‘I couldn’t have asked for a better life’

(This is the third column in a three-part series on Bob Black after his passing on Aug. 14, 2023)

By Steve Williams

When I interviewed Bob Black in August of 2018, it hadn’t been long since he told his wife Brenda he had retired from teaching but would continue coaching football at Fulton High.

He had been doing both for 53 years.

“More than anything it was for family and to spend time with my wife,” said Bob.

“I know I did the right thing,” he added, “because when I went home and told her I had quit teaching but was still going to coach, she (let out this loud) ‘Yay!’ So I knew then that I had made the right decision.

“We were sitting on our deck this morning like we always do, drinking our coffee. Before I left, she was mapping out all the things we were going to do on our day trips and other things that we had never been able to do.”

That’s just one of the stories on my voice recorder Coach Black shared with me in the football office that August day five years ago.

Bob and Brenda had four children and lost a daughter to cancer. “But I got her four kids to raise,” said Bob. “I have 12 grandkids and two great-grandsons. And so I have a full house a whole lot of the time and that’s the way I like it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Brenda and Bob became “Mimi and Popaw” to those young ones.

“They all want to come out and eat Mimi’s cooking, let me tell ya,” added Popaw. “She can cook. She learned from her grandmother and mother that she lived with over on Armstrong. There’s no recipe. You just put it together. A pinch of this, a pinch of that. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. And buddy they all love it.

“Rob (who followed in his dad’s footsteps at FHS) lives right straight across the street and he loves to come across that street and get his knees under momma’s table. Let me tell ya, because she can cook.”

In addition to his coaching, Bob was Athletic Director for 30-plus years. He taught Civics one year, Driver’s Ed for 15 years and finished as a Physical Ed teacher.

“I’ve had a great life,” said Black. “A lot of good things happened to me, not my doing, but (you can see) a lot of honors hanging all over the wall here that I’ve had. I’ve been very lucky, very fortunate to do all of the things I’ve done and experienced in this ride as a high school coach and teacher. I couldn’t have asked for a better life. I really believe it was what I was supposed to do.”

The Wall of Fame at Fulton, the Halls of Fame at Carson-Newman, the All-Century Team at C-N, the Tennessee FCA Hall of Fame, the TSSAA Hall of Fame, the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. Black is in every one of them.

“I’ll accept it, but it wasn’t something that I tried to do or get people to vote for me … I just loved to play and I did for a longtime,” he said.

Black also was the Young Life director at FHS for over 30 years. It’s a non-denominational high school Christian group.

“At my church for probably 30 years, I did the children’s sermon every Sunday morning and I taught my Sunday school class,” said Bob.

In sports, Black also excelled as a college baseball umpire in the SEC and ACC for years. He was selected to work the SEC tournament 14 times and three years worked the Division 2 College World Series.

“Mississippi State was my favorite because that place was wild when they were playing,” said Bob. “And Bo Jackson (at Auburn) was my favorite player. The guy never argued. What you called, that was it. He just played baseball and he was great. If he hadn’t gone into pro football (and injured his hip), he would be in the Hall of Fame in baseball.”

Black started with “the little” Baby Falcons and later played football at Fulton High and Carson-Newman College and then several years with the Knoxville Bears, a semi-pro team. “And I enjoyed every minute of playing,” he said.

Looking back, Bob even admitted taking some chances when he was in college of playing “sandlot” ball when he came back home from Carson-Newman on weekends.

“Now if Coach Harmon had caught me, he’d killed me,” said Black.

“On the Saturdays we played at Carson-Newman, if I went home or I got back in time on Sunday afternoon, I’d just cross the street to Christenberry Field and play in the sandlot with no pads,” he recalled laughing. “I just loved to play. And if we’re going to have a football game, I’m in.”

As time went by over the years, more and more people knew Coach Black. Some of the first players he coached had become parents and then grandparents.

“I’m Popaw to all of them,” he said.

“Now I’ve got one player that calls me ‘old Black,’” he laughed. “And that’s fine too, because I love him, because he comes and hugs me, (saying) ‘Hey old Black.’ He’s a current player. I know him and I know our relationship. And I have that (relationship) with our linemen.”