In 1983 I drove from Charlotte to Greenville, N.C., taking every back road I could because I wanted to get to know my new state. I finally pulled onto the East Carolina campus, where I had set up an interview with football coach Ed Emory.
As I stood on the sideline and watched practice, Ed walked over. We had never met.
“You came all the way from Charlotte just to see us?” he asked.
Ed was incredulous and amazed that somebody from big old Charlotte would come to see the little old Pirates. To prove it, he dropped to his knees and, in front of his players, began to bow.
I remember thinking that, as I turned red, (a) Ed believes his Pirates do not get enough attention from the Charlotte Observer; (b) sarcasm works as well on grass as it does other surfaces; and (c) I’m probably going to like this guy.
I liked him a lot. I liked him at East Carolina, where he coached from 1980-84, and I liked him at Richmond Senior High, where he coached from 2001-06.
Ed died in his sleep Friday at his home in Wadesboro, 50 miles east of Charlotte. He was 75.
A native of Lancaster, Ed graduated from East Carolina with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. He was coaching at Georgia Tech when the Pirates offered him their top football position.
The job was a dream, and in 1983, the Pirates ended the season ranked 20th by the Associated Press.
An independent, they were always the underdog. On their way to play Missouri, a bowl team, the team bus was pulled for speeding. You think this happens if they played in the ACC?
The Pirates lost only three games that season, each of them in Florida and all of them close: 47-46 to Florida State, 24-17 to Florida and 12-7 to Miami.
The next season they went 2-9 and Ed was fired.
So the ride was brief, but thrilling. He had the bravado an underdog requires. He’d play anybody, anywhere. In 2003, East Carolina inducted him into their Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Ever meet anybody you just can’t help but like?” asks Matt Maloney, East Carolina’s assistant athletic director for major gifts. “That was Ed. He was genuine. He was just sincere.”
You remember Earnest Byner from his NFL career. He played in the NFL from 1984 to ’97, made two Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl with Washington.
A running back out of Milledgeville, Ga., he is Ed’s best known player.
“He was very concerned about us as people,” Byner says by telephone Monday. “He had us in his house. It was legal then.”
Byner, 50, laughs a deep-voiced laugh.
“A lot of us were a long way from home and didn’t have a father figure,” Byner says. “He took care of us. We were his kids.”
When Byner was inducted into East Carolina’s Hall of Fame, Ed was there. When Byner, the running backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had a question about coaching, he sometimes called Ed.
Byner wasn’t heavily recruited. Jody Schulz was. A linebacker for Chowan University in Murfreesboro (then a junior college), Schulz also was pursued by Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Maryland.
Schulz remembers telling East Carolina assistant coach Gary Fast by telephone that he was leaning toward Wake Forest.
At 8:30 the next morning there was a knock on the door at the Schulz home in Grasonville, Md. It was Fast. He had driven six hours for no other reason than to make sure Schulz made the right decision.
The next morning at 8:30 there was another knock. It was Fast. He wanted to make sure everything was all right. The next morning at 8:30 there again there was a now familiar knock.
OK, Fast said. Ed had given him a message. The message: If you don’t get a commitment from Schulz, don’t come back to Greenville.
Schulz played his final two seasons for East Carolina, was drafted in the second round by Philadelphia and played five seasons for the Eagles.
We talk by telephone Monday. I ask Schulz, 52, to describe Ed to somebody who doesn’t know him.
“There aren’t enough words in a sentence,” he says.
Schulz, who runs the family restaurant, the Fisherman’s Inn, in Grasonville, finds four words.
“He was a friend,” Schulz says.
Many of us felt that way.
After Ed finished bowing he said he’d give me 15 minutes. We drove to Greenville’s Parker’s Barbecue. As we talked, the table was gradually covered with food – pork and chicken, slaw and Brunswick stew, hush puppies, corn sticks, macaroni and cheese. There was so little room I had to put my notebook on my knee.
We talked more than an hour, went back to the school and talked almost two hours more.
I saw him again when he became a high school coach. He was nice enough not to bow. We met for breakfast and then he we got in his car. He showed me his house and gave me a tour of town. Every house and building had a story, and he told it.
I’ve never lived in a small town and doubt I could. But when I got home I rushed into the house and told my wife we should move to Wadesboro.
That was Ed.
Ever meet anybody you just can’t help but like?