The late George Coker also impacted new head coach Sydney Wright at Detroit Osborn
DETROIT – Sidney Wright could barely hold back the tears whenever the name George Coker was mentioned, but like the strong young man that Coker taught him to be, he was able to keep his emotions under control.
You see, Coker was the head football coach at Detroit Osborn for 18 years, until he passed away suddenly of a heart attack in April. Now Wright is the new head coach, but the program has been changed forever.
"We’re still hurting off of that," Wright said. "That’s not someone you can just replace, even with myself. From the principals to the custodians, that was a man that had a nice word to say to you everyday, and we’re all truly going to miss him."
Coker had worked at the school on Detroit’s east side for the last 18 years, and touched so many lives during his time at Osborn. In a area that is notorious for violence, and gang-related activity, Coker was what just young men from that area needed to at least have a chance to succeed in life, including Wright.
"Coach Coker was actually my high school coach, when I graduated in 1998 from Osborn," said Wright. "So we stayed in contact ever since I left for school, and went off to the military. He actually helped me get my first coaching job in little league, so he’s been a big influence.
"He was the reason why I came to Osborn. He was someone I talked to everyday, asked questions, and picked his brain about football, and about life."
Coker never had much success on the football field at Osborn, but when you’re saving the lives of young men, football takes a backseat. Tragedy struck the program in 2011, when star running back Allante Powell was fatally shot and killed, just days before the season was to begin. Coker was a huge presence at Powell’s funeral, both literally, and figuratively, serving as a pallbearer and comforter. And although he couldn’t save Powell, his genuine kindness touch many others who didn’t even play sports at Osborn.
"It’s a lot of other kids that wouldn’t even be breathing if it wasn’t for him," said Wright. "Football is one way that he helped them stay out of trouble, myself included. My mother, grandmother, and everyone else knows Coach Coker is Osborn football, and that is never going to change.
"Everyone at Osborn loved him, and life there will certainly be different without him."
Coker certainly died way too soon at the age of 45, but has given birth to another young head coach in Wright. Looks wise, he won’t resemble Coker too much, but with all that he had instilled in Wright, his presence will still be felt on the sidelines this year.
"Just about everything I know about life, and football came from him," said Wright. "Yes he was my football coach, but he was also a man I cried too before, and that’s something I don’t do, but I certainly sat there and cried to him.
"He always listened to anything I had to say, and that’s something I’m going to miss about him; not being able to go to him to talk again."
Osborn will kick it’s season off against Detroit Western International on August 29, and of course this season is being dedicated to the memory of Coach Coker. The entire 2014 Detroit Public School League football season will be played in his honor, which is a great gesture, for a man who had done so much for his people. Wright understands he will have some big shoes to fill over at Osborn, if that’s even possible, and knows that he and his players have a lot to play for than just football games.
"This season will be dedicated to him more than ever," said Wright. "The players want to go out there this season, and make him proud. My whole coaching career from now on is dedicated to him, because he is the one who helped me get into it, and he has made me a better man."