It wasn’t sitting well with Don Gerth. What his high school football coach Doug Ethridge said to Gerth was not sitting well at all.
Gerth was a Hobbs High School junior, playing junior varsity football for the Eagles in 1969. Ethridge asked Gerth what he thought his chances were of making varsity the following season.
“I go, ‘Uh, I don’t know,’” Gerth recalls more than 50 years later. And Gerth also remembers Ethridge’s response.
“He looked at me and goes, ‘Not very good,’” Gerth said. “Just those words coming from him changed my whole life.”
Did they ever.
Ethridge’s prediction was meant to inspire Gerth, and it worked. Gerth did make varsity his senior year, and though he began the season as a fifth-string cornerback – fifth string – he worked his way into the Eagles’ starting right corner job.
That was the fall of 1970, a state championship year for Hobbs. Gerth was one cog out of many on that team, but an integral cog, which he owes to Ethridge.
Richard Douglas Ethridge, passed away this past Christmas Day at his home in Mansfield, Texas. He was 89.
But Ethridge left quite a legacy during his 25-year coaching career, which included a four-season run at Hobbs. And Gerth is part of that legacy that included 200 coaching victories.
“Coach Ethridge was a motivator of men and athletes and players,” Gerth said. “He could bring the best out of anybody on that field. That’s why he never turned anybody back from playing football. Some kids you see come out for football and you think, ‘Why is he out there?’ (Ethridge) never did that. He was the type of person that just him speaking to you made you a better player. It was amazing how he could take a mediocre player and make him a great player.”
Ethridge was raised in Sundown, Texas, and was a baseball and football star for Sundown High, graduating in 1949 and earning scholarships in both sports from Midwestern State University in Wichita, Falls, Texas.
After college, Ethridge enlisted in the U.S. Army, which took him to Austria and Germany.
Following the service to his country, Ethridge moved to Phillips, Texas, started coaching, and married Patsy Lou Capell, his sweetheart for 65 years.
Ethridge was the head football coach for Dalhart (Texas) High School from 1960-63, posting a 38-10-1 record that included three district championships.
He coached at Monahans (Texas) High School from 1964-67, going 25-13-5, with one district title.
Then came the Hobbs years from 1968-71, the crown jewel of which was the Eagles’ 20-0 victory over Albuquerque Highlands in the 1970 state championship game. Ethridge’s Hobbs teams were 40-11 during that span, and also netted three district championships.
For his efforts during the state title season, Ethridge was voted New Mexico High School Coach of the Year.
After spending a season at Port Arthur (Texas) High School and going 7-3 in 1972, Ethridge coached at Port Neches-Groves (Texas) High School from 1973-83, and went 88-38-2, including four district championships and a 1975 state title. PN-G beat West Texas football stalwart Permian 20-10, and for his part in the championship season, Ethridge was named Texas High School Sportswriters Association Coach of the Year.
Ethridge wrapped up his coaching career in 1984, with what might be considered a culture-shock season for him because it involved way more losing (2-8) than his teams usually did.
But, it involved just enough winning to put Ethridge at 200 wins for his career, which also included a Texas All-Star Coach honor in 1978.
Post-career, Ethridge was inducted into the Texas Coaches Hall of Honor in 1989, and the Texas Hall of Fame for coaching in 1997.
Perhaps the greatest reward of all are the hundreds of former players Ethridge helped mold into men, men with intestinal fortitude, heart, and stronger beliefs in themselves.
They have Ethridge to thank for all that.
“I put that man on the top of my list of people that I’ve known,” says Gerth, now a Hobbs city commissioner.
“Great leader, coach, taught us more than just Xs and Os,” Arnold Thomas, a starting left cornerback and place-kicker on the ‘70 team, said. “He taught us about life, about teamwork, respecting the coaches, respecting the sport, respecting your teammates and your opponents.”
Thomas was a big part of that momentous 1970 season, earning all-state honors at cornerback and kicking a then-state-record 44 extra points.
Thomas worked as an athletic trainer at Cypress-Fairbanks High School from 1980-2010, and still lives and works in Cypress. His memories of Ethridge never fade, though. Thomas remembers a man who coached without grabbing players’ facemasks, without profanity.
“Coaches weren’t allowed to cuss on the field; there was never any cussing,” Thomas recalled. “They could chew you out – even if you say chewing out was negative, the positive was they’d pat you on the back and say, ‘Get back in there and do what you’re supposed to do.’”
Thomas says that en lieu of cursing, Ethridge would sometimes use the word ‘patootie’, telling his players to go out and kick it.
“We knew what it was,” Thomas said of Ethridge’s p-word, “but he never used any other word.
“He was super to work with and alongside.”
Gerth thinks that Ethridge compares to a slightly more famous ball coach, one who works in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“You look at Nick Saban,” Gerth said, “he recruits well, but players play for him 120 percent. It was the same way at Hobbs with Coach Ethridge. “He changed the attitude about football for every kid who ever came into the program.”