SAN ANTONIO — Longtime Brackenridge High School football coach Willie Hall had a three-word reply a few days ago when he was asked if the 2020 season would be the last of his career.
“This is it,” he said.
After 37 years in the books at Brack, the last 25 as head coach, Hall is synonymous with the San Antonio ISD school. He joined the Eagles’ coaching staff in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was in the third year of his presidency, and was promoted to head coach 12 years later.
Hall, who turned 64 in February, is the longest-tenured active head football coach at one school in San Antonio. As he prepares for his 38th and final season of coaching, Hall stands as a testament to dedication and loyalty.
Hall has turned down opportunities through the years to coach elsewhere, but he always has opted to stay the course at Brack and remain working in a community where he has developed deep emotional ties.
“I enjoy what I do,” Hall said. “I love coaching, I love the kids that I’m coaching and I love where I’m at. The community has been good to me. Brackenridge is like home. It seems like when people come to the SAISD, they stay a couple of years and then they move on. Not that I view myself as a great coach, but I think Brackenridge High School deserves a good coach, too.
“I’m invested in the community. I had some job opportunities that could have taken me away from Brackenridge to more prestigious schools, but I just felt obligated to stay. I would have felt bad leaving those kids because I know what they have to go through every day.”
The Eagles have gone 136-120 and made the playoffs 15 times under Hall, who was born and raised in Roswell, N.M. He played football at Eastern New Mexico and came to San Antonio in 1983 to try out for the Gunslingers, the city’s USFL franchise.
“I’ve been in San Antonio since then,” Hall said.
SAISD Athletic Director Todd Howey lauded Hall’s longevity at Brack, and shared an anecdote that speaks volumes about the way Hall approaches his job.
“We had some issues in the weight room and the locker room at Brackenridge in 2018,” Howey said. “Somebody sent me a picture of Coach Hall mopping the floor. I’ve kept that photo in my phone for over two years. I think it’s the greatest example of leadership that I’ve seen in my career.
“You’ve got a man who is one of the most respected coaches in the community and the state of Texas, and he is still willing to grab a mop and mop the floor. That is what a leader is all about. I think that one of Willie’s greatest strengths is his humility. Willie is consistently a humble person. I’ve never heard anything negative about Willie Hall.”
Hall chuckled when he heard that Howey carries the photo of him mopping the floor in his phone. The way Hall sees it, he was just doing his job.
“It’s my responsibility that the locker room is kept in order,” he said.
For Hall, the job always has been more about the people than the game he coaches. While passionate about football and still as competitive as he’s ever been, Hall learned long ago that his job entails much more than coaching a sport.
“He’s a great mentor,” said Ramon Richards, a 2014 Brack graduate who was a defensive back with the Los Angeles Rams the past two seasons. “It’s more than football with him. He wants you to go on and be successful in life. He treats his players like family.
“He has a bond not only with his players, but other students on campus. He’s been there for so long that he knows what kind of kids come to that school. That allows him to be somebody who can relate to those kids.”
When Richards’ father died May 17, one of the first people who called to express his condolences was Hall.
“He’s called me every day since then,” Richards said. “He’s like family.”
After the funeral of Richards’ father on Saturday, Hall paid to provide a meal for nearly 50 mourners who gathered to pay their respects.
Hall’s gestures of kindness toward his players and their families, especially when they’re in need, have become common through the years.
Former Brack quarterback Tremaine Butler, 39, is one of the football program’s shining success stories. A 1999 graduate, he is a chief information for a health care company in San Antonio. Butler played football for three years at TCU before graduating from UTSA and earning two master’s degrees from UT-Permian Basin and Western Governors University.
“What a lot of people don’t know about Coach Hall is that he is a father figure to a lot of kids in that community,” Butler said. “There are a lot of broken homes. Coach Hall took me under his wing a lot and helped me to develop as a young man and as a student. He made sure that I went to all my classes. I was a straight-A student, but he always stayed on me.
“He wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting caught up in other drama. He’s like that with all the kids at Brack. He keeps you on the straight and narrow. Even for the kids who had two parents at home, he gave them guidance that they may not have been getting at home. That’s the big takeaway I have from my experience with Coach Hall.”
Hall has worked at Brack for so long that he has coached about a dozen sons whose fathers played for the Eagles when Hall was on the coaching staff. The latest is Jade Rios, a tight end who is graduating next month. His father, Albert Rios, graduated from Brack in 1984.
“My dad always has gone to Brack games and he had a picture taken of me with him and Coach Hall when I was 3,” Jade Rios said. “Coach Hall has been a part of my life ever since. I’ve been going to varsity games for as long as I can remember. I remember talking to Coach Hall before games and asking him what it too to become a varsity player.
“We talked more about life than football. Even this year, I’ll go in his office and we’ll talk about life and how we can better our lives. He’s always talking about the future, not for himself, but for the kids. He’s always stressing academics.”
Hall has coached many outstanding players through the years, but none was better than wide receiver Sam Hurd. A 2002 Brack graduate, Hurd starred at Northern Illinois for four seasons before signing with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the 2006 NFL Draft.
Hurd earned a spot on the Cowboys’ roster as a rookie and played five seasons in Dallas before going to the Chicago Bears as a free agent in July 2011. Hurd’s NFL career ended when the Bears cut him on Dec. 16, 2011 following his arrest on drug-related charges. Hurd is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional institution in Bastrop.
“I still think highly of that young man,” Hall said of Hurd. “He was a great young man regardless of whatever was said or whatever was done. He was a great, great kid. He was a great role model at the time. He did things for kids when we had camps.
“He would tell me, ‘Coach, if they don’t have any money, just let them in.’ He would go out of his way to give a kid his autograph. He made sure that every kid had something from him when they came to his camps. He just took time out for people.”
Hall coached his oldest of two sons, William, a cornerback who graduated from Brack in 2017. He will be a senior at the Red McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin when the fall semester starts. Hall’s youngest son, Wesley will be a sophomore at Brack this season and is expected to play tight end and safety. Hall also a daughter, Wendy, 6.
“I’m going to miss the kids and the coaches, but I’m looking forward to having more time to do other things,” Hall said. “I’d like to travel. I’ll still go to the games and holler at the coaches the way fans always hollered at me.”
Then Hall chuckled again.