William Wesley (Wes) Elrod has been a long-time high school Nashville-area football coach at four schools, mainly at Maplewood for six years in the ‘70s, then at McGavock for 14 in ‘ 80s and ‘90s and has an overall 23-year record of 173-81-2. In all, he has coached for 43 years at the high school or college level, was named state Coach of the Year once and four times the Nashville coach of the year.
Born in Murfreesboro, Elrod played at Antioch High and at UT-Martin. Currently living in Lebanon, Elrod, 67, has served recently as an assistant at Wilson Central High in Wilson County. He has written two books on football, Blocking the Edges and Beyond the Edges and he works many clinics.
He and wife Dona have three children and eight grandchildren.
The City Paper: Where did you get your start in coaching?
WE: I began at old Central High in 1965 under coach Cliff Goodman, then at old Two Rivers High under Garland Russell.
TCP: How did you begin to learn your trade?
WE: When I was an assistant in the late 1960s, I’d go to the old NIL coaches’ meetings at Nashville Sporting Goods on 8th Ave. South, and hang out and listen to guys like Tommy Owen (MBA), Louis Catignani (Ryan), Bill Brimm (Madison), then later, Garland Russell, Bill Harris, and just soak up what they said. It was a great training ground.
TCP: Who was the best and most influential coach you worked with?
WE: Unquestionably Gerald Johnson, who knew so much about football. He coached me at Antioch. Later, he worked with me at Maplewood. He had a gruff exterior, but he was like milktoast once you got to know him. He was a great coach in baseball, or any sport he was in.
While we were coaching there, that’s the closest I came to winning a state football championship when we lost in the 1975 (AAA) finals. However, we did win the Litkenhaus (point ratings) state title that year.
Editors note: Elrod said Johnson has Alzheimer’s Disease and is at a rest home in Green Hills.
TCP: Best players you ever coached?
WE: I was fortunate enough to have coached some truly great athletes. When I was an assistant at (old) North High in the late 1960s, I had Jesse Mathers, who was a great receiver, who later went to Vanderbilt.
At Maplewood, I had guys like had E.J. Junior, Ronald Hale, Dallas Hall, and Al Young and Thomas Goodloe. At McGavock, I had Jonathan Quinn and Leon Baxter. There were so many great ones.
“I’ve also had some great assistants, among them Scott Brunette (now the Metro Schools AD) when I was at McGavock.
TCP: Greatest game you were a part of?
WE: The 1974 Clinic Bowl at Vanderbilt (which at that time was the quarterfinals of the state AAA playoffs). Ryan beat our Maplewood team 28-26 in triple overtime when they had Mike Wright and we had Ernest Cecil. I still think it has to be the greatest high school game ever in Nashville. They went on to win state, and I think we would have, if we had won the game.
TCP: Biggest team rivals?
WE: In the old NIL (and well before private/public school split), we had the East Division which Maplewood was in and the West Division which Ryan was in. (Ryan coach) Boots Donnelly and I got together, and we opened our seasons with each other, it was a great kickoff to the season, we had huge crowds.
Later, when I was at McGavock, Overton coach Nick Coutras and I got together, and we started a great rivalry in those years to open the season.
TCP: Biggest coaching rival?
WE: Probably Jerry Pigue. We really went against each other when he was coaching at Stratford and I was at Maplewood, then later when he was at Hunters Lane and I was at McGavock. (Elrod said he had the upper hand in wins/losses).
It was a love-hate relationship. Later, we went in together to help form the NIL Hall of Fame. We’ve become good friends.
TCP: Best principals you worked for?
WE: Howard Baltimore at McGavock and Eddie Adelman at Maplewood.
TCP: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since you began coaching?
WE: Don’t get me started on busing (busing students from one school zone into another) in the early 1970s. When that went into effect, it completely destroyed the concept of closeness of neighborhood schools, and we lost our community identity.
We had some great rivalries like Madison vs. Litton, and we lost that. The Middle Tennessee schools still had rivalries like the Lebanons vs. Gallatins, but Nashville lost theirs. Before busing went into effect, there were about 90,000 students in Metro and it dropped to about 60,000 after. Just recently, it’s gotten back to about 80,000.
TCP: Current ventures?
WE: After Maplewood and McGavock, I worked as a college assistant for three under Hershel Moore at Cumberland University in Lebanon. Then, I started working at Wilson Central.
TCP: Do you prefer high school or college coaching?
WE: Definitely high school. I love the Friday night lights. There’s something more exciting about it, and there’s just something a little more pure about high school sports. And for most kids, that’s going to be their last level of playing football. You want them to remember it as something special.
— Compiled by Harold Huggins