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No. 27

With Ron Cherubini

PTM: Ed Emory

‘Life ain’t been fair to Ed Emory,’
but it's been a good one

Through It All, Lifetime Coach
Ed Emory Wouldn't Change a Thing

By Ron Cherubini
©2002, 2004

Photo: ECU SID

From the time he was in fifth grade, Ed Emory knew what he wanted to do with his life.

Perhaps it was because of the patience and understanding of a coach he had in middle school. Or maybe it was something that his mother Eunice instilled in him. Or, maybe it was because at a young age with a speech impediment, Emory saw that people need a little help sometimes in the form of encouragement.

Perhaps it was a little of each those influences that led Emory, as a fifth grader, to decide that he wanted to be a football coach and an educator. He has dedicated a lifetime to both and is, today, doing the very thing he dreamed of at such a young age.

“As a fifth grader, I wrote down on a piece of paper the number of years it would take for me to be a high school coach,” Emory said. “I had a coach who spent a lot of time with me. I was big and strong for my age. In my family, we came out of the womb working. My mom was a coach 24 hours a day, so I guess it was instilled in me.”

In his life, Emory has done just what he dreamed. After a stellar collegiate career as a player at East Carolina under Coach Jack Boone, Emory went right into high school coaching. He followed that by moving on to the college ranks, eventually landing his dream job as the top coach at ECU. And now, at age 65, Emory is the skipper of one of the premier high school programs in North Carolina in Richmond Senior High School.

Emory believes in a lot of things and one of them is what he calls, ‘Want Power.’ Want Power is that powerful inner drive that propels people to achieve those things they want most. Emory has always had that Want Power and it bubbled to the surface early for him.

“I went to Camden Military Academy (a small school in Camden, SC) and we went undefeated,” Emory said. “Every time I’d come home, there were these two ECU boys who kept coming around the service station — George Tucker, who later coached Wingate and Elon, and Paul Gay. They would come around and were always talking about ECU.

“I was going to go to Clemson, but at the time, I knew I wanted to be a coach and in order to do that, I wanted to study physical education. Clemson didn’t have PE. I went to visit East Carolina and at the time there were about 7,000 students and 6,000 of them were girls, which really caught my attention. That got me to notice ECU, but it was also that I knew that I could play as a freshman.”

Having played three years at a military prep school had Emory, a tenacious offensive lineman, miles ahead of the other freshmen already. That being the case, Emory came in and started on the varsity for four years, though it wasn’t easy the whole time.

“My freshman year, I got a cartilage tear against VPI, but I played the whole season,” Emory recalled. “When they operated they cut whole thing out and Coach Boone wouldn’t allow me to go through spring practice. Back then, they used to say that the only things that could screw up a ball player was bad wheels and bad girls — and for me, it was bad wheels.”

It would have been very easy for Emory to pack it in, but it wasn’t in his nature to give up. His Want Power was too strong.

“I remember when my mom finally let me play football, she said to me, ‘If I come to a game and you’re setting on the bench, then you’ll never play again,’” Emory said. “First string was always my goal. That is how we were raised.”

At the time Emory was a Pirate player, his older brother was playing at Wingate and his younger brother, Melvin, was destined to play at Clemson. The fourth Emory boy, Maurice, never played college ball as he bypassed college to run the family grocery business after their father died. Maurice did end up playing some semi-pro ball down in South Carolina.

Emory recovered from his freshman season injury and continued to play for the Pirates, letting no obstacle stand in his way.

“I believe I could have played for Hitler because I love football that much,” Emory said. “I was a brassy young guy, who was cocky and probably over-confident and couldn’t really do everything I thought I could do. I always gave 150 percent out on the field. If fighting was like it is now in public schools, I would never have finished school.”

But Emory did finish school and then some. He finished an undergraduate degree and most of his Masters’ program in his four years as a player.

“I started out (coaching) at Grainger High School in Kinston so that I could stay near ECU and finish my Masters,” he said. “I almost did both in four years, but I lacked two classes, Art and Music Appreciation. Both of those classes terrified me because I didn’t know how much I appreciated either one of them.”

His first foray into coaching wasn’t very memorable.

“I was the most frustrated coach,” he said. “I really thought I could take chicken shit and make chicken salad out if it. We went 1-9 and it was the worst team I was ever associated with. I was an assistant coach and I had a great mentor there in George Thompson. He was a great man who taught me a lot.”

Thompson, however, was not an off-season kind of coach. After the season, he would hit the road and not think of football again until just before the next season began. This mindset didn’t fit with Emory, who was possessed by football.

“What I did was to make a weightroom,” Emory said. “I turned this old coal room into a weightroom and during the day, about 25 kids and I would go over to Fairfield Recreation Center to work out four days a week all summer long. When George came back into town, he saw that we had made a bunch Tarzans out these boys. We went 8-2 the next year and was a pretty good team.”

With success, of course, came opportunities and Emory – with his Masters in hand – headed for greener pastures, in the form of a head coaching position at Wadesboro.

“It was unbelievable, being as young as I was,” he said. “Wadesboro was in AAA in a league with Rockingham, Clinton, Lumberton, Dunn, all those tough schools. There were only 357 kids at Wadesboro, but it was a great honor to have the job, and the superintendent, who was a big, tall Quaker from Pennsylvania, knew we had to build a program, which was my philosophy.”

Of course, in a little bit of foreshadowing, Emory got a taste of having high aspirations with a very low budget.

“We borrowed a philosophy for training that the old Chinese Bandits down at LSU used — Isometrics,” he said. “We had all these chin-up bars around the field, but in the end, we didn’t get any stronger, so after the season, we went to weights… heavy weights. I was the athletic director and the head coach. I had four great years at Anson and we turned out a number of good college players and even a professional player.”

Emory In the Middle of Race War

Emory had finally established Wadesboro as a power program when the federal government mandated the integration of schools. For Anson, which already enjoyed an integrated football team, the combining of six black schools and three whites schools in 1967, meant that nothing would ever be the same.

“The new school was Bowman High School,” Emory said. “I became the head coach and athletic director. We already had the best football players, black and white, coming to the school, so we didn’t gain that much (in the integration).

“We took 135 kids, both black and white, to camp that year at Laurinburg College at St. Andrews and we had no problems.”

But when they returned, the problems began to show in the form of the Ku Klux Klan.

“We opened that school in 1967 and never had a problem that year. Our football team went undefeated into the playoffs (losing to Elkin 13-7). Then, we started to have all kinds of Klan problems.”

The problems were widespread enough to lead a reporter from Sports Illustrated to investigate, eventually leading to a feature story with Ed Emory’s take on the Klan and its impact on prep teams.

“I knew there was a problem when I went into the locker room on Monday and all my black players were in there,” he said. “They said, ‘Coach, can we talk to you?’ So, then went on to tell me that they didn’t believe it was right that since they are on the same team with their white teammates, that they shouldn’t have to get ready for practice alongside members of the Ku Klux Klan. I told them I didn’t think that was right either.

“At the time, we had this great field house with four floors. I brought all the players to the fourth floor. I told them the only club they could join is the Monogram Club, because I ran it. There would be no Klan, no NAACP, only this football team.”

But the problem didn’t go away.

A white player, dressed in a Klansman’s guard uniform, rode his motorcycle through a black neighborhood, stirring things up. Then, a week later, Emory got a visit he will not soon forget.

“I noticed about 45 guys watching our practice one day,” Emory said. “I knew that the school used the fieldhouse sometimes for night school, so at first, I though that’s what they were there for… adult school. They said they wanted to speak to me, but I never speak to anyone during practice except my players and coaches. Then I realized what it was and told them I would talk after practice. When practice ended, I asked the other coaches to get up to the field house (for backup). When I got up there, a guy came over and I noticed from his nametag from work, that he was the father of one of my players, actually two of them. He says that I am violating his sons’ constitutional rights by telling them that they cannot join the Klan.

“So I told him that football, my football, is not political. I told him his sons have a choice: the Klan or football. I told him that we were trying to do something right by these kids here and that my rule stands.”

At the time, the Klan had blown up some buildings there, including a cabin belonging to the superintendent. Emory’s wife, Nancy Buie Emory, had packed up and headed out of town to stay with her mother, fearing that their house would soon be firebombed. It was a scary time to be blind to color. It even drew the attention of a writer with the Raleigh News & Observer.

But for Emory, the incident only served to fuel his resolve. It was against his nature to turn from a fight, a trait going back to the days when Emory had to deal with ridicule every day due to a speech impediment.

“If someone picked on me about my speech impediment, I’d jump over a desk to get at him. Every time I said ‘Frenty’ instead of ‘Twenty,’ I would feel a bomb in my gut ready to explode,” Emory said. “God gave me that handicap, I believe, so that I would understand in some measure what blacks are going through. I can understand the anger that would come from having to sit on the back of a bus. I needed football more than football needed me. I needed those 200 kids more than they needed me.”

As the story went, the reporter’s story made the rounds, frequently quoting Emory’s statement that his football program was a dictatorship, not a Democracy. The man who was upset with Emory had a son named Vernon who was a blue-chip middle linebacker on Emory’s squad. He had another son, nicknamed Fireball, who was playing junior varsity ball.

Fireball, or Charles as he was named, used to repeatedly steal the shirt of a black player, whose name was Sylvester. Sylvester, who would go on to become a professional wrestler called the Junkyard Dog, was a mild-mannered kid but could only take so much, so he told Emory.

When Emory confronted Fireball, the player ran down the street and came back with his father in tow. It was a second visit for the two men.

“So his father walks in and says, ‘You accused my boy of stealing that nigger’s shirt?’” said Emory. “I told him not to use that language in my office. And then he called me a nigger lover. I was young and crazy then, so I hit him square between the eyes and he went down. Then, I went on him. Of course, in come the players, and right in front is Vernon. I realized what I was doing and I said, ‘Mr. Carpenter, I’m sorry.’ But he pulled his boys out. I told him he could have Fireball, but not Vernon because I need him to play on Friday.”

Emory told his boss he would write a letter of resignation, and Emory’s wife headed back to her mom’s house fearing retribution. The boys’ mother eventually called to apologize for her husband, but Vernon still missed the game. The team won and for the record, had a stalwart game without Vernon.

Emory didn’t need to resign and eventually the boys came back to the team – out of Want Power – and there was no more trouble. Fireball, sadly, did end up going to jail, and Vernon died just a few years ago having had a long, close relationship with Emory.

Photo: ECU SID

Emory’s Path Toward his Dream

Having proven himself impeccably at the high school level, Emory was ready to make a move on his dream of becoming the head coach at East Carolina University.

“In February of 1967, I went to Wake Forest for my first collegiate job,” Emory said. “I had always wanted to be at ECU, and when Coach Stas (Clarence Stasavich) gave a speech two years to my team, I was very excited. Stas did offer him a job but it only paid $6,000, when Wake was paying $10,500. Plus, ECU, at the time, didn’t hire assistants with the idea of them eventually becoming head coach.

At Wake, he was named the head junior varsity coach, but it lasted less than a year.

“It didn’t last very long,” he said. “I had got there just in time for the firing. They fired Bill Tate. By that time, I had two children and had to work.”

After turning down Marshall, Emory chose to head to Brevard as AD and coach. In 1973, Emory found himself headed for Clemson to coach for Red Parker. At Clemson, he spent three years as the running backs coach and a year as the offensive line coach.

“Clemson was a great place to coach,” Emory said. “People always said that Clemson couldn’t recruit out of South Carolina. But there was Want Power at Clemson. They wanted it badly at Clemson. I made a statement that in the next three to five seasons Clemson would win a national championship. And, of course, they did. I always thought that East Carolina could do the same.

“We proved one thing at Clemson,” Emory said. “We proved we could recruit out of South Carolina. My entire offensive line was from the state of North Carolina, including Dwight Clark, out of Charlotte. Clemson had a good product, that’s why they won. East Carolina also has a good product and they never back away from anyone.”

After traveling from Clemson to Duke to Georgia Tech, East Carolina came calling.

Photo: ECU SID

Finally! A Pirate Again!

Though ECU called, it was not like Emory was a stranger. He had applied for and received an invitation to be interviewed for the position. He and Jim Donnan both first applied for the job following Mike McGee’s departure for Duke after the 1970 season. Then the same group interviewed after Sonny Randle resigned.

The third time, after Pat Dye headed to Wyoming, was the charm for Emory, beating out Donnan for the position. For Emory, it was the destination he knew he would someday reach.

“I was so happy,” Emory said. “I had kind of wished that Leo (Jenkins) was still there because I would have liked to have worked for him. I always thought I would die (at ECU). I worked at being a better coach, a better recruiter, a better people person. I had all of those philosophies. I had spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 34 years, to get (to ECU).

“I made a lot of mistakes, but not for any lack of trying.”

After inheriting a Pat Dye program had been successful on the field but was wrought with what Emory called “big problems” off the field, Emory set out to achieve his dream, many times funding his own travel expeditions and other expenses to recruit players. With a recruiting budget that, according to Emory, had been virtually depleted to zero to pay other athletic department expenses, he and his assistants went out and shook the trees to find a host of 1980 signees that would eventually be the team that would shake up the college football world four seasons later.

After struggling for two years, the program began to take shape in 1982. That team went 7-4 and served as a solid indicator of what was to follow, when the Pirates went 8-3, with losses against Florida State, Miami, and Florida by a combined total of 13 points. The 1983 team, loaded with what would turn out to be a bunch of professional players, served as a beacon, putting ECU on the national stage for the first time forever marking ECU’s real introduction into big-time football.

An unfortunate disagreement with then-athletic director Dr. Kenneth Karr, led to the dismissal of Emory after the 1984 season. The lingering affects of the firing still haunt Emory.

“To me, September 11 holds another meaning,” he said. “September 11 was the day I was fired from ECU. We had great, great kids and I am convinced, had I stayed there, that we had a talented team in 1984 and I think with the talent we had, that in 1986, we could win the National Championship. But they chose a different route.”

Down, distraught, Emory was drowning in the pain in the wake of his firing. Fortunately, Pepper Rogers called him and asked him to come down to Memphis to join his staff for the USFL’s Memphis Showboats.

Emory’s contributions to ECU football should not be lost on the former coach. He was the coach who ushered ECU into the uppermost ranges of big-time college football. His 1983 squad was arguably the most talent-packed Pirate team ever assembled, and it gained the first burning glare of national recognition for the young program.

He was and forever shall be a big piece of East Carolina history.

Today, Emory is still the wily coach he always was. He is entering his second year as the varsity head coach at Richmond Senior, where football is taken very seriously.

Photo courtesy of

“I remember last season, a guy came up to me during practice and said, ‘My name is Bubba,’” Emory said.

“I said, ‘Nice to meet you Bubba. I’m glad you’re a supporter,’”. (Then) “I said, ‘give me until mid season,’ and he said, ‘I’ll give you until the first scrimmage.’ We were 12-2 last season and still some people weren’t satisfied.”

Such is Richmond football, but Emory loves it, every bit of it.

“What would I do if I didn’t coach,” he asked. “I don’t fish, I don’t golf, I don’t garden… what would I do? I like to see young people mature. I needed it when I was a kid and kids really need it now.”

In addition to his head coaching duties, Emory is a drug educator at Richmond.

“When I was at ECU, it was bad wheels and bad women that could suffocate a player,” he said. “Now it is drugs, and for us, it comes right across the railroad tracks. My players take a drug test and their parents sign off on it. I don’t want to catch anyone, but it only takes one kid on your team dealing or doing drugs. I sure hate that.”

With ECU’s signing this season of Richmond standout Eric Terry, Emory once again has a direct connection with his beloved alma mater.

“I’m proud, real proud of Eric,” he said. “I told him he could go any place he wants to play football, but if he was asking me, I say go to ECU.

“I have complained some over the years, but I honestly pull for Coach (Steve) Logan — I pull real hard. That program is only getting better. Getting them into Conference USA was big. I knew those milestones would come. The new facilities — when I was there, we weren’t a real Division I team. But Want Power is very strong at ECU. Times are changing.”

As for Emory’s reflections on his ECU days?

“Life ain’t never been fair to Ed Emory,” he chuckled. “But, I’ve been blessed for those five years at East Carolina.”

And he’s still blessed. He still has good kids and is healthy enough to coach them, which is all he ever really wanted in the first place.

“If you get a kid to believe in you, then you can help them do anything,” Emory said. “Then, you can love them, hug them, kick them sometimes when you have to, drive them, get the very best out of them. They understand this old coach.”

At 65, the game and desire to coach are just as fresh as they were back when he was in fifth grade and the dream was first taking shape.

“Oh Friday nights,” he said, as if taking in a breath of the cool night air. “The feeling is just as strong as it ever has been. Richmond Raiders, baby! God, I love this game.”

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

Click here to dig into Ron Cherubini's Bonesville archives.

Related Ed Emory stories:
   Catching up with a Pirate Hall of Famer
   Life ain't been fair... but it's been a good one
   A Pirate forsaken: The end of a dream
   '83 team: A picture of the future of Pirate football


"Cap'n Crunch" Kepley
LB 1971-74

(From the 2002 Bonesville Magazine)
Ed Emory: 'Life ain't been fair to Ed Emory,' but it's been a good one Through it All, Lifetime Coach Ed Emory Wouldn't Change a Thing

A Pirate Forsaken: The End of a Dream Despite the Pain, Emory Forever Bleeds Pirate Purple

That '83 Team: A picture of the future of Pirate Football Arguably, Emory Assembled the Greatest ECU Team Ever to Hit the Field


Ed Emory

(Photo: ECU SID)





Years at ECU:

1956-59 and 1979-84


Tackle/ 48

Head Coach

Lancaster, SC

Currently Resides:

Wadesboro, NC

  • High School Principal

  • Head Coach at Richmond Senior High School
  • BS  Physical Education/Social Studies, East Carolina University

  • MA Administration/Physical Education, East Carolina University 

Marital Status/Spouse:

Married, Katheryn

  • Eddie Jr.
  • Lucille
  • Emory Hendricks
  • Battle Hawkins

If you get a kid to believe in you, then you can help them do anything. Then, you can love them, hug them, kick them sometimes when you have to, drive them, get the very best out of them. They understand this old coach.”


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