When Goforth received his ring after coaching J.I. Burton to the VHSL Division 1 girls basketball championship in 2011, he had the words “Like father, like son” engraved on it. It’s a tribute to Goforth’s father, Jim Goforth, who coached J.J. Kelly’s boys basketball team to a state runner-up finish in 1977.
The Goforths are one of many coaching legacies in Southwest Virginia in which sons followed their fathers into the high school coaching profession.
It is a proud tradition in a region where sports are more than extracurricular activities. They are a way of life.
Like for most who follow their fathers into coaching, sports were a major factor of Mike Goforth’s childhood.
“I can remember being behind the bench during practices and camps playing with my Matchbox cars,” said Goforth, who is now the principal at Union.
Not until college, however, did Goforth decide he wanted to trod the same career path as his father.
One of the elder Goforth’s players actually helped steer the younger Goforth to the decision.
“I was in college and refereeing a summer camp for (Wise Central coach) Robin Dotson,” Goforth said. “He told me I should consider getting in the family business.”
Goforth started coaching eighth-grade basketball when he was still in college.
His seven-year career coaching girls basketball produced a 135-60 record. Included was a 100-38 mark at Burton, where he coached the Lady Raiders to three straight state tournament appearances, including a championship in 2011.
Goforth had his own style, but he’s the first to say that his father, who died during Goforth’s first year as a coach, had a major impact on him.
“I remember playing on my father’s dry-erase board and drawing up plays,” he said. “It was just part of the love I had for the game.”
His father even influenced how Goforth dressed as a coach.
“He always wore a suit,” Goforth recalled. “Coaches don’t dress like that anymore.
“I always wore a tie when I was coaching. I coached volleyball one year at Appalachia and even wore a tie to those games. That was because of him.”
At tradition-rich Gate City, the football program has only had six head coaches in its history.
Two are Houserights.
Gate City alum Bill Houseright coached the Blue Devils to a state championship in 2010. Jeremy Houseright, Bill’s son, was an assistant coach on that team.
Last year, Jeremy Houseright — the top assistant for the 2019-20 Lady Blue Devils state champion basketball team — took over as Gate City’s football coach.
Also a Gate City alum, the younger Houseright is well versed on Blue Devils tradition.
“Our goal right now as a coaching staff is to let these kids know what kind of tradition there is at Gate City,” he said recently. “Gate City has been extremely blessed to have such great coaching in the past.
“Coach (Harry) Fry, Coach (Nick) Colobro, Dad and a bunch of great assistant coaches that bleed blue, and a ton of former players set the standard for football at Gate City. That standard will never change because of all the hard work that was put in by all the former Blue Devils, and we strive every day to honor them with our hard work and commitment.”
That same type of tradition ran rampant at now-closed Appalachia, and one of the biggest reasons for that Bulldogs spirit was Tom Turner.
Turner was part of the 1971 state champion football and 1972 state champion basketball teams at Appalachia, and he went on to coach the Bulldogs to five state titles in football.
Travis Turner, his son, quarterbacked three of those state title teams, in 1994, 1996 and 1997. Long before those championship runs, however, the younger Turner knew he wanted to be a coach like his dad, who died in 2006.
“I can remember going to practice as a young kid in the mid-1980s and going to practice and camps,” Turner said. “I was always a water boy or ball boy or something. I just fell in love with the game.”
After school, Turner was an assistant coach for his dad’s teams for three years before becoming an assistant coach under Phil Robbins at Powell Valley.
Turner became Union’s football coach following the consolidation of Powell Valley and Appalachia, and he’s been there ever since.
He has a record of 86-26 over his nine-year career with the Bears, who have never missed the postseason and have won five Mountain 7 District championships.
In 2017, Turner coached in the VHSCA all-star game, the same annual contest that his father coached in twice, including a West squad win in 1992. The 2017 all-star program displayed a photo of Tom Turner on its cover.
“That’s pretty special right there because this a big thing throughout the state of Virginia and people take pride in this all-star game,” Travis Turner said at the time.
Like Travis Turner, Brad Robbins played quarterback for his father Phil, a seven-time football state champion coach at Powell Valley. And, like Turner, Robbins knew he wanted to coach football from a young age.
“Football has always been a part of my life,” Brad Robbins said. “I never in my life thought I would do anything else than coach football.”
Robbins, however, was interested in coaching at the collegiate level. He’s now the offensive coordinator at North Greenville, an NCAA Division II school at Tigerville, South Carolina.
He said watching his father and his assistant coaches work gave him the extra inspiration to know going into coaching was the right thing to do.
“The commitment and the love he gave to the team, the school and the community. That’s what it was about,” Robbins said. “It wasn’t about the wins and losses.
“Watching the love and dedication that was poured into the work. That was pretty special.”
‘DEELING’ WITH A LEGACY
Being the son of a legendary coach can be difficult, but it was something that Bill Deel embraced.
Deel’s father, Howard, won back-to-back boys basketball state championships in 1950 and 1951 at Clintwood.
Bill Deel coached girls basketball teams to state titles in 1985 and 1989.
Like other second-generation coaches, Deel grew up around sports.
Howard Deel helped Ralph Cummins coach football and Cummins helped Deel coach basketball — meaning they spent a lot of time together.
“I can remember Coach Cummins coming over to the house after games and they would break down the games. It was good training,” Bill Deel said.
Like his father, Bill Deel made it a coaching policy to not call many timeouts during a game.
“Dad didn’t call timeouts. He’d just take you out of the game and put somebody else in,” he recalled. “I had an assistant coach ask me one time why I didn’t call time out and I told him I didn’t have anything to say to them.”
The younger Deel may have been considered tough on his players, but he said his father was much tougher as a coach.
“Dad was World War II vet. They were all a lot meaner,” he said.
Howard Deel died in the late 1990s, but he was present when Bill Deel’s teams won their state championships.
“It was great having him there and getting to see that,” Bill Deel said. “We really didn’t talk about a whole lot. He was always pretty low key about everything.”