Goldthwaite's Gary Proffitt credits coaches, players for his UIL 100 honor

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Gary Proffitt

Editor's note: During the 2020-2021 school year and in celebration of 100 years of University Interscholastic League Texas high school football, the UIL named the top 100 coaches. The complete list can be found on the UIL website.

Gary Proffitt said his selection as one of the top 100 Texas high school football coaches in the first 100 years of UIL football is all about three factors:

The coaches.

The players.

The culture.

Goldthwaite’s head football coach from 1986-2012, Proffitt ranks among the state coaching leaders in career wins with 244, playoff wins with 48, and state championships with three. He also was an assistant coach in 1985, when the Eagles won the first of their four state titles.

With multiple years to reflect, Proffitt deflected much of the credit to the coaches who helped build and maintain the Eagles’ program as well as the players who executed on the field.

The coaches’ credit begins with Chan Priest, the Goldthwaite head coach from 1980-85 who built the program from the ashes to the Eagles’ first state championship in 1985 before leaving for opportunities at larger schools.

Proffitt – who played for the Ballinger Bearcats in the 1970s and graduated from Angelo State University in 1980 – was Priest’s assistant for six years. Proffitt was elevated to head coach in 1986, even though he was just a six-year assistant and not even 30 years old.

“Chan rebuilt the program and got things headed in the right direction. We mainly tried to continue on that,” Proffitt said recently. “We had some turnover on the staff, but for the most part, a lot of the assistant coaches stayed for quite a few years. That definitely helped with our continuity and consistency.”

The list of Proffitt assistant coaches who stayed and helped build and maintain the program includes Tim Spradley, Kevin Burns, David Knauth, Mike Cocanougher, Mickey Bartley, Bruce Sowers, Gary Speegle, Jeffrey Head and Greg Proffitt. From 1980-2012, they coached the wishbone offense and attacking defense that became staples of Goldthwaite’s success.

“We were not always the most talented team,” Proffitt said, “but we pulled out some wins because the kids knew what they were doing and they had confidence in it.”

In 27 years as head coach, Proffitt coached hundreds of players at Goldthwaite. A few frontline stars went on to play college football – most notably defensive back Keith Cockrum at Texas Tech, linebacker Andy Beard at Rice and defensive end Kelsey Hite at Angelo State.

Mostly, though, Proffitt’s Eagles won with a lot of lesser-known, hard-nosed players who weren’t superstars but were perfect for small-town football in Texas.

“A lot of credit goes to the kids we had coming through,” Proffitt said. “We had guys that could just get it done. They were hard-nosed and tough, and they knew what they had to do.”

The culture Proffitt mentioned refers to the era in which he coached. It was a time when boys grew up wanting to play for their hometown high school football team. To those teenage boys, there was no question that the sweating, hurting and bleeding in practices were worth it on Friday nights.

“The kids at that time loved to play football. It was a big deal. It was important to them. The kids had the attitude that they could win every time they stepped on the field,” Proffitt said.

“One year when I was coaching the JV, we had 13 players. It was a rag-knot group, but they only lost one game. They just wanted to play and play hard. They wanted to work at it. That’s half the battle.”

As the winning seasons and playoff victories piled up, expectations rose higher – regardless of how realistic they were for a particular year. After winning state in 1993, the Eagles lost heavily to graduation. But the 1993 backups that moved up to starting roles in 1994 simply saw it as their job to win state again. They did.

The following year in 1995, the Eagles advanced to the state quarterfinals despite not having any team speed to speak of.

In 2010, Goldthwaite was hammered by injuries to its better players and weary from a gauntlet nondistrict schedule that included consecutive road games in the Fort Worth area, at Grape Creek and at Fredericksburg. But the Eagles taped themselves up week after week and eventually finished as the state runner-up.

“I’d always run into Jeff Stewart (a former player and school board member) during the summer, and he’d say, ‘Well, we ought to be a shoo-in for at least the state quarterfinals this year.’ Then he’d start laughing,” Proffitt said of the fans’ yearly high hopes.

“But if you’re going to win state, you’ve got to have those high expectations.”

An unusual aspect of Proffitt’s coaching career is that he spent all of it at Goldthwaite – six years as an assistant, 27 years as head coach, and two years from 2012-2014 as a part-time assistant.

An unusual accomplishment of Proffitt’s Goldthwaite career was going 15 years between his second and third state championships – from 1994 to 2009. The 2009 state championship game in which Goldthwaite held off Canadian 29-25 illustrated the challenges of coaching that Proffitt loved.

“Canadian was going for a three-peat, and they had this unstoppable spread offense. Everybody said we couldn’t beat them with our outdated wishbone,” Proffitt said. “It was a quick, three-day learning experience for our kids in practice that week.

“They (Canadian) hurt teams most when their quarterback scrambled, so we had to tell our defensive linemen not to rush the passer. The plan was to keep him in the pocket and make him throw. We even went to Early and got on their turf to see the marks on the field where Canadian’s receivers lined up.”

Goldthwaite surprised Canadian with three touchdown passes from the archaic wishbone, and the Eagles’ run-oriented offense hogged the ball for 33 of the game’s 48 minutes. Even then, the Eagles barely held on. It was a big win for old-school football.

But three years later, lingering headaches began taking their toll on Proffitt, who despite still being in his 50s, left the sideline for the press box during his final season.

“It was time to stop,” he said of retiring. “I enjoyed every bit of it, but it was time.”

Mike Lee writes a weekly high school football column for the USA Today Network's Texas newspapers. Contact him at michaellee7@att.net.