For 41 years, Clarksville Blue Tigers head basketball coach Willie Coulter has helped shape the lives of young boys and girls throughout Texas. Now, after a successful career that saw him win over 600 total games, he’s decided to retire.
A native of Clarksville and himself a graduate of Clarksville High School, Coulter shone athletically as a student, both on the basketball court and the football field.
When it came time to make decisions for his collegiate career, Coulter said he had opportunities to play both sports, though he decided to pursue basketball because he wasn’t keen on travelling far, and the only schools that offered him football scholarships were states away. Coulter ultimately played basketball for two years at Paris Junior College before transferring to Henderson State University to finish out his collegiate career.
“Basketball was at a total other level (at Henderson State),” Coulter said. “It pushed me, and there were a lot of little nuances and points the coaches would drill into you, and if you could figure it out, you could play.”
Suffice it to say, Coulter could play. In his senior season, he was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American, All-Conference and All-District teams.
After graduating, he spent a pair of years as a graduate assistant, where he learned many of the finer points of coaching and solidified his passion for a career that he would go on to spend more than four decades in, he said.
“I got exposed to doing all the small things it takes to excel,” he said. “Things like putting together scouting reports — it really gets you involved in knowing all the things it takes to put together a successful gameplan. A lot of players don’t see just how much goes into it.”
After leaving Henderson State, Coulter took his first coaching job with DeKalb ISD and then later at Mt. Pleasant High School before taking a brief hiatus from coaching, in which time he worked at a steel plant.
“I really missed coaching even though I was making less money as a coach,” he said.
After the steel plant closed down, Coulter readily took a job at Clarksville ISD, the first of multiple stints he would spend working for his alma mater.
“I was hired as a special ed teacher, because there weren’t any coaching positions available when I applied,” he said.
Eventually, though, he was able to make his way onto the coaching staff for both the basketball and football teams and later became head basketball coach.
After serving for a time with the Blue Tigers, he left and over the next several years coached at a handful of schools, including Ennis High School; Detroit High School, where he also served as athletic director; and Mexia High School. He also spent some time back at Mt. Pleasant as an assistant principal.
At Mexia, Coulter was able to find great success, transforming a basketball program that had spent years in the cellars of the standings into a perennial contender.
“I just couldn’t believe they hadn’t won anything in such a long time because of the athletes they had,” he said of the Mexia team. “I was there six years, and we won five district championships and four bi-district championships.”
Despite the success he helped the team reach, Coulter said he didn’t do anything revolutionary to bring around such a quick change.
“I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary to make it successful,” he said. “There’s just some foundational things to do, and if you don’t do those things, you aren’t going to find success. There are some things that are non-negotiable if you want to be successful.”
In another stint with Clarksville, in which he headed up the girls basketball team, he was similarly able to turn the program around.
“(The girls basketball team) had not won a district championship in quite some time there, but when I got there, we were able to go undefeated in district play,” he said. “We ended up losing in the playoffs in our bi-district game, but that was still a really good year.”
After that, Coulter again bounced around coaching jobs for a few years before arriving at Terrell High School, where he stayed for 14 years.
While coaching the Terrell Tigers, the team was a powerhouse, making the playoffs 11 times in his 14-year stint.
“I was able to win 100 games with Terrell pretty quickly, and then won another 100 with them after that,” he said. “I hadn’t been paying much attention to my career wins before that, but I started keeping track of them at that point, and I was able to get my 400th win with Terrell.”
After his long tenure with Terrell, Coulter returned to his alma mater in 2014 for one final stint.
“That was a grand thing,” he said. “Not many people have the privilege of finishing where they start and truly going full-circle. It was really a great feeling to be able to close out my career in Clarksville. The school, the staff and the community are great and have obviously always had a special place in my heart.”
Again, Coulter proved himself as a stellar coach. Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Blue Tigers had lost just a single district game under his leadership. Then, this past season, the team lost a pair of games to rival McLeod.
“I’m proud of what I accomplished here,” he said. “I wanted to do the best I could for the kids and the community.”
His approach to coaching has changed over the years, he said.
“In the old days, you kind of had it drilled into you that you need to be as stern as possible,” he said. “But I’ve found that you can still be stern and assertive when you need to be, while also taking on something like a parental role with them, and really building relationships with them.”
For Coulter, the most rewarding part of the job has always been the relationships he’s formed with each and every player he’s coached, and seeing them go on to lead successful lives in more ways than just athletic success.
“I’ve stayed in touch with so many of the guys I’ve coached over the years; I have their numbers in my phone and I still hear from them regularly,” Coulter said. “I look at them now, and they’re fathers, they’re raising their kids the right way, they’re living life the right way — with decency and respect. And I’m so proud of them.”