By Bill Plott
When Jerome Tate came out of college, he was a big man with big plans. And he would take that plan to the small Lee County community of Loachapoka where he spent more than two decades instilling big dreams in the student-athletes he taught.
A native of Selma, Tate is being inducted into Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018. He graduated from Selma High School in 1977 as an All-State offensive and defensive lineman and was selected to play in the AHSAA North-South All-Star Game. He attended Alabama A&M University, where he continued his on-the-field success and graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation.
His first job out of college was at Keith High in Orrville where he served as head football and assistant basketball coach. He taught physical education and health, subjects that he taught at each stop in his career.
For the next two years he coached at the college level, first at Alabama A&M and then at Tuskegee University. He was defensive line coach at A&M. At Tuskegee he served as an assistant football coach, and head strength and conditioning coach. However, he knew in his heart that he belonged back in high school.
In 1990 he moved to Lanett High School where he spent 10 years as defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and offensive line coach. He also was head track coach from 1990-95 at Lanett.
When Tate left Lanett to accept the athletic director and head football coach position at Loachapoka High School, sportswriter Todd Brooks wrote of his impact at Lanett.
“Perhaps the thing I noticed most about Jerome in the past four years I’ve known him is not how well he coached, but how well he got along with the students,” Brooks said. “Anyone who has seen the man in a school setting can tell that he cares. When (coach) Billy Kinnard left (Lanett) in 1993, it was Tate who led the team until a new coach was found. He, along with the other coaches, took them through spring training and kept them together until Lee Gilliland was hired.
“I have never seen players respond to a coach the way the Panthers have responded to Tate. When I interviewed Cliff Jackson about being selected to the state’s Super 12 team, I asked him about who he credits for his success. Jackson immediately spoke the name of Jerome Tate. ‘He’s my biggest fan, my biggest buddy.’ That’s pretty impressive to hear a 17-year-old kid speaking so highly of an adult these days.”
Tate went to Loachapoka in 1995. Over the next 22 years he compiled a record of 152-98 and won four region titles and become the school’s all-time wins leader. The Indians were in the state playoffs 17 times in 22 years, including a string of 14 straight appearances.
His coaching accomplishments and honors include:
· 15 winning football seasons in 22 years at Loachapoka. Seventeen of his 22 teams made the state playoffs.
· Led his 2004 team to an undefeated regular season and finished 12-1 overall. The 12 wins is a single season is a school record.
· Finished 11-2 in 2009, tied a school record for wins and advanced to the playoff semifinals.
· All-time winningest coach in Lee County.
· Coach of the Year awards in 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2009.
· Played in the North South All-Star Game and later coached in both the North-South and the Alabama-Mississippi all-star games.
Eleven of his players at Lanett and 16 at Loachapoka went on to play at the collegiate level. Three of them played professionally: Josh Evans with the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets; Kenny Sander with the New York Giants; and Tracy Brooks with the Salina Liberty of the Championship Indoor Football League.
Long-time coaching rival and friend Jackie O’Neal, a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, admired Coach Tate’s work ethic.
“He was focused and driven to develop his teams to be tough mentally and physically on the football field,” O’Neal said. “Through his mentorship and life of integrity, Coach Tate has positively impacted student athletes for over three decades…. He is a true professional, along with being one of the most honest and upstanding people I know. I truly call him a friend.”
Former AHSAA Executive Director Dan Washburn mentored Tate at Lanett and wrote the following:
“I have been associated with Jerome for 35 years. I hired Coach Tate as an assistant coach at Lanett High School during my tenure as superintendent of Lanett City schools. I have witnessed first-hand his love and passion for the game of football. Jerome demonstrates professional integrity, outstanding character and is a true professional in everything he undertakes.
“Being a former coach, I have experienced how difficult it is to maintain a quality program over a period of many years. Jerome is the winningest coach in Lee County…. Every year we have numerous coaches who have qualifications to be part of this most prestigious hall of fame, but there are some outstanding individuals who simply stand above and beyond other nominees. Jerome Tate is definitely one of these.”
Coach Jim Hubbert, a 2006 Hall of Fame inductee, also wrote a letter endorsing Tate’s nomination. Hhe said, “I have known Coach Jerome Tate for over 30 years – as a college recruiting coach, as one of my assistant coaches, as a head coach and opponent, and mostly as a colleague and a friend. Jerome is the type of coach any father would love his son and grandson to have lead them. I was fortunate enough to have Coach Tate as one of my son’s coaches, and for that I am extremely thankful.
“His teams always have been respected as hard-nosed, disciplined and respectful of opponents. Those positive attributes are the results of Coach Tate leading his teams to exhibit good moral and ethical standards, to demonstrate leadership qualities, and to display good sportsmanship. Because of Coach Tate’s leadership, his teams have always brought a source of pride and respect to his school and community.”
Tate was inducted into the Alabama A&M Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
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