They say the passion within coaches never dies.
It certainly hasn’t with former Granbury Pirate football head coach Vic Prince. And he’s made sure it will live on forever.
Prince, who coached the Pirates from 1961-71 – first as an assistant with his great friend Fred Weir and later as the head coach – has bound those days in hard-copy volumes and multiple DVDs. They are among his greatest treasures, next to his wife Lula Mae, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
And, just like Lula Mae, they are almost always nearby for him to revive a bit of his youth with each turn of the page.
“There’s a whole lot of me in these pages,” said Prince, now just a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday.
He opens a binder, lets a little smile spread, and recalls one of what seems like a million memories. This one was about meeting legendary Texas Longhorns coach Darrell Royal for the signing of former Pirate Jerrel Bolton in 1967.
“We met at the Dairy Queen, had an ice cream, and then went to the signing,” said Vic, a long-time University of Texas fan.
“After he’d had a season that wasn’t so good, he hit the road recruiting. He said ‘If I’ve got to coach them, I want to be the one signing them.’”
Vic and Lula Mae live near the Granbury-Acton border with their puppy dog Sophie, who is prompt to bark at visitors for a moment only to snuggle up for petting seconds later.
While many people know him as a retired Granbury school administrator (1993), there are still some who remember his time coaching the Pirates during their powerhouse days.
“They had very few numbers in those days, and most players played both ways (offense and defense),” said Lady Pirate basketball coach and 1955 GHS graduate Leta Andrews.
“They tasted a lot of success.”
SO CLOSE TO A TITLE
Vic’s favorite scrapbook is of the 1966 team. That one advanced all the way to the 2A state championship game, losing 29-7 to Sweeny. It was also the last team to stand 7-0 prior to this year’s squad.
“We were ahead at halftime. When the game was still on the line we were playing 13 players, and most were going both ways,” he said.
“But as the season wore on we got injuries. We went through a lot to get to that championship game.
“George Rains played with cracked ribs.”
George, Leta’s brother, was famous for his ability to make magic happen any time he got the ball. Among the greatest tales of him is one of a kick return in which he scampered over virtually the entire field on his way to the end zone.
Vic chuckled when he remembered why George took up so much territory. Earlier, in tending to the ribs, George went to a doctor who wrapped him and made him able to play, but not unable to feel pain.
“He reversed his field about eight times. Every time he thought he was going to get hit on that side he’d switch,” Vic laughed.
While his good friend was officially the head coach of what is considered the greatest GHS football team ever, there is no denying Vic’s fingerprints are all over that season.
“Fred Weir was one of the best high school coaches I ever saw,” said the ever-humble Vic, then recalling his friend’s interesting ritual before every game.
“He’d throw up every time before we’d play,” said Vic. “He’d still be coaching today if it wasn’t for that. One day he looked at me and said, ‘Vic, I’ve got to give this up.’”
Of course, the logical person to give it up to was Vic.
“Back then we only had two varsity coaches,” said Vic. “If we didn’t do it, it didn’t get done.
“It wasn’t like today where you’ve got a whole bunch of coaches. We were it.
“And we’d all get together (players and coaches), have popcorn and watch opposing teams’ films – what film we could get.”
There was no synthetic turf, just good ol’ natural grass at a small stadium now known as Decker Field. There wasn’t even a field house in which to dress for games.
“Our dressing facility was a little area under the stage at Decker Gym,” said Vic. “Then, to give the players more room, we gave them bleachers, and they’d hang uniforms and clothes on them while they got dressed.
“One time Comanche dressed at Tolar and showed up just in time for the coin toss. We wondered if they were going to show. Did they lose their way to the field?”
Lula Mae recalls her husband being quite a busy man, often doing more than coaching.
“Back then they drove the buses, lined the field, did the laundry,” she said. “It was a different time, but it was a great time.”
Vic then opens the 1967 binder and slides a small index card across the table.
“I kept that even though it’s been a thorn in my side ever since,” he said, the smile fading for the moment.
It was the official’s card from the second-round playoff game that season. The Pirates and Crane played to a 0-0 tie, with Crane advancing on penetrations 2-0 (twice reaching inside Granbury’s 20-yard line).
Granbury led in first downs (12-11) and total yardage (198-84), the next two deciding factors had the teams been tied in penetrations.
“That’s a tough way to lose,” Vic said. “I still kick myself because I wonder if maybe I didn’t work them too hard the week before that game.
“Another tough way to lose was the way we went out in 1970.”
That season the Pirates finished in a three-way tie for the district championship with Decatur and Kirkpatrick. They defeated Decatur but lost to Kirkpatrick, who had in turn lost to Decatur.
With only one team advancing to the playoffs back then, coaches from the three teams met and flipped coins. The odd man in the flip advanced.
“It was hard to look my team in the face and tell them how our season ended,” Vic said. “I still think I let them down somehow.”
As a head coach, Vic won district titles in 1967 and ’68, along with the aforementioned tie in 1970. The 1969 team narrowly missed the postseason.
His record as Pirate head coach was 31-17-3.
MORE THAN JUST WINNING
But more than any victory, he relished the relationships.
“He was a true teacher,” said Leta. “He had love for everybody. It didn’t matter what you did, he was just a sweet gentleman and a class act.
“Having him here was a big, strong plus for the school district. And he has a dear, sweet wife. He and Lula Mae are peaches and cream, the All-American couple.”
It was those special relationships that brought he and Lula Mae back to Granbury in 1976 after he had left to coach at Gatesville for four seasons.
“In 1976 I was burned out on coaching – plus I picked a bad year to quit smoking,” he said, followed with a little laugh.
They returned to Granbury, where he would spend the rest of his career in administration. He was first an assistant principal at GHS and later became the first principal at Acton Elementary.
But inside he’s always been a football coach. While he was always devoted to his family and his students, Lula Mae said she knew the man she married more than five decades ago would always hold football in a high place.
“We married in the middle of two-a-day workouts,” she recalled. “Obviously I didn’t know as much about football then as I do now.”
Vic and Lula Mae met in 1958 when he was coaching six-man football in Star. It wasn’t long before he got a call from an unexpected source.
“I played football at Clifton, and Fred played at Valley Mills. I remember once in a game I hit him as hard as I could,” said Vic.
“Then, when he asked me to go to Granbury and coach with him, I was surprised – but I love him for it.”
Vic doesn’t get out of the house much these days, but there are still the occasional reunions.
“We’ll get together sometimes and have a good time. Class reunions are a good time,” said Vic.
“Sometimes we see each other at funerals. It’s somber, but we still have our stories.”
Vic saw some changes upon his return to Granbury in 1976. The Pirates, while still a playoff team (and that would change a short while later), weren’t the powerhouse they were just a few years earlier. New challenges also faced Vic.
“Believe it or not, they provided a smoking area for students at the high school,” said Lula Mae, who retired in 2001 after working 25 years for GISD.
“That changed when I came in,” Vic quickly added.
“They also shut down the campus and didn’t allow anyone to leave for lunch after that horrible accident,” she said.
She was referencing an automobile accident that took the lives of several GHS students.
As for the football team, Vic said some folks could see the changes coming. He said the building of the lake in 1969 was the beginning.
“The lake and the population boom meant we got all kinds of kids from the Metroplex,” said Vic. “We had farm kids out here. They knew what a hard life was. They listened to their coach and did exactly what they were told.
“We knew what was coming before we left here. Mr. (James) Wann, our superintendent, said, ‘When the population grows, you’re going to have trouble with athletics.’”
While some other sports continued to have success, football did indeed begin to suffer. From 1978 through 2009 the team did not compete in a single bidistrict game.
For fans like Vic and Lula Mae, that was at times almost unbearable.
“It was tough, especially sitting through those one-win and no-win seasons,” said Vic. “But we’d go, just like everybody else would, hoping the next season would be the one they’d get good again. They’d win once in awhile.
“I thought Biff (Peterson) was the man. I still like him, and I think he did a fantastic job. They even brought in a guy from California (Randy Blankenship, 2001), but they ran him off after one season because he cussed too much.”
Peterson coached the Pirates from 1996-2000. His 1998 squad finished 7-3, which until last season was the most victories since 1981.
Vic praised current head coach Scotty Pugh for getting the team back to success. He’d like to think the program can one day be as successful as those when he coached.
“I think they can. They have a lot of kids and seem to be on the right path, and this guy seems to have them playing pretty good ball,” said Vic. “I don’t think the district they’re in is very good, but they’re winning, and I want to think they’re just good.”
Then he looked at the scrapbooks, now spread out and each one fully open on the table. With evening now having arrived and through the weariness of another day nearing the end, he spoke softly.
“I love Granbury. We love Granbury,” Vic said, nodding to Lula Mae, who nodded back in agreement.
“This has been a wonderful place to call home.”
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