Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather

Dynamics beyond the sidelines

2005 Bonesville Magazine: Sneak Peek #1
Saturday, August 13, 2005
By Ron Cherubini
No. 1: A Champion Looks at His Beloved Alma Mater No. 2: Recruiting Avenues Still Open in All Directions


A Champion Looks at his Beloved Alma Mater

East Carolina football legend and longtime Elon coach Jerry Tolley
shares his insights on the Pirates, recruiting and coaching styles

Former East Carolina football star Jerry Tolley (right) and his wife, Joanie, flank former ECU educator and national champion swim coach Dr. Ray H. Martinez, in whose name the Tolleys have underwritten an annual teaching award for the ECU College of Health and Human Performance.

(Photo: ECU College of Health & Human Performance)


In the last 25 years, Coach Jerry Tolley has found it difficult to get to his alma mater for a ball game, but that hasn't dulled his passion and pride for the team he was once so much a part of.

His Saturdays since 1964 have been loaded with football as he walked the sidelines for the Elon Fighting Christians as head coach and later as a member of the athletics administration. He has long been a champion — from the Eastern Bowl and Tangerine Bowl championships he won as a collegiate player to the back-to-back NAIA National Championships he won as a collegiate coach for Elon.

Coach Tolley is featured in the forthcoming 2005 Bonesville Magazine and took the time to share a few thoughts about the Pirates, recruiting, and other things.

On the Pirates program:

“Two years ago when John Thompson first got the job, they were playing Wake Forest and they had stopped at the Golden Corral right outside Elon in Burlington,” Tolley said. “I had got a call from a friend of mine in the Pirate Club and he said, ‘Why don’t you go out and eat with them?’

”And I had met John Thompson before… he was in my last drill book and I always try to make sure the East Carolina coaches are involved with that. I was working with him on that (and) meanwhile that season they were having a tough season and I talked to him a little bit and he told me that he thought his players were better than they really were. And sometimes when you are coaching, you never know how good your players are until the line up against somebody else. He just never, never turned it around. When we were down there this year at the 40th reunion, there was one of the guys there singing the praises of John Thompson — and I love John Thompson — and this guy was saying how good a staff they were, but I was thinking, ‘They ain’t that good… he ain’t going to be back.’ ”

Tolley knows Thompson will rebound, but his biggest concern is the Pirates and what it will take for the program to turn around. He believes that it has started to trend upward.

“I like the new president (Stephen Ballard) and I have met him on a couple of occasions, though he probably wouldn’t remember me tomorrow for nothing. But I like him and the way he presents himself,” he said. “I remember a year and a half ago — I love to listen to talk radio, specifically sports — and I was listening to some radio show and Terry Holland was on there and I remember thinking, ‘Boy, this guy is good. I haven’t thought about doing it that way,’ and he was talking about the NCAA's and problems with it.

“I feel very, very confident with Holland. I feel like Lou’s son is going to be a good coach, but guess what? Nobody will know until about two years down the road. And analyzing the basketball situation, Terry Holland can watch that team practice two or three times and know if he is going to keep that basketball coach. I have all the confidence in the people down at ECU. And Dennis Young, who I coached when he was a freshman, does a great job raising money. And there is a great guy there, Matt Maloney, and he is just something… a good guy… the big guy.”

Tolley has high hopes for Holland and what he might be able to do for the Pirates.

“I think East Carolina is on the right track,” he said. “What I’m really hoping Terry Holland can bring to the table is to get us into the right football… or the right league in all sports. He has all the connections and whatever (league) that is, I don’t know. But, that Conference USA, I mean it is just too spread out… you are playing all over the country it seems like.”

Tolley is pretty specific about what he thinks Skip Holtz can do to begin the turnaround.

“Well, he has to stay in the state of North Carolina,” he said. “I think John Thompson just wanted to go everywhere else. You got to recruit eastern North Carolina. There are a lot of great players from eastern North Carolina. I think that is what Pat Dye did. When Pat was there, he got an awful lot of players from eastern N.C.

“They’ve got Harold Robinson, who was the coach at Williamston, and they kept him on the staff over there at ECU to coordinate the effort to try to recruit all the prep coaches so they will send their players. And then you need guys like Ed Emory who hangs that East Carolina jersey in his office and doesn’t need to tell his players where to go because they always know where he went.”

The Tolley recruiting method:

Tolley was always very clear on his recruiting methodology.

“Way back in 1968-69, I was at the North Carolina High School Coaches’ Convention over in Greensboro. And in those days, Red Wilson — our coach — served as the host coach for the visiting coach from the big school coming in to give a lecture. We brought in, I think, Jack Mollenkopf from Purdue… and Purdue was on top of the world back then, winning the Big 10 title and they were ranked high. And Jack and his staff came in and with Coach Wilson being the host, we got to fraternize with those guys and we were in there after the session was over and were back at the hotel and were talking football and they started to talk about recruiting. And the defensive coordinator from Purdue said, “Let me tell you about recruiting” and he was talking to a guy who had gone to Notre Dame. And the guy from Purdue says to this guy, “Let me tell you how you got recruited by Notre Dame.’

“He said, “You were probably being recruited by some other people and they were coming to visit you and they were selling you and then one night you got a phone call and the guy on the other end of the line said, ‘This is so-and-so from Notre Dame and we would like for you come and play football for us.' And you went to Notre Dame after a phone call while somebody else has been trying to recruit you for two years.”

Tolley continued.

“There are certain schools, right now, that when they call you on the phone, that’s where you’ll go: The University of Southern California, Tennessee, Florida when (Steve) Spurrier was down there. And then there are certain schools like if I had a son, I am looking at the best places to go play football... I’m looking at Texas, Nebraska, generally, though they are a little down right now, I am going to look at Michigan… Notre Dame, all those classic football schools. And then, if I don’t get a call from one of those schools, then I am going to go to South Carolina, University of North Carolina, or schools like that. And then there is a third tier of schools… If I can’t go to Notre Dame or Texas and then the Carolinas don’t want me, then I am going to Wake Forest… and if I can’t go to Wake, then I am going to Appalachian or Elon now, because we are in that league.

“Now, for the most part, when I recruited at Elon, I never got a player who wanted to go to Notre Dame. And, I am not going to get them because they can give them a full grant. If North Carolina wants that kid, I’m not going to get him because they can give him a full grant. And, if they really wanted to go to Appalachian — when I was at NAIA — I’m not going to get one from Appalachian. But everyone else in the state? When it came to Catawba, Guilford, Gardener-Webb, Lenoir-Rhyne… I’m going to out-recruit everyone of them. Now what I would do in my recruiting… I would wait for all those big schools to tell the players, ‘We don’t want you.” And then I would go get them. Those big schools make mistakes a lot of times. Now I told you about that All-America QB we had. He went to VMI — which wasn’t the very best school in the world — and started as a freshman, played against Virginia Tech and threw for 300 yards against them. An I am thinking if this kid can through for 300 yards against Virgnia Tech, I know he can throw for 300 yards against Lenoir-Rhyne.”

Tolley held nothing back in recruiting players.

“And then what I would do is make early contact with all of those players… all 600 of them and invite them all to campus,” he said. “And a lot of them like — I had two Toto brothers, two Samoan linebackers and they were good and we had contact with Ernie Toto and he was heading to Pittsburgh and he was going here and going there. And then one day he called me and he said, ‘Coach Tolley, this is Ernie Toto and you had written me a letter some time back and I am ready to visit Elon.' Well everybody told him no because he wasn’t quite tall enough and wasn’t quite heavy enough. And he said, ‘Well can you fly me up?’ And I am like, ‘From Wilmington, NC?’ So I said, “Ernie we just don’t fly people up.” And I said, ‘If you can drive up here, we can’t even pay for your gas. But we’ll put you in the dormitory with some of the players.’

“Well he ended up coming here and made All-American. His brother came here two years later and he made all-American, so I never wasted my time recruiting people who are going to Notre Dame or a North Carolina. There was never a case in all our years at Elon where we beat out a big school for a player because they wanted to come play football at Elon. Now, that doesn’t mean that a lot of big schools didn’t make a mistake cause I told you about that big tight end who was a No. 1 draft choice for the Packers? I had another big old tight end who went to Denver, he went to two Super Bowls. But somebody made a mistake with him… he ended up being 6-5, 240 pounds who could run at TE… well guess what, he can play. That’s my philosophy about recruiting.”

Tolley on his coaching style:

Tolley’s coaching history was set into motion while at then East Carolina College and the lessons he learned there were lasting ones.

“I was a great organizer just like they were at East Carolina,” he said. “Minute to minute, everything was written down what you do. Coach Stas taught me about putting the players in the right places. Let a defensive back be a defensive back and not try to make a wide receiver into a quarterback. You analyze where they play and put them into their positions. Another thing Stas taught me was… he said, ‘Never think what you tell a guy is going to make that much difference, but if you make him do it 100 times, it will make a difference. Instead of telling him how to run a play, make him run it a hundred times. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

“I never got too close to my players. My office was back in a corner and I don’t think players liked to come to my office. I heard it described this way: Every now and then when a player thought I wasn’t giving them a fair shake, and that happens all the time because you got all these egos… 100 on a team and every one of them thinks they ought to be playing. And whether this was a compliment or not, but the word was that the kid would be talking to his daddy and his daddy said, ‘I’m going to go to talk to Coach Tolley... I don’t think he is doing you right.’ And the player would say, ‘No you don’t… don’t you go talk to him because I am really going to be in trouble.’ I was one of those guys who there was no question who was in charge of the team. I gave just one speech every year at the beginning of the year and I would say, ‘Fellas, I want you all to know that I make all the decisions on this team, whether you play running back or if you are in the game.’ Every now and then, I would delegate that to a coordinator or position coach, but I am the ultimate authority. I would tell them something else: ‘No matter what you do on this team or how you get into trouble, I will be your best friend and I will help you. But if you ever tell me a lie, then I will never help you again.’ I think there were just three guys in my ... years that I had to suspend for flat out lying and it wasn’t even a real big lie, it was just lying. None of them ever came back.”

Tolley credits Clarence Stasavich as being a mentor extraordinaire.

“I think I learned tactics under Stasavich at East Carolina,” he said. “I mean Stas would just break down the game and analyze it with all of his coaches. He did a marvelous job of breaking down the game and then going into skull sessions and teaching you exactly what you were supposed to do. Stas was the master of that, I think. And his assistant coaches, Odell Welborne, Henry VanSant and Bob Gant. Bob Gant was my defensive backfield coach and was an excellent backfield coach and later on when I coached in college, before I became a head coach, I was a defensive back coach and defensive coordinator and learned a lot from Bob Gant.”

But also, Tolley had his own way of doing things.

“One of the fortunate things we had at Elon, when I was an assistant coach for 10 years and head coach for five, we were allowed to bring the players in and measure them, weigh them, run them through agility drills, see how high they could vertical jump,” he said. “We used those measurements and what we saw in the film. If we clocked a guy at 4.6, 4.7, we knew he ran a 4.6, 4.7, we didn’t go by what their coach told us. We always knew. Even though I judged the film and caliber of program they came from. I really looked at those measurements we had. I learned that from East Carolina. You run them in a 40-yard dash, you see how high they can jump, you weigh them, you see how tall they are, you run them through agility drills, and you had all these norms from running backs, defensive backs, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and you could find out whether they could play football. And then when you watched them on the film, it recertified that they could do it.”

And what did Tolley value most?

“I always looked at speed more than anything else and jumping ability,” he said. “When I coached at Elon, all of my defensive backs, when I was the defensive backs coach, they were all 5-8, 5-9, just like I was, but everyone of them could jump up and dunk a volleyball. I used to tell them, 'If you can jump being 5-8 is as good as being 6-0.' I used to make them jump up and grab the crossbar of the goal post. And I said, ‘Fellas that is the tallest thing on the football field, if you can jump up and grab that with one hand then you are probably tall enough.’ ”

On the vaunted Single Wing:

In a way, Tolley owes his career to the lesser-used Single Wing offense. It was his deep knowledge of the Stasavich-era offense that first landed him on Red Wilson’s prep and first Elon staff. Of all of the packages out of the Single Wing, Tolley recalled the formation and some of his favorite packages ran out of it.

“I’ll tell you that old Spinner series was a wonderful series to watch. And then there was the Buck Lateral series and then the straight off tackle series — we called it the 40 series,” he said. “A lot of basic football. I was listening to an interview of Lou Holtz a few years ago. And you know everyone is running that shotgun formation with the fullback and the quarterback back there and they were asking Lou about the play (where they snap to the fullback) and he said, ‘That’s just an old Single Wing play.” And as I see these people lining up, I think it would be very easy for them to run the spinner series.

“You got the fullback back there about four yards deep and you got the tailback a yard to his left about five yards deep, and then you have a wing back or a slot to the side. So the fullback takes the ball and he spins around and the tailback goes in close to him like he is getting the ball to go around the end, which he can. Or the wingback comes back around and the fullback can give it to him, or the fullback can make a complete spin and go to the line of scrimmage. It was great to watch and great to (execute). But it is outdated now.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: There is lots more "Jerry Tolley" in the forthcoming Bonesville Magazine.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

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

02/23/2007 02:06:03 PM

©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.