Friday Q&A: Madison’s Brimm built Rams into powerhouse

Friday, June 20, 2008 at 12:40am
Bill Brimm build the Madison High Rams into a powerhouse in the 1950s and 1960s. Courtesy of Bill Brimm

William Bryant (Bill) Brimm developed Nashville-area powerhouse football teams right after he took over as head coach of the new Madison High in 1953. His teams in the 1960s were Nashville’s best, with his Rams once compiling a 28-game winning streak.

More known for his football success, Brimm also coached basketball and baseball (and briefly golf, tennis and track) at the school from 1953-1970 and won NIL championships in all sports. He became a guidance counselor at McGavock High, 1970-74.

In 1961, he was named Nashville Man of the Year by the old Nashville Banner. In 1999, he was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The Madison field was named after him in 1983. He was named NIL coach of the year six times. At age 84, he still lives in Madison, having recently moved from his home of 56 years a mile from the Madison campus to his new house off Myatt Drive. He and wife Sue have been married for 61 years and they have two children, Diane, 56, and Bill, Jr., 53, and no grandchildren.

TCP: When did you first start playing sports?

BB: I’ve always loved sports, and I started at a very young age. We didn’t have Little League back then (mid-1930s), so I just played with friends at Turner Elementary. Later I went on to play all three sports in high school at (old) Central High. I was a running back, but I wasn’t fast. I played guard in basketball and an off-speed pitcher in baseball.

TCP: Where did you go to college?

BB: After I graduated from high school, I joined the Navy. I was in the service from 1943-46. When I got out, I went to Tennessee Tech where I met my wife who is a native of Cookeville. After I graduated with a degree in phys-ed, then went on to get my masters at Peabody in 1949.

TCP: Where did you get your start in coaching?

BB: After I finished Peabody, I applied for the coaching position at (old) Goodlettsville High. The superintendent of schools at that time was J.D. Moss, and he took a liking to me, and I got the job as assistant coach. I worked under Bill Harris, and I was head coach for two years when he left. We won the school’s first NIL championship in 1950.

TCP: How did you wind up at Madison?

BB: The jobs at Donelson High and Madison, which was a new school, were both open in 1953, and I had my choice of either. I finally decided on Madison, because of the fact it was a new school, and I had a chance to make my own mark and legacy there.

One of the assistants I hired later was an energetic guy named Jerry Pigue (who went on to become head coach at both Stratford High and Hunters Lane High and has joined the staff of Bubba Spears at the new program at East Lit). He was top-notch.

TCP: How were the early years?

BB: We started as a junior high playing against high school teams, we took some lumps, but we also experienced some early success. My wife and I mowed the field. We went to the Clinic Bowl (a Nashville bowl played at Vanderbilt between two top area teams prior to playoffs). When those guys got to be seniors in 1955, we went 10-0.

I got a chance to become a scout for the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1960s. But I was so busy with coaching, I had to turn them down.

TCP: When did success start snowballing?

BB: Our teams won NIL championships in 1955 and 1958, then three straight in ’60, ’61 and ’62 (when the Rams went on their 28-game winning streak). I got my 100th victory at that time.

In 1961, we were undefeated, and we played in the Butter Bowl against Fayetteville High which was ranked No. 1, and we were No. 2 (Action Ratings). If we had won, we would have been named state champions, but we tied 0-0 and they finished No. 1.

TCP: How did basketball go?

BB: In the early 1960s, we started the polka-dots on the basketball uniforms, my idea, which they called ‘Polkey-Dots.’ I just liked the look of something different, something flashy.

The closest we got to winning state in basketball came in 1961 when Union City and John Ed Miller beat us by one point in the state quarterfinals. A lady seated behind our bench said, ‘I drove over 100 miles to see those uniforms.’

TCP: How did the baseball coaching go?

BB: We had some really good teams. We got to the state finals in 1960, and Chattanooga Central beat us.

What was really special was when Vanderbilt and Larry Schmittou (the coach back then) signed five of our baseball players to scholarships, including Bill Winchester and Steve Estep. Vanderbilt hadn’t had much success in baseball, but those guys played a big part in their SEC championships (in 1973 and ’74). Also, Mike Santi went on to become an All-American at David Lipscomb. Our teams went 43-2 at one point.

TCP: Best athletes you coached?

BB: There was Chuck Boyd (a star multi-sport athlete, who excelled in football, basketball and track, where he won the 1963 state decathlon), who signed with Vanderbilt. There was Alvin Frey (Vanderbilt), Joe Cartwright (Murray State), Bill Cartwright (Memphis State), Tommy Wilson, all multi-sport athletes, so many others.

TCP: Biggest rivalry?

BB: We had some great games with (old) Isaac Litton. They really packed the stands for those games.

TCP: Best administrators you worked for?

BB: Harry DeLoach and Louie Davidson, along with Herman DePriest who was a joy to coach for at Madison.

TCP: Most disappointing loss?

BB: We were undefeated one year, and Central beat us 6-0 in a game we had no business losing. We didn’t block or tackle anyone. We drove back to school and practiced for two hours after the game.

TCP: How has the game changed?

BB: It’s disappointing to see such lack of control by players these days, the type of language they use, excessive celebration. I would never tolerate that by my players. I would not ask them to do things I wouldn’t do. I asked my players to go to church, behave properly, live a clean life. I’m proud that we had the largest FCA chapter in the state at Madison High.

TCP: Anything new in your life?

BB: When they had an 80th birthday celebration for me at the school (in 2003), about 250 of my players and friends showed up, that was very special to me. And they’re building a museum near the school with a lot of my old memorabilia which will be displayed there.

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By: fdanshep on 12/31/69 at 7:00

It was great to hear Coach Brimm speak of those days as I remember well the significance of the Goodlettsville-Madison games, both football and basketball. I had forgotten about the pokadots.With the recent passing of long-time Goodlettsville Coach Miles Frost, it is good to know that Coach Brimm is doing well.

By: slacker on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Nice story,I'm also glad to hear Coach Brimm is doing well.I fondly remember the Litton and Madison rivalry, The real ''Friday night lights''and the Marching 100 at halftime.Great days.

By: madisongirl on 12/31/69 at 7:00

As a long-time resident of Madison, and member of the first graduating class, I am delighted to learn that Coach Brimm is doing well. I wish him the best. He was my General Science teacher at Goodlettsville my freshman year, and I have very good memories of him.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

This article is a good reason why neighborhood high schools should be (re-)opened. Joelton High, Bellevue High, Madison, Goodlettsville, Haynes, Cameron and others brought together neighbors and community pride.

By: bjamesm on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I was a student at Madison from 1961-66 when grades 7-12 attended there. A favorite coach of mine during my days on the football team was Harry DeLosh. Coach Brimm mentioned "Harry DeLoach and Louie Davidson" (both were assistant coaches), along with "Herman DePriest" (school principal) as best administrators he worked for. I hope and believe Coach Brimm was referring to Coach Harry Delosh.