Holton legacy a shield of honor

Friday, April 25, 2014
Legendary Forrest Football Coach Murrey Holton makes one final pass over the Forrest shield at midfield on the Lions Club Memorial Field in Chapel Hill. Holton's former Forrest Rocket football players stand in honor of their departed coach at Friday's memorial service in Chapel Hill. Photos by Anthony S. Puca

A man is measured by how many people he touches in a positive manner throughout his lifetime and legendary Forrest football coach Murrey Holton, who passed away last week, left his mark that stretches from his beloved Chapel Hill community to all parts of the country.

"We had a bond that started on September 5, 1985 and remains to this day," said Chapel Hill Elementary School Principal Dean Delk. "When my family arrived to take the job as Principal at Forrest School in September 1985, prior to that Murrey's children had written my children notes, welcoming us to Chapel Hill which I thought was a terrific gesture that made the transition very smooth and we just kind of hit it off."

Holton will be remembered as a gregarious, loving, mentoring, meticulous man who loved and cherished his family, friends, football, food and Forrest School.

Murrey Holton and Dean Delk have been great friends for many years. Photo submitted

Lifelong friendship

"The services on Friday went absolutely perfect for him, he couldn't have scripted it any better, the only thing he would have done different, he would have charged admission to come in the gym," said Delk. "I lay down at night and when I thought about it, it kind of sunk in that I won't enjoy sitting across from him and eat that cheeseburger that Miss Kris told him not to eat, or that banana pudding. Everything I do reminds me of Murrey, when I wake up in the morning and drive by the school, it reminds me of him, whenever I drive by his house and see his beautiful children and grandchildren, it reminds me of him, He will stay with me forever."

A Pottsville native, Holton was a 1965 Forrest graduate and proudly wore his No. 10 jersey on the gridiron for the Rockets, where he quarterbacked the squad and was named All-DRVC in 1963 and 1964.

Many of Holton's closest friends and colleagues share a good laugh at the memorial service.

Holton served his country as a Military Policeman in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War before returning home where he received a Master's Degree from Middle Tennessee State University.

Coaching career

In 1971, Holton started his high school coaching career in Cornersville where he remained and taught for two years until taking over the Rocket football program in 1973.

Under Holton's 18 years of tutelage, the Rockets captured Duck River Valley Conference (DRVC) championships in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, and 1986.

Jimmy Henson, who played as the wishbone quarterback in Holton's offense said, "Coach Holton was a father figure, I guess apart from my dad, he ranks up there pretty high. He was not only a football coach and a teacher, he was someone who cared about you, he always wanted to know what you were doing, and he was just a special person."

Holton was also voted DRVC Coach of the Year in 1975, 1977, 1980, and 1986, owning the sidelines of the Lions Club Memorial Field until 1991.

Coaching legacy

Babe Hardison took over for his friend in 1992 and he was followed by Steve Luker, Kyle Stacey, Joe Moos, Brian Coleman, and current Rocket head coach Matt Kriesky who said, "Coach Holton has had a tremendous impact, I was at a coaching clinic this past February and I had a coach from Mt. Juliet come congratulate me for getting the job and the first thing he said was, you better go meet Coach Holton. He talked to the team last year and he always turned a negative into a positive and we loved having him around, always. He just meant so much to this community and this program."

Holton was the ultimate student of the game he loved to the hilt, always exploring new ways to add a different wrinkle to his offense by reading every book he could get his hands on or pick the minds of other coaches he met in his many travels around the southeast with his good friend Larry Taft, the former Sports Editor of the Tennessean.

Forrest head football coach Murrey Holton with assistant coaches Homer Jones and Babe Hardison. Photo submitted

"Murrey was very thorough, if I heard him say one time I heard him say it a thousand, cross the t's and dot the i's," said Delk. "Our football teams were prepared, we may not have had the most talent in the world, but we were prepared and if we executed we usually won. He represented us in a very professional fashion in our travels throughout the mid-state and everybody was complimentary of Murrey Holton's footballs teams because of their preparedness and the way they conducted themselves as young men."

Murrey and Kris Holton flank their five grandchildren, the loves of his life. Photo submitted

Deeply impacted

Holton deeply touched the players he coached, none more severely than current Forrest offensive coordinator Brent Johns, who grew up with the Holton and Delk families.

"There are hundred ways I am going to miss him, but where I am going to miss him the most is anything that we did or we are going to try in football now, number one when I am thinking about I say to myself, what he would do here, would he do this," said Johns. "He was my friend, more than my coach; that was just a short period of time. After I graduated, I can't count the times I went to games with him and Larry Taft to Memphis, Germantown and the Clinic Bowl every year."

Gone but not forgotten, especially in the Chapel Hill community where Holton's legacy will live on for generations to come, because he was big, a big man with a huge love and respect for everyone he came in contact with and his mark is evident by speaking to the people he was close to or listening to the stories thrown about pertaining to his many famous quips or quotes, the numerous restaurant stories molded from his frequent travels throughout the south, or just football talk, plain and simple football talk.

Murrey's way

It was always Murrey's way on the gridiron and in one game that stood out more to his former players and friends more than any other was the 1988 playoff game at Collinwood when Holton ran the same "Base 56" play every snap the entire second half.

The play worked, Holton stuck with it and the Rockets won 14-8.

The entire Holton family is what Murrey loved the most. Photo submitted