Personality: Coach Willard J. Coker

Spotlight on the Bulldogs’ inspiring championship leader

3/19/2015, 1:53 p.m.
When people get slapped down, they have two basic options. They can accept their sad fate, throw a pity party, ...

When people get slapped down, they have two basic options.

They can accept their sad fate, throw a pity party, curse at the world and stay on their backsides.

Or they can bounce back.

George Wythe High School Coach Willard J. Coker is a bouncer.

After spending most of his adult life coaching basketball at his alma mater, Virginia Union University, Coach Coker was fired as head coach in 2011 after a three-year, 55-25 record.

He had spent the previous 23 years serving as an assistant coach at VUU to Coach Dave Robbins.

Their relationship is a long one. As a student, Coach Coker played under Coach Robbins on VUU’s first NCAA Division II national championship team in 1980. He was a VUU Panthers assistant coach for the 1992 and 2005 NCAA title seasons.

The 2011-12 season following his dismissal was the first season he hadn’t been personally involved with hoops since kindergarten, and it cut to the quick.

“I was miserable,” he said of the year away. “Some things people are just born to do.”

Meanwhile, a “help wanted” ad was posted seeking a head basketball coach at George Wythe High School in South Richmond.

Coach Robbins talked Coach Coker into applying.

It helped, too, that Coach Robbins “made a call,” according to Coach Coker, to the Wythe principal to voice his support.

Wythe had a downtrodden program when Coach Coker took over in 2012-13. The Bulldogs were 25-107 in the previous seven seasons.

Under Coach Coker, Wythe improved to 8-14 the first year and then went 24-5 in year two, advancing to the State 3A final before losing to Richmond’s John Marshall High School.

This year, Coach Coker took care of any unfinished business. His Bulldogs won the State 3A crown on March 11, finishing 26-6 and trouncing previously unbeaten Spotswood High School of Rockingham County during the final at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.

And here’s the best part: There is plenty of bounce left in his step.

Let’s meet this week’s Personality, Coach Willard Coker:

Date and place of birth: April 28 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Why I’m a coach: I love teaching the game that I love.

Number of years coaching: 29.

Coaches should: Lead by example and prepare their team the best they can to give them every chance to win a game.

Family: Wife, Jackie; adult children, Winee, Aliyia, Devon and Clara; and granddaughter, Cher Asia, 4.

Reaction to Bulldogs winning the championship: Overwhelmed with joy. I’m also relieved that we won the first state title at George Wythe. That was a lot of pressure because it was our second try. 

Did you expect to win: We expect to win every time we play. 

The key to winning the title: Playing our style of game.

How much time I spend coaching: During the season most of my time until I go to sleep.

Who influenced me to become a coach: Dave Robbins.

Role of sports in developing young people to become good citizens: Sport teaches players to respect others, also how to be disciplined and not to quit on yourself or your teammates. 

Advice to youngsters interested in a coaching career: Follow your dream and don’t cheat the game. Always start with teaching the basic fundamentals.

Biggest chance I’ve ever taken: Playing my best player with three fouls in the first half. 

How I face the day: Trying to be positive and accomplishing everything that I need to do.

Nobody knows that I: Always wanted to be a lead singer in a band. 

Best late-night snack: Olives, cheese, chicken Vienna sausages and crackers.

The person(s) that influenced me the most: In everyday life, my parents and Dave Robbins. In basketball, John Wooden, Dean Smith, John Thompson and, most of all, Dave Robbins.  

The book that influenced me the most: “Pyramid of Success” by Coach John Wooden.

My next goal: To achieve more next year than I did this year.