A friend of mine won the state wrestling championship in his weight class in 1966 for Kirkman Technical High School. I never realized that Tom Weathers was one of the wrestling coaches at KTHS until I read his obituary.
I can’t count the number of RBHS football games I attended before, during and after the years our daughters were there from the fall of ‘91 through the spring of ‘98. The four years that Gerald Riggs played were some of the most exciting games. I, along with many hundreds of RBHS students, parents, faculty and fans, stood in the snow at MTSU Dec. 2, 2000 witnessing one of the greatest football victories of all times.
Tom Weathers was a true gentleman of high moral character.
I’ll never forget the year RBHS defeated Cleveland and remained undefeated at that point in the season. Several days after the game, Coach Weathers was reviewing the Cleveland game film and realized that an ineligible RBHS player went in the game. The player had begged the coaches to just let him dress out for the game even though he was ineligible. RB had a comfortable lead over Cleveland and the coaches began letting reserve players get in the action. One of the coaches, inadvertently, tapped the ineligible player to go in the game. Coach Weathers was the only person who was aware of this. He did the right and honorable thing by calling the TSSAA the next day letting them know what had occurred. The end result was that RB forfeited the game giving the victory to Cleveland. This knocked RB out of the post season playoffs for the state championship. Tom Weathers stepping forward and taking this action speaks volumes about the MAN he was.
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I have played for two former NCAA Division I FBS football Coaches of the Year, worked closely with men that became CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and served alongside officers in the Air Force that became generals and even one that became the commanding general of NATO.
With this perspective, I can say that Tom Weathers was one of the greatest men I have ever known—likely the greatest.
I had the opportunity to play football for Coach Weathers at Red Bank High School in the mid-80s in the middle of his more than 40-year coaching career. Through the years I have gained perspective to better appreciate the traits that made him such a great man.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to pick the brain of one of Coach Weathers’ long-time assistants on what made Coach Weathers not just a great coach, but one with such a powerful impact.
His response was as short as it was unexpected, “Empathy”.
“Tom had great empathy for people.”
Empathy? Not something you’d expect to hear about what makes a great football coach.
The assistant coach went on to tell me of how Coach Weathers always ensured that the band got one-fifth of the football game ticket money. For Coach, half-time was the fifth quarter of the game, and he believed they deserved their fair share.
He also told me how Coach Weathers would never back down from talking with an angry dad, who was upset his son was not getting more playing time. The angry parent would show up at the appointed time ready to fight. Coach Weathers would also be ready to fight for what was right. But it never came to blows. Instead, Coach would put himself in the parent’s shoes and explain delicately why Junior wasn’t playing. He did this in such a way that at the end of the discussion the dad would always gratefully shake Coach Weathers’ hand. No doubt the dad was going home full of respect for Coach Weathers rather than the anger he came with.
Coach Weathers’ life had the structural integrity of a block of titanium—his actions and words perfectly aligned with his character. He was genuinely authentic, through and through, and had a fixed moral compass. Though a man of few words, he held himself, his assistants, and his players to a high standard of character and performance. He worked hard to prepare for games and practices, and he expected those around him to do the same. He always pushed himself and others to do better than they thought possible and to leave it all on the field.
He knew that doing your best every play with whatever skills God gave you was the highest level of integrity. What a powerful lesson. Whether on the field or in life, you only have one chance to do it right, so do your best on every play and in every situation.
I always attributed Coach Weathers’ high integrity to just being wired that way. As I’ve grown older though, I know that life wears one down with its many challenges. Therefore, a person must have faith and work diligently to maintain a high level of character. Coach Weathers daily spent hours dissecting film, looking for ways to gain an advantage. I have no doubt that he also spent many hours dissecting his own character and thinking about how to get the most out of himself and his players, not just to win games but to prepare them for life.
The one thing that Coach Weathers hated more than his players not giving 100 percent was arrogance. It was always about the team, not the individual. Whether on the football field or in the hallways, thinking it was about you or that you were superior to another was unacceptable.
The most incensed I ever saw Coach was during a practice 35 years ago. Our all-district starting offensive tackle decided to get in a cheap shot after he was beaten on the play by a scout team player for the third straight time. Coach Weathers came unglued like I had never seen after any bad call in a game. His veins were popping out of his neck. He grabbed the all-district player by his facemask and yanked him up from the ground. Coach then buried his face into the player’s facemask and delivered a few select words making it clear that the offensive tackle was at fault, not the scout team player. All of us on that team still remember every detail of this because it was the most outraged we ever saw Coach Weathers, and it also best demonstrated what he was all about.
Empathy, integrity, and humility are not core traits normally attributed with a renowned football coach. Coach Weathers daily lived these qualities in the hallways, on the practice field, and on Friday Nights. His actions spoke so loudly he didn’t need to use many words.
Though he was a remarkable football coach, he produced much more than powerful football teams. He changed the course of young men’s lives and launched them into the world at higher trajectories than they could have ever aspired.
Over the three years I played for Coach Weathers, his actions taught me to have empathy for others, humility in life, and the integrity to do my best every day. This elevated all aspects of the rest of my life—my marriage, my parenting, my career, and my walk with God.
That is why, on Coach Weather’s passing, the word used most by his ex-players to describe their appreciation for him is love. They know that because of his love for them that they are better men today than they could have ever been without his influence.
Elevating the trajectory of hundreds of men’s lives through decades of coaching—that’s the life of a great man.
RBHS Football 1983-85
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I believe the friend Mr. Hutson mentioned who was the state wrestling champ for his weight class in 1966 and was coached by Tom Weathers at Kirkman was Ernie Rose, my late husband. Coach Weathers was like a second father to Ernie and provided much support and encouragement to him, as I'm sure he did to many athletes.
I'm happy to see him still be so fondly remembered.