I met Bill Courtney today, the coach shown in the “Undefeated” documentary about the Manassas High football team that’s up for an Oscar Sunday.
Memphians who haven’t seen the film yet – it opens Fri., March 2 here – are in for a treat. As Manassas’ coach, the Bill I saw in film clips appeared to be the same one in person. Down to earth, no nonsense, charismatic and always polite, no matter who’s in his office.
He’s got a mock grenade on his desk in the office of his lumber company in North Memphis. The grenade has a sign that welcomes the visitor to the complaint department. They’re encouraged to take a number – and the number 1 is lodged behind the pin of the grenade.
This guy took a football program that at one point was charging better teams for the privilege of beating Manassas in one lopsided game after another, just so the struggling Manassas team would have cash for the season.
How did Bill turn things around? Go see the movie. I’ll tell you some of what he told me -
“How do you handle things when you’re being hit in the mouth?” Courtney asked me. “What you do is you preach character on a daily basis, and then you walk it. And if you walk it, (the kids) start to believe it. And if you can show them how these things have made a difference in their lives, then it changes from just a bunch of noise from a guy who’s older than them to something worth listening to.
“The x’s and the o’s are a hell of a lot less important to me than character development.”