John Beseda was tasked with building C.E. Ellison’s proud athletic tradition from the ground up when he was hired in 1977.
But, a longtime assistant himself at Killeen under legendary coach Gene Rogers, Beseda knew he needed help. So Beseda called Bill Farley — an offensive guard at Killeen who graduated in 1974 — to see if he’d be interested in helping out with the football program at Nolan Middle School.
The answer was “no” — Farley was assigned to teach at the new Ellison High School when it opened.
A few days later, Beseda called again: “How would you like a job at Ellison?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Farley recalled saying.
Since those fateful words, Farley estimates he has been a part of more than 400 Eagles football games. Now, 35 years later, Farley has decided to walk away from a job he never knew he wanted in the first place.
“It’s been a quick 35 years,” he said.
Farley, a 57-year-old calculus teacher and assistant football and track coach, has seen nearly every student-athlete to walk the C.E. Ellison halls since it’s opening in 1978, when Farley was a 22-year-old aspiring teacher fresh out of school himself.
With the hiring of Trent Gregory in January, Farley has worked under all six head coaches in Ellison’s history, spending the first 17 under Beseda.
“We were family,” Farley said. “I watched their kids grow up, they watched my kids grow up. You spend a whole lot of time together, so it was great.”
He may have graduated from Killeen High, but Farley was always an Ellison Eagle.
“I bleed green. Even when I was a Roo, I was a south-sider — that’s what we used to call each other when we split, we were the south-siders,” Farley said. “Ellison kind of runs in my blood.”
In a profession as transient as high school coaching, spending your entire career in one place is almost unheard of nowadays.
Yet, that is exactly what Farley has become — an Ellison lifer.
But it’s the effect Farley had on the lives of thousands upon thousands of Eagles student-athletes that will continue to prosper even as he steps away from coaching.
“(He) is the best coach. He taught me that a coach is more than just a person that yells at you on a football field,” said former All-Pro defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who spent eight years in the NFL with the Chicago Bears after All-American careers at Oklahoma and Ellison. “He teaches you through life. … He was that coach that went the extra mile.”
Farley plans to continue teaching, just not on the football field.
“(Teaching) in itself is pretty time consuming, and they’ve added classes to us, so more classes, more students, more work in the classroom — it’s just gotten to the point where I don’t think I can do the job that I need to do for my own personal satisfaction in both areas,” Farley said. “Something had to give.”
That relationship with Harris — now involved with charitable foundations after spending last season out of football — continues to this day whenever he returns to his hometown.
“Tommie loves my wife’s homemade chicken potpie,” Farley joked.
Working with EHS’ best
Farley has seen the greatest athletes Ellison has ever produced, including Harris and former UCLA standouts Othello Henderson and Daron Washington, among others.
“It wasn’t so much coaching him as making sure he got on the bus, because he had all the tools and all the talents,” Farley said of Harris. “But he made me a better coach because he wanted to know why we were doing this and why we were doing that.”
Harris, though, proved to be a unique situation.
A large and imposing presence even in middle school, Harris entered Ellison with a bad rap and an even poorer GPA, something Farley attributed to teachers being intimidated by the future three-time Pro Bowler.
But with the help of other coaches, teachers and counselors at Ellison, Farley took Harris under his wing, allowed him into his home and made him feel a part of the family.
“He was the one guy that if he talked, I’d listen, and there weren’t too many people I did that with or even opened up to, but coach Farley was that to me,” Harris said.
Of course, there were also those players whose athletic exploits ended with their high school graduation.
Farley recalled a pair of devastating blocks by an undersized Eagles offensive guard, Bobby Thompson, which sprung an Ellison running back for the winning touchdown in 1981’s victory over Killeen — the first in program history.
Along with Thompson, whom Farley remembered as “180 pounds dripping wet … (but played with) nothing but heart and just got after it,” there was Troy Ostrander, a 5-foot-6, 195-pound guard that played “well-above what his capabilities were” for the 1989 Eagles squad that went 10-0 during the regular season.
“There were a lot of kids like that — I could name hundreds of them,” Farley said.
After more than three decades on the sideline, Farley will remember and miss the relationships the most.
“Just to be able to have contact with that many individuals, you hope that you do something that imparts a little bit of goodness or something that they can use somewhere down the line,” Farley said.
Henderson credits Farley — who was his AP calculus teacher as well as his sprint and relay coach in track — with pushing him to make the most of himself in the classroom as well as on the field.
“He told me not to settle for mediocrity; if I was smart enough to be in honors classes I should be taking honors classes because it’ll help me prepare for the collegiate level,” Henderson said.
Now, as he walks away from the gridiron, Farley is looking forward to spending more time with his young granddaughter and his wife, Debbie.
Of course, after 35 years, he’s expecting to experience some withdrawal, especially on Friday nights.
“It’ll be antsy (not to be on the sideline) on Friday nights for awhile,” Farley said. “But August 6 or whatever when it’s 102 degrees out there and I’m sitting in the shade with a glass of lemonade and a fan, it’ll be a little bit more bearable.”