan Pitts’ 346 wins at Mary Persons High School and Larry Campbell’s 346 victories at Lincoln County.
His accolades are too many to mention, though some of the more notable are: head coach of the Georgia North-South All-Star prep football classic, head coach of the Georgia team in the Georgia-Florida All-Star Football classic, honorable mention for National Prep Coach of the Year, Winner of the Dwight Keith award for coaching excellence and winner of the Atlanta Touchdown Club Coach of The Year Award.
When Chappell was named head football coach in Dalton in 1964, he did not come on like gang busters; he came on like the Marines attacking Mount Suribachi. In his first season, he gave Dalton its first regional championship. In three of his first four years at Dalton his teams competed for the state championship. In his third season he brought home the coveted state title trophy.
And his strong leadership, his demand for academic success, his teaching of respect and individual responsibility, turned his boys into men. His gridsters have gone on to become medical doctors, attorneys, bankers and some of Dalton’s top business and civic leaders.
Chappell credits much of his success to his wife, the former Bennieta Andrew of Perry, Ga. “While I was out coaching football, watching game films, scouting future opponents, meeting with my coaches, attending civic clubs’ board meetings, she was home raising the children [Andrea and William Jr.],” he says. “She cooked their breakfast, washed and ironed their clothes, got them to school on time and fixed their dinner. One day I realized I knew everybody’s kids but my own.
“On another day I had a massive chest pain. I ended up in the hospital emergency room for triple bypass surgery. The next year the man I succeeded as coach at Dalton in 1964, Alf Anderson [an old Atlanta Crackers shortstop] died.
“Five years ago I was a pall bearer at the funeral of one of my closest friends, Gainesville High head coach Bobby Gruhn. “I began hearing voices saying ‘back off, back off.’ I knew then it was time to quit.”
Today, Chappell makes time to spend with his children and two grandchildren. “I missed my kids growing up. I am trying to make up for that with time with my grandchildren,” he says. He is up every morning by 6, eats a light breakfast, goes to the wellness center for a daily workout, plays a round of golf and then goes to his son’s home to play with his grandchildren.
But he retains his memories. “Looking back on it, it was humorous but at that time it was kind of tough to swallow,” he says, remembering an almost-losing season. “In my first eight seasons, our team made the playoffs seven times. But in the ninth year, we missed, finishing with a 5-4-1 record. After we lost our third consecutive game, the talk around town was ‘Chappell is getting too old for the job. The game has passed him by. Maybe we ought to start looking for a younger coach.'”
The next season Chappell’s Dalton Catamounts finished 9-5 and the team was runner-up for the state championship. The Monday-morning quarterbacks suddenly disappeared. The next seven seasons Chappell’s Catamounts won regional championships.
One of the most outstanding examples of Chappell’s ability to draw the best from assistant coaches and players came during the 1967 season. The team was heavily favored in the Friday-night opener but lost to Rome, 7-6. After the game Chappell called his team together and, in his quiet voice, said, “We will practice tomorrow, we will practice all day tomorrow.”
The next day, from morning to dark, the Catamounts blocked and tackled, blocked and tackled, blocked and tackled. The next week, Dalton won, 33-0, and then ran the table to reach the state finals.
I can honestly say that I loved it,” says Chappell of his 33-year career. “You learn from the losses. There were games in which we were outclassed but we were never outfought.
“How many people look forward to going to work every day? I did. I was blessed to work at a job I loved so much.”
Honors came frequently but Chappell never accepted one as totally his own. He always gave his assistants and players the credit, admitting that if it had not been for them the accolades would have been impossible.
What did Chappell look for in his players? “Attitude, desire and dedication,” he says. “The last things I looked for were talent and size. You can take a 300-pounder – and we had some of those – with speed, quickness and agility but it doesn’t matter without commitment. I used some 140-pounders who had giant-sized hearts. What some players lack in physical assets they more than make up with 100 percent effort.”
Along those lines, he offers some advice for aspiring football coaches. “If you can live without it, don’t go into coaching,” he says. “It is no 9-5 job. You need to genuinely love kids and understand they are kids, not adults, and they are going to make mistakes.
“Above all, you must push yourself harder than you do your players. Don’t expect your players to give 100 percent if you don’t.”
Chappell has been named “Coach of The Year” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Chattanooga Times. He has been recognized by the American Football Coaches Association, the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association, the National Education Association and the Georgia Education Association.
About the only honor still missing is, inexplicably, election to the Dalton Education Foundation Hall of Fame. Surely the citizens of Dalton will do the right thing and encourage Chappell’s admission at the foundation’s very next meeting. It is an honor well-deserved for this truly legendary coach.