Already missing Coach Dan R. ‘Papaw’ Hooks
Looking out across the field at Bridge City High School this past Saturday, I saw an unmistakable man walk up with a slow distinguished limp. I would have recognized that walk anywhere, and as a smile started to form, I heard the excited voice of my nineteen-year old daughter hollering toward him, “PaPaw! PaPaw!”
No, it wasn’t her grandfather but a man who has come to mean a lot to her in her short life…Coach Dan Hooks. Tears joined that smile as I realized that this would be the last time that he would attend the district track meet as the Athletic Director of West Orange-Stark High School.
Coach Hooks has been a part of the WO-S family since the doors first opened back in the fall of 1977. Beginning his career as a Mustang, Coach Hooks was first the defensive coordinator under Coach Steve McCarty. When Coach McCarty resigned in the spring of 1981 to move closer to his family in Nacogdoches, Coach Hooks took over the helm and has led the Mustangs to an outstanding 277-72-2 record, the best winning percentage in the state of Texas in all classes.
Although it wasn’t a dream team his first year as head coach, with the team touting its only losing record at 3-7, it didn’t take long for Coach Hooks and company to turn the program around. Within four years, the Mustangs won two consecutive state titles in 1986 and 1987, and lost in the state game in 1988 to a great Paris team.
“Within a couple of years, we as a coaching staff made some changes as far as the structure,” Hooks said. “We put more rules and discipline in place. The players responded and that, along with the work ethic that we expect, helped us develop a winning program.”
And winning is what Mustang football has always been about. Whether it’s been a talented team that was predicted to go far such as the 2005 team that reached the semi-finals or a Cinderella team like the one in 2000 who played in the state game, Coach Hooks has seen them all and taken what he’s had and created a ball club that could and would compete with the best.
Coach Hooks has the passion for kids as well as football. At the recent district golf tournament, a former Orangefield kicker told how Coach Hooks helped him get a kicking scholarship. The scouts had come to WO-S looking for the kicker that they had heard about.
Coach Hooks told them that he was not from here but Orangefield and sent them over to see him. He spent his lunch kicking for the scouts and was later given a scholarship to play ball for them.
A classic Coach Hooks story was a fairly recent incident with a well-known player, Earl Thomas. It was the beginning of Thomas’ senior season and the team was working on goal line offense on a Thursday. Thomas took the pitch around the right side and plowed right into Coach Hooks, who was talking to then Offensive Coordinator Randy Crouch.
Coach Hooks hit the ground and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Is Earl OK?” Coach Crouch said, ”Earl’s OK…what about you?” Several days later, Coach Hooks missed a game due to surgery for a shattered knee cap. Although he was back on the sidelines within a week of surgery, his “battle wound” has stayed with him since that time.
The Coach Hooks that most people see for three hours on Friday night is very different from the one that I interview every Monday morning during football season. While he is passionate about football and following the rules from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. on game day, he is even more passionate about his players the rest of the time.
Coach Hooks has a heart as big as Dallas and has shed many tears over players, their situations and some of the consequences of their actions. Even if WO-S is playing what he refers to as “the sisters of the poor,” he gives a full scout report as if the opposing team is the best in the state.
I can remember interviewing him over a story for Thomas his senior year and as we talked of the obstacles that Thomas had been forced to overcome, tears streamed down his cheeks.
Not only was he proud of what Thomas accomplished, but even more overwhelmed at the strength and maturity that he showed to overcome circumstances beyond his control.
Another classic story took place about ten years ago. Dressed in a Mustang shirt, I was at a Christmas Extravaganza on a Saturday morning after a devastating loss that knocked WO-S out of the play-offs the night before.
A lady from Mid-County stopped me when she saw my shirt and commented about Coach Hooks. “That coach of yalls is crazy!” she said. Highly offended, I asked what she was talking about.
She proceeded to tell me that she had seen him on the news one night. “Did you know he carries these magic beans in his pocket that he sprinkles on the sidelines before every game? That’s why he says yall win!”
I had been on the sidelines before every game and have never seen him sprinkle beans so I had to ask him about it when we did our wrap-up over the last loss that Monday.
According to Coach Hooks himself, he carries a silver dollar his dad gave him and a buckeye in his pocket. “We’ve either won or we’ve lost with those things in my pocket,” he said.
One day, several years ago, Coach Hooks was shopping in Market Basket in Bridge City when a lady with a basket full of groceries turned the corner and tipped the whole thing over.
Coach Hooks, clad in his normal attire, a Mustang shirt, began to help her pick them up. They’d gotten the cart about half picked up when she said, “Are you Dan Hooks?” He replied, “Well, yes, I am.” “Well, you’re not so bad after all!” the woman exclaimed.
A man who has done great things-won tight ball games, won games he wasn’t picked to win, and even pulled a team back together after losing a player…that’s the Coach Hooks that I know. He’s been honored with many awards including being inducted into the Southeast Texas Coaches Association Hall of Honor as the only currently active coach.
He was named as one of the Top 50 Most Memorable Coaches in the State of Texas in the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine 50th Anniversary edition, ranked as #22 among the best of the best. He was even honored in August of 2006 with the renaming of Mustang Stadium to Dan R. Hooks Stadium.
The hundreds of plaques, trophies and proclamations that cover his and the athletic secretary’s office can not even begin to honor a man as great as Coach Dan Hooks. And although Shonnalee, Alayna and Gracie’s “Papaw” may never coach Mustang football on the sidelines of Dan R. Hooks stadium again, he will always be at the center of their blue and silver hearts.