Charlie Coffey, a two-year starter at Tennessee who went on to become coach at Virginia Tech, died at his home Monday in Shelbyville after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 81.
“He was a tough, tough, hard-nosed 185-pound guard,” said teammate and former Tennessee coach John Majors. “He was alternate captain of the team my junior year, and we’ve been great friends forever.”
Mr. Coffey came to Tennessee from Shelbyville Central High School where he played for coach John Martin. He wore No. 60 on his orange and white jersey during his career and started at right guard in 1954 and at left guard in 1955, playing at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds. He was a prototypical guard of that Tennessee era, a player who made up for a lack of brawn with quickness and agility.
He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in education. He won the Maryville Daily Times Trophy in 1955, awarded to the senior Tennessee football player with the highest scholastic average.
Mr. Coffey began his coaching career as an assistant football coach at Hialeah High School in Miami, Fla., followed by five years at Southeastern Louisiana State University. He then coached at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., before his three-year stint as defensive line coach under coaches Jim McDonald (1963) and Doug Dickey (1964-65) at Tennessee.
After the 1965 season, he became defensive coordinator at Arkansas on the staff of Frank Broyles.
Mr. Coffey was coach at Virginia Tech from 1971-73, compiling a record of 12-20-1. He had offers from Texas Tech and Virginia, but once he visited the Virginia Tech campus, he was sold on the prospects for the job and signed on without visiting the other two schools.
In 1972, Mr. Coffey oversaw a potent passing attack that attracted large crowds to Lane Stadium, resulting in quarterback Don Strock leading the nation in total passing and total offense.
He also took some of the lessons he learned at UT with him to Blacksburg.
“Charlie also did some cutting edge stuff in terms of marketing, like with the checkerboard end zones and the orange jerseys,” former Hokie tight end Mike Burnop, who played for Mr. Coffey and is now a part of the school’s broadcast team, told The Associated Press.
“Those were his ideas. Today, that type of stuff is common, but back then, it was a really advanced way of marketing.”
In 1981, Mr. Coffey founded Nationwide Express trucking company in Shelbyville “from scratch,” said his wife, Mai. He retired in 2007.
He served on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees from 1996-2002. In 2005, he received the Lettermen’s Service Award, given by the Tennessee Letterman’s T-Club. In 2010, he was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. In 2013, he received the Letterman’s T-Club Service Award, given to a letter with a record of distinguished community service.
“He was a good man and a good football player,” said former Vols center Bill Lanter. “We linemen weren’t the stars, but we did our job. Charlie did his job.”
Mr. Coffey is survived by his wife and four children, Suzanne Mielke, Cindi Johnson, Mike Coffey, and David Coffey.
The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. Eastern on Friday and 1-2 p.m. on Saturday at the First Christian Church in Shelbyville. Services will be Saturday at 2 p.m. at the church.
Feldhaus Memorial Chapel in Shelbyville is handling arrangements.
Published by: knoxnews.com
Courtesy of: Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.