Thanks, Coach.

Robert Armstrong
May 18 · 7 min read

It’s not really my style to write a sappy post and share it on social, but after seeing a few others I couldn’t help myself.

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RIP Coach Gartman.

I remember the first time I heard of Coach Gartman. My neighbor Caleb moved next door to me when I was in junior high and would tell me “horror” stories about his high school football coach. Stories of 3-a-days, the gremlin, and brutal workouts. Although he was still coaching, he had already achieved “legend” status in our corner of the high school football world.

Oddly enough, although it sounded horrible in some way it left me sort of jealous because I wanted to have stories like that for myself one day. And as luck would have it ….I got what I strangely wanted.

As I was going into the 10th grade, we learned that our then football coach was leaving and heading to a bigger school. We had been on a run of 4 straight state championships BUT it looked like we would be “re-building” for the foreseeable future as we just graduated a ridiculously talented senior class. It felt like he was leaving us high-n-dry and just looking for “greener pastures”.

As we started to look for another coach the rumors started to circulate that we were looking at Coach Gartman as a possibility to come back to Morgan….and sure enough he was hired. We were all sort of freakin out, ha!

I remember seeing him walk into the lunchroom the first time — it was like the oxygen sucked out of the room. Probably the quietest it’s ever been in there. He walked by all of us on the football team and handed us a playbook to start reading thru — 6 months before the grass was even cut on the practice field.

Most of you reading this knew or knew of him, but for those that don’t …he was pretty intimidating at 6'5" 300+, red-faced, and was a man of few words. The closest thing to Bear Bryant I can think of.

Our first year with Coach proved everyone's assumptions were correct as we went 4–7, and changed offenses about 4 different times throughout the year. By the end of the year though, you could start to see a “team” coming together and you could tell Coach had found a formula on offense that worked….the freakin’ Veer. If you ever practiced the veer you’ll know what I mean …you get better by repetition and man did we repeat the same. freakin. plays. every. freakin. practice. :/

By year 2 (my junior year) we were starting to look like a contender in our league again as we beat some good teams — and put up a fight against the championship contenders. I remember one game in particular where we were playing against Mobile Christian and the game was going back and forth …mostly a defensive battle. Late in the game we were down 20 to 13 and you could tell we were starting to wear them down. We ran the veer relentlessly and were getting about 3 to 6 yards a pop on each run late in the 4th quarter. With minutes to go in the game, we scored to make it 20 to 19. We didn’t have much of a kicker at the time and with how well we were running the football we decided to go for 2 to win it. In true Coach Gartman fashion we ran the same play we’d run the whole drive …an off-tackle dive and punched it in. We held them on the next series and won the game.

I’ll never forget being in the locker room that night and the pride that I felt of being apart of that team. It was one of the first times I remember seeing a side of Coach that I’d never seen. He told us he loved us, and I knew he meant it if he said it….and I think the majority of us loved him too. We were starting to really believe in each other as a team.

We got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs that year, but we knew and the league knew that Morgan was going to be a “booger” to deal with the next year.

As we approached my last year, Coach’s 3rd year, we were expecting to go all the way. We weren’t the biggest or the fastest, but we were definitely the meanest. If I had to rank the most important things to succeed in football:

1. Mean

2. Mean

3. Mean

4. Fast

5. Strong

…but I digress :)

2nd game of that season was an epic matchup between our previous Coach and Faith Academy. I remember being so fired up for that game …that when the game actually started I was exhausted! We struggled the first half …and during halftime Coach wasn’t real happy so he took us all in the basketball gym and we did tackling drills. NO JOKE! Hahahaha!

He made some adjustments to the defense and it put us back in the game, but we ended up losing on a questionable roughing the kicker call late. We were pretty devastated but we knew our hopes of getting to the state championship were still alive as long as we could continue to win. We also hoped we could get re-match with Faith — and by the end of the season it looked like we might have that wish.

We only lost one other game that season, and we found ourselves 1 game away from the State Championship against a team Gartman had coached in Pickens Academy. Side note, Faith was also in the other semi-final game so there was a good possibility we would have our chance at a rematch.

Picken’s played our style of football which was running right down your throat so we knew it would be a tough game. In the first half we had 5 turnovers and found ourselves down by 14. Running the veer is great when your ahead, but when you are behind it’s not the most ideal offense as it takes a while to score getting small chunks of yards at a time… BUT little by little we clawed back. We tied the game up in the last few minutes and headed into overtime.

We got the ball first and scored — and made our extra point (up by 7). Pickens turn. They get the ball and on 3rd down threw a wobbly pass …which I don’t think they threw it all game — and completed the damn thing. So now we are up by 1 and they have a choice to make, either go for 2 and win …or tie it up and keep going.

They call a timeout to think it over and Coach Rob runs down from the tower during the timeout and says, “they’re pumping up 26 ….he is getting the ball!!”. Their running back (#26) had been running an off-tackle power all game and we were having a hard time stopping it…. it looked like they were going to run it again.

They line up, we line up, it literally came down to this play. If we hold them we go to the State Championship Game and a possible rematch with Faith. The hike it, they run the off-tackle dive, and we hold them on the half-yard line. We Win. All of Selma floods over the fence. We all just started running in celebration …it epic!! I’ve rewatched the film many times and it’s the fastest I’ve seen Coach Gartman run ….he even did a little skip. :)

We were headed to the State Championship to play Faith…again. Leading up to that game we were as focused as any team I’ve ever been apart of. We all as a team wanted that win like nothing I’d ever felt, and we were literally going to give everything we had!

They couldn’t move the ball on us at all that night, and in our typical fashion we found ourselves tied with seconds to go in the game. As that year progressed we’d finally found ourselves a field goal kicker in Jeremy Smith, a 10th grader with some real talent! Tied 13 to 13 with less than 15 seconds to go in the State Championship, Jeremy runs out and kicks a line drive thru the uprights. We win.

3 years after Coach Gartman decided to come coach a bunch of small, slow, and stubborn kids we did what my class had talked about since 4th grade. We won a state championship. It was awesome, and one of the top 5 highlights of my life.

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Coach Gartman meant a lot to me then, and even though I haven’t seen him years he means even more to me now. I know I speak for a lot of the players he coached when I say that.

When he came, I was in 10th grade and I was tiny. The smallest guy on the field, and as a young kid I was pretty self-conscious about my size. I wasn’t sure I could actually play because I was so small.

Coaches before had made comments about me not being big enough, etc. but Gartman never did. He just gave me a chance to prove myself and I can honestly say it’s affected my life forever. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s absolutely true. Growing up kids need things to build their confidence and need opportunities to overcome adversity. He did that for me by just giving me a chance to play, and I will forever be grateful.

As a coach (football or not) part of your job is to win, but even more than that is to help boys become men.

Coach Garman did that as good as anybody.

RIP Coach — I Love You

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