Originally created 01/26/00

Coach recalls pursuit of Walker



If you think high school players get socked when it comes to recruiting these days, you should have been around 20 years ago.

Just ask former Johnson County High coach Gary Phillips, who coached arguably the state's most coveted recruit in Herschel Walker in the late 1970s.

"It was very frustrating," said Phillips, who is retired from coaching and now is the principal at Fayette County High School in Fayetteville.

"I guess one of the things that made it so bad was you had this rule called the bump rule back then. If any coach ran into that particular player, he could take that opportunity to talk to him."

Phillips said it didn't seem the NCAA was as strict on college coaches then as they are now, therefore coaches and recruiters seemed to bend the rules more.

"I remember we had coaches come in all the time and talk to me," Phillips said. "I would see guys every day look at their watches and ask me what time Herschel got out of class, what hallway his class was on and if there was a water fountain on that hall.

"When the bell rang to end that class, those coaches would go down that hall (where Herschel's class was), get a drink of water and bump into Herschel."

Walker, who helped lead Johnson County to the Class A state championship in 1979, finished his senior season with 3,167 yards and 42 touchdowns. He not only had state-wide media watching every move, he had the national media on him as well. It was so bad, Phillips said that Walker couldn't go to the 7-11 convenient store without somebody trying to influence his decision.

"It got to the point where (Walker) didn't want to talk to anybody and his phone rang off the hook constantly," Phillips said. "His family had about had enough of that stuff. The coaches pressured him real bad each day to get him to sign.

"But Herschel was such a nice kid that he couldn't tell anybody no. I told him that I'd be the bad guy, just tell me what you want me to say to those guys."

Phillips was just as much a part of Walker's recruiting saga as Herschel and his family was. Ralph Jackson Sr., president of the booster club at the time, also remembered how bad things got in Wrightsville.

"This kind of stuff went on night and day," Jackson said. "A lot of coaches, some from as far away as Nebraska, were here all the time. There was a lot of pressure put on that kid."

Since Wrightsville was so small and had very little hotel space, college recruiters and coaches stayed in nearby Dublin. While they stayed on Walker's trail, they had to stay around for weeks.

"I remember them saying that they staked out in Dublin and played cards and went to the movies during the middle of the day since there was nothing really to do while Herschel was in school," Phillips said. "Herschel had already used up all his visits. Of course, he played basketball so they'd show up at some of his games at night. We got to know most of these guys so we'd take them hunting and stuff to pass the time away.

"We threw a big 'ol party when Herschel signed with Georgia," Phillips said. "He cooked steaks with all our coaches and their wives, just to let off some pressure. We sat down, took a deep breath and relaxed. All I've got to say is the recruiting process now couldn't be any worse than it was back then."

Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.